Why did Riquelme Fail at Barcelona? A Prime Example of Poor Man Management
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Why did Riquelme Fail at Barcelona? A Prime Example of Poor Man Management

10/03/24 01:00

Juan Roman Riquelme is one of the most iconic players in football history. There are no doubts about it. Whether it was at Boca Juniors, Villarreal or the Argentine national team, Riquelme always left fans stunned. Being a classic number 9, he excelled at dribbling, playmaking and had an incredible arsenal of passes in him. He is also one of football’s most aesthetically pleasing footballers and he has one of the best goal/assist catalogues out there. And yet, when he did first make the move to European football, he massively struggled.

Riquelme left clubs across Europe stunned with his performances at Boca Juniors, where he made over 200 appearances. He joined Barcelona for a reported €11m, which was a huge fee at the time. We have to bear in mind that Barcelona were at a really low point when the Argentine first arrived. In the aftermath of Figo’s shocking transfer to Real Madrid, the Catalan club was struggling. Real Madrid were in their Galacticos era and were dominating football. Meanwhile, Luis Van Gaal’s Barca looked demoralised and a shadow of the team they used to be.

In 2002, Riquelme arrived at the club and was immediately met with criticism from his new manager. Van Gaal labelled him a “political signing” and pointed out his flaws to him by showing him videos. And the situation only got worse from there.

Riquelme played his best football as a “number 10” yet Van Gaal refused to play him in that position. He forced him to play out of position on the wing and even scolded him at times for moving out of position if he tried to play from the centre. The Argentine was relegated to the bench and his minutes were drastically cut short. The manager seemed adamant on showing the board that they had signed the wrong player and he never softened his stance towards the player. Luis Van Gaal had also previously had a public spat with Brazilian star Rivaldo at Barcelona in his first term at the club.

Despite all the drama and controversy, the number 10 still managed to have a few moments of magic for the team. He showed a glimmer of his talent but it was only in flashes. He had 6 goals and 9 assists for Barcelona in 42 appearances which is still a decent return for a player having his first season in Europe but it was far below the expectations of the club and the fans.

Even after Van Gaal was sacked, Riquelme failed to make a huge impression of his replacement Radimir Antic and he was eventually moved on from the club after the arrival of a certain Ronaldinho to the Catalan club. New club President Joan Laporta was determined to turn the situation around and start a new era at the club. Riquelme unfortunately was not part of the club’s plans for the future and he was moved on to Villarreal on loan in 2003.

The Argentine did manage to rekindle his magic and revive his career at the “yellow submarine” and he played there till 2007, when he finally returned to his beloved Boca. Meanwhile, Barcelona had a complete turn around and went on to dominate football in the coming years. It seemed like it was a situation of wrong player at the wrong time for Riquelme and Barca.

The maestro did speak about Van Gaal and his time at Barcelona later on in his career. He said : “The truth is that Van Gaal was not very nice and hearing him made me think about going back to Argentina as soon as possible. I went to Barcelona with the intention of staying for five years but I stayed only for one.”

So, despite all the drama, Juan Roman Riquelme is still one of the most popular players in the world of football. Lionel Messi did manage to get the last laugh for his Argentine compatriot when he posed with the iconic Riquelme celebration infront of Luis Van Gaal after scoring against his Netherlands team in the Quarterfinals of the 2022 World Cup. You know a player is good when even Lionel Messi is fighting his battles for him. Riquelme is currently club president of his beloved Boca Juniors and retains his iconic status in Argentine football

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