Ex-Man Utd flop Rojo finding new lease of life at Boca Juniors after injury hell

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Marcos Rojo Boca Tigre final Copa Liga Profesional 22052022Getty Images

While Manchester United were playing out a suitably lacklustre end to their Premier League season at Selhurst Park on Sunday, on the other side of the world a former Red Devil was preparing for his chance to shine.

Marcos Rojo scored the opening goal in Boca Juniors' 3-0 victory over Tigre that clinched the Argentine giants the Copa Liga Profesional, no small feat for a side which over the course of 2022 has been subject to at least the same level of scrutiny and criticism, if not moreso, as Ralf Rangnick's misfiring charges.

As if to further cement the gulf between the tense world of Old Trafford and his current home, Rojo celebrated in style: washing down a slice of pizza with a beer on the Estadio Mario Kempes turf while the huge Boca contingent in the stands chanted his name, and even lit up a furtive cigarette to mark the special moment.

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“I was looking forward to that, but I had to win first,” Rojo joked to TyC Sports as he boarded the team bus in Cordoba, while also accepting another smoke from the reporter to enjoy on the journey back to Buenos Aires.

Marcos Rojo Boca Juniors cigarette beer 2022

It is hard to begrudge him indulging in his vice, after all, after coming back from an injury nightmare to take the spotlight once more.

Plenty thought Rojo, a veteran of two World Cups with Argentina, was finished at the top level. Between the end of Russia 2018 and the start of 2021, he played just 18 professional games, as physical problems and poor performance left him out in the cold at United, and also ruined his dream return to first club Estudiantes.

His spell at the Bombonera did not exactly get off to a flying start, either.

He suffered two muscle tears in the space of three months and sat out much of the first half of last year, while his most notable contribution to the Boca cause once back in action was in wielding a fire extinguisher during a chaotic scuffle between the Xeneize squad and Brazilian police following their Copa Libertadores elimination to Atletico Mineiro - an act which earned him a five-match ban from the competition.

Once fully fit, however, Rojo began to make his presence felt, starting with a string of solid displays to help his new side to the Copa Argentina title in December.

And while Boca may have been underwhelming for much of this campaign, their backline, with Rojo at its heart, remained solid: only Racing Club conceded fewer than their 11 goals through the group stage, while in the play-offs the Xeneize blanked Defensa y Justicia, Racing and Tigre to take the crown.

Rojo missed just one match throughout the entire tournament, due to a suspension, and his commitment and consistency was rewarded with the captain's armband when defensive partner Carlos Izquierdoz was unavailable.

Rojo PS

According to the 32-year-old, seeking professional help, and not just for the physical side, made all the difference.

“I work with a sports psychologist who helps me a lot, I am always in contact,” he explained to TyC Sports in March. “I started because of the injuries, I felt I was doing all I could with the doctors, I followed the recovery stages and when I got back on the field I got injured again. I couldn't figure it out.

“Since I started working with [the psychologist] the injuries have been less frequent and I felt good again on the pitch. He told me to trust in myself and in my body again.”

Now a new challenge awaits, as his Libertadores ban ends just in time for Thursday's crucial group decider against Deportivo Cali.

Boca kick off at the Bombonera in third place in Group E, and know only a win will be good enough to leapfrog the first-placed Colombians and clinch their place in the knockout phase.

It is a daunting task, but as seen in the Copa Liga Profesional, the Xeneize thrive when the chips are down and the doubters are swarming.

He may be a relatively new face at the club but nobody embodies that spirit better than the combative, combustible Rojo, who is ready to carry his domestic heroics over to the continental stage and cap a stunning week for the Argentine powerhouses.