In his weekly Cutter column Wayne Farry salutes the career of a shoulder-dipping genius and shakes his head at thousands of Leige fans who lost theirs.
I want to start off this week’s column with a nod to the one and only Juan Roman Riquelme, who hung up his boots in the last few days at the tender age of 36. He arrived in Europe in 2002 after seven seasons with Boca amid much fanfare and expectation. Now, bare in mind that this was not the internet age we know and love/hate today and while people knew his potential there were not hundreds of articles detailing how he would or should be the next Zizou. This was probably for the best, as it never really worked out for him at Barcelona. LVG described him as a political signing and his plight wasn’t helped by the kidnapping of his brother shortly before signing. We’ve all been there, right?
He was however loaned out to La Liga newcomers Villarreal in 2005 to make room for some donkey-faced nobody called Ronaldinho (no, don’t remember him either) and went on to do great things for the islanders. He helped the club to third place in La Liga and the Champions League semi-final while at the same time being nominated for the 2005 FIFA World Player of the Year award. His Spanish adventure ended after a falling out with now Man City manager Manuel Pellegrini and he was loaned back to the club where he started it all off professionally. He stayed there for seven years before finishing his career with boyhood club Argentina Juniors. His stats are incredibly impressive – 51 caps for his country (including one World Cup appearance), winner of the Argentine footballer of the year award on four occasions, five Argentine Primera Division titles as well as three Copa Libertadores championships – but stats, as usual, do not tell the whole story about Juan Roman. In fact, they don’t come close.
He was one of those few players, like Zidane and Scholes, who didn’t have to constantly bust a gut to make their influence known. His very presence made a huge impact and his brilliance could be seen in the nuanced touches, the drops of the shoulder and the ability to pick out a pass from essentially anywhere. He could also hit a pretty sexy free-kick when the mood came over him. He truly was one of a dying breed of footballers. Of course, we’re all dying slowly, each fibre of our being breaking down ever so surely but in this age of thoroughbred players who are often more athletes than artists, he will be treasured even more. Though never the fittest or fastest physically, he was almost always the fittest and fastest mentally on nearly every pitch he graced. There weren’t many like him during his prime and there are even fewer now. If you ever got to watch him, in the flesh or on tele, be thankful. He was a true legend. He also had the honour of being managed by Carlos Bianchi which, let’s admit, is pretty, pretty good.
We were also blessed with some unusually good FA Cup action this past weekend. While we all enjoy a bit of cup action the regurgitation of the phrases “magic of the FA Cup” and “this could only happen in the FA Cup” and “the FA Cup does more than any UN commission in ending wars and famine” has worn a bit thin recently. Firstly, it’s simply not true. A football competition is not a sentient being and cannot stop the slaughter or starvation of people, no matter how much we wish it could. Secondly, spend a short amount of time reading through the results of the French Cup in recent years and you will see that nearly every season one of France’s top sides is knocked out by a minnow so small that they make Rochdale look like some hyper-hybrid of Real and Barca. This weekend’s football did however give a little more credence to these claims as the Premier League’s top two sides and perhaps the human rights football league’s lowest two sides – Man City and Chelsea – were beaten at home to Middlesbrough and Bradford City respectively. Mourinho labelled his band of merry millionaires “a bunch of silly, silly geese”, whom a farmer “could never rely upon to deliver a plentiful bounty of eggs or meat”. Now, while this criticism was unusual in its specificity, he did have a point. His side surrendered a 2-0 lead to lose 4-2 to a side best known for having a name made up of a famous Hollywood actor and Nazi-supporter’s car brand together. City’s defeat was less a shock in reality. They have struggled at home all season and indeed have struggled against lower league sides in cup competitions for the last few years. Furthermore, they seem to think that football has somehow taken a break this year and every match is a friendly, or at least that is the impression I’ve taken from their performances.
What these two results is representative of is that while the “magic of the FA Cup” may indeed exist, we might have to redefine exactly what this magic is. In my humble opinion, it has come to mean under-motivated and lackadaisical superstars, thinking they can steamroll a team of players they’ve never bothered their asses to look up facing off against supremely motivated players who want nothing more than to play with or against them on a regular basis. While Bradford and Middlesbrough’s players must be commended for their efforts and results, a long hard look has to be placed in the direction of the giants that have been slain, or as Jose would put it, the “silly, silly geese”. There is quite simply no excuse for these sides to be coming out of these games with anything other than wins, be they convincing or otherwise. Some will roll out the old chestnut that these are non-English players who are unfamiliar with the importance of the cup but it really all boils down to a lack of motivation and a frankly horrific attitude amongst many top players. Players who perhaps feel upon reaching the upper echelon that they’ve got nothing more to prove or learn, expect when they’re facing Europe’s best. Maybe I’ve been wrong about this magic so often mentioned. Maybe I’ve been looking at it the wrong way. Perhaps, all along, the “magic of the FA Cup” has been little more than the bringing back down to earth of lazy, unprofessional twats who don’t feel the need to learn as much as possible about every opponent. If that’s the magic, then magic me up baby.
From shameful performances on the pitch to a fairly shameful performance off it, we scoot over to Belgium where at the weekend Standard Liege took on “The Purple Nurple” Anderlecht. It was former Liege captain Steven Defour’s first match back at his old club since signing with their rivals and the Liege fans welcomed him back with true, unbridled, open hatred. I’m all for fans giving players a bit of verbal abuse – it’s part of the game – but the banner they unveiled upon his return was rather shocking. If you’ve not seen it already, the fans’ novel piece of artwork featured the words “RED OR DEAD” next to Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees holding aloft the very much severed head of their former golden boy. Initially I thought it was perhaps a guerilla marketing campaign by a well known spectacles manufacturer but boy howdy was I wrong, dead wrong. It was in fact the Liege fans wishing death (literal or figurative) upon their former captain. Mr. Defour – who returned to his homeland after a reputation humbling few years in Portugal – responded in kind by jumping into the crowd and laying waste to the 30,000 strong crowd with such aplomb that it would have left the blood-thirsty Voorhees feeling a little sick, and full. Of course, I exaggerate. Defour merely kicked the ball into (or at) the crowd from about fifty yards away, immediately receiving a sending off from the referee, who’s presumably a horror buff. Now, was this the “RED” that the Liege fans had called for? We’ll never know, but frankly that’s not really the point. Defour was the victim of shocking, albeit probably tongue-in-cheek abuse and he responded in a manner I imagine we all would have. I’ve never had thousands of people calling for my demise but if I did I imagine I’d do something fairly similar. What’s more, he didn’t even hit anyone. It was merely a lofted kick at the crowd, with about as much accuracy and force that it was easy to see why Porto so easily parted with the man once sent a letter by Alex Ferguson to wish him a speedy recovery from injury.
Liege’s fans now apparently face the possibility of punishment ranging from a five year stadium ban to each fan involved being fined €5000. Looking beyond the fact that trying to fine that many people specifically would be a logistical nightmare, the actual punishment will probably fall somewhere in the middle. My suggestion for punishment would be to allow Defour to personally choose one of these fans to decapitate himself, thus settling the score in a manner befitting the crime. Regardless of what happens, Liege’s fans and football fans in general need to learn to chill their shit a wee bit and Defour needs to learn that if you’re going to get sent off for kicking the ball at supporters, you may as well get a little closer and actually hit one of them.