Diego Maradona and the passing of the Boca torch to Juan Riquelme

Ahead of Sunday's showdown against River Plate, Goal.com brings you an exclusive extract from Joel Richards' short story 'Super Clasico - Inside the Ultimate Derby'
Back in 1997, a young Juan Roman Riquelme replaced an ageing Diego Maradona - in the last game of his career - for Boca Juniors in a clash with eternal rivals River Plate and sealed his place in the club's history.

Diego Maradona had already been the [Argentine] league’s top scorer on five occasions with Argentinos Juniors when he moved to Boca Juniors in 1981 for $2.5 million plus five other players. There had been discussions with River Plate, though ironically ‘The Millionaires’ balked at his wage demands, refusing to pay him more than World Cup winners Ubaldo Fillol and Daniel Passarella. Although he had grown up at Argentinos Juniors, and as a youngster had supported Independiente, Maradona became synonymous with Boca Juniors. To this day he has a box above the halfway line at the Bombonera.

“I wanted Diego to settle in quickly and feel comfortable, so that we could enjoy him and get the best from him,” says Roberto Mouzo, who played 29 Superclasicos and has more appearances for Boca than any other. “It had become ‘Diego’s Boca’, so things were harder for us if we didn’t have him at the top of his game. I tried to give him more confidence, so we could use him more effectively, so I gave him the captaincy.” Maradona struggled with injury early in the season, but was fit for the Superclasico.

The 1981 clash with River at the Bombonera began violently. Reinaldo ‘Mustard’ Merlo punched Miguel Brindisi in the stomach. Despite the midfielder’s complaint that the Boca forward exaggerated the blow, River were down to 10 men. Three minutes later Boca’s Osvaldo Escudero raised his fists and was also sent off. Match reports describe “criminal” tackles on Maradona. “But Diego dealt with it,” says Mouzo. “It wasn’t just that game, Diego always had players going for him, but he never complained.”

Maradona asked to be taken off. A young player who Boca had also signed from Argentinos Juniors, Juan Roman Riquelme, replaced El Diez. Maradona was gone, but another star was born.

Into the second half, Boca raced away from River with two goals from Brinidisi. Yet it was the third, Maradona’s inspired and stunning goal, that is remembered. Maradona received a cross from the right, Fillol came off his line to cut down the angle. With one turn, Maradona left the River goalkeeper on his knees and had only a solitary defender on the line to beat. Instead of smashing it, the new hero tucked the ball low inside the near post to complete the rout.

Maradona stayed at Boca for just one year before Barcelona signed him after the 1982 World Cup. Yet although he only won one league title, by the time he returned to the Bombonera in 1995, he had become a legend, the man who had lifted the World Cup for Argentina, an idol in Naples. He was also in defiance of authority. He had been banned by Fifa at the 1994 World Cup after a positive drugs test; he had shot at journalists from his balcony. Yet he was in poor health and a year after his return to Boca, in 1996, he publicly admitted his cocaine addiction.

His last match as a professional was against River at the Monumental. Out of shape and with the side 1-0 down at half-time, Maradona asked to be taken off. A young player who Boca had also signed from Argentinos Juniors, Juan Roman Riquelme, replaced El Diez. Boca turned the match around, beating River Plate 2-1 at the Monumental. Maradona was gone, but another star was born.


Superclasico by Joel Richards is the first story from 90 Minutes, a new digital-only series of sports shorts. They are available exclusively through the Kindle store or on your Kindle app for iOS and android devices. Each is available in a standard format or with video content, priced £2.99.