Another day in the life of Martin Palermo…

April 10, 2008

The fact that Martin Palermo is Boca Juniors’s regular penalty taker speaks volumes about his strength of character.

Back in 1999, Palermo made international headlines for the wrong reasons when he missed three penalties for Argentina in their 3-0 Copa America defeat by Colombia. Yet, instead of hiding in his hotel room, Palermo came out and faced the media the next day, promising to get on with his career.

Three days later, he bounced back to score in a 2-0 win over Uruguay. Nine years later, Palermo is Boca’s all-time leading scorer, having overtaken the previous record of 180 goals set by Francisco Varallo in the 1930s. His Argentina career never got off the ground but he has become a cult figure at Boca, having returned after stints with Villarreal, Real Betis and Alaves in Spain.

By Argentine standards, Palermo is a somewhat clumsy, lumbering forward. Yet his ability to bounce back from adversity and his knack for alternating brilliance with tragicomedy have endeared him to the club’s fanatical supporters. At Villarreal, Palermo famously broke his leg while celebrating a goal when he stood on a small concrete wall which collapsed under the weight of fans.

After returning to Boca, he was one of the central figures in a brawl which sparked a crowd riot in a Libertadores Cup game against Guadalajara. The match was abandoned, Boca were knocked out and Palermo banned. On the flipside, Palermo succeeded where Pele had failed by scoring from just inside his own half against Independiente.

Boca’s last two matches in the Libertadores have been fairly typical of his ups and downs. Two weeks ago against Chilean champions Colo Colo, Palermo missed another penalty with his team 1-0 down and reduced to 10 men. Yet, two minutes later he scored — and Boca went on to win 4-3.

Tuesday’s match against Mexico’s Atlas was one of his unlucky days. With the score at 1-1 and Boca on top, Palermo contrived to miss an open goal from six metres as he sidefooted the ball wide. Atlas came out for the second half with fresh ambition, won 3-1 and left the defending champions facing an early exit at the group stage.

But you can be sure that Palermo will be forgiven by Boca fans. And don’t bet against him scoring a hat-trick in the final group game at home to UA Maracaibo.

Brian Homewood, Rio de Janeiro

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