Discussion starts in earnest over the next move for the enigmatic playmaker, but in Buenos Aires supporters continue to plead for their idol to stay put
By Daniel Edwards | South American Football Editor
Although no objective evidence is available to confirm the assumption, it is probably fair to say that for the majority of Boca Juniors that packed the Bombonera stands as well as towns and cities across Argentina on Monday evening, the more obscure fables of Anglo-Saxon folklore are somewhat unknown.
They could do worse, however, than read up on the story of King Canute; the 11th century monarch who famously and fruitlessly ordered the tides to stop. Because even as they implore their idol to stay in the club which has been his spiritual home since he was a teenager, supporters must know deep down that when Roman makes a decision, his force of will can match any sea or ocean in its ferocity.
Not that it will dissuade them from trying. Accompanied by the ubiquitous banners and flags, as well as photos of the man that to Xeneize fans is more synonymous with the No.10 shirt even than the great Diego Maradona, the people packed the streets of La Boca in such numbers that security personnel were forced to open the gates of the stadium to ease the crush in surrounding roads. "Riquelme isn't leaving" rang out across the neighbourhood, as well as a chant poignant in its almost childlike simplicity and optimism: "Let's all sing so that Roman comes back."
The truth is that neither fans, nor Boca, nor maybe even Riquelme himself knows where he will line up come the new season. What does seem almost certain though, is that it will not be the club which the veteran playmaker dragged to the Copa Libertadores final and a fight for the Clausura in the opening months of 2012, only to see it all fall apart in the space of two weeks.
"This afternoon, I spoke with the president and informed him that I would not continue," he told reporters minutes after Corinthians sealed a 3-1 aggregate victory that denied the Argentines an eight Copa title.
"I am very grateful to the club and the team, I know I am, but I have nothing left to give the club, I'm empty.
One should certainly not expect any tears from either coach Julio Cesar Falcioni or president Daniel Angelici as they allegedly push Roman towards the exit door. The former Banfield trainer is no fan of the player many call, and with good reason, the best in Argentina. Julio's favoured 4-4-2 formation left no room for the traditional enganche role that Riquelme makes his own, and the emphasis on rigidity and high work-rate from all his men never chimed with his captain's more lackadaisical approach to the physical side.
Falcioni and Riquelme was a marriage of convenience, a pact of non-aggression that worked fine when the Xeneize were winning. But there were plenty of signs that failure would bring the charade crashing down. The coach almost quit after a soporific Copa Libertadores draw against Zamora early in the season, a result strongly criticised by Riquelme; and while Angelici was less than forceful in his support for Julio then, this time he has come down firmly on the side of his trainer, leaving the talisman out in the cold and, as he said himself in that unforgettable farewell, "Exhausted and alone."
Inevitably, talk will now turn to the future. Goal.com has confirmed five official offers for Riquelme - two from Argentina, one from Brazil, one from China, and one from Al-Ahli in Saudi Arabia which Roman has rejected.
|"If my son wants me to, I will carry on playing. But it will not be here"
- Roman closes the door on Boca
In La Boca, meanwhile, all indications point to a final crisis meeting between the club and the player at the end of the week - although it is hard to see either side bending in order to maintain an association that dates back 17 years when a skinny teenage Riquelme first walked through the doors of the Casa Amarilla.
Those intervening years have brought 10 major trophies for the star, as well as countless arguments and fall-outs with those around him. Martin Palermo, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Diego Maradona, Mauricio Macri; the list of men who have fallen on the wrong side of the enigmatic star over the years reads like a who's who of Argentine football, and until recently it arguably included the majority of Boca fans who sided with El Titan Palermo over the brooding playmaker.
Seeing Roman's face cover La Boca and Buenos Aires in a desperate attempt to change his mind, however, it is clear that all is forgiven in the eyes of the supporters. Riquelme has deservedly been reinstated as an idol to rival the best who have ever graced La Bombonera - but as his bags are packed for a speedy exit from the club he loves, it will not be enough to stop the tide.