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Will Argentina be better off without Riquelme?
Even before this week’s outburst and his decision to quit Argentina for the second time in three years, Juan Roman Riquelme’s future with the national team had looked uncertain.
Riquelme missed their first two matches under Diego Maradona because of club commitments and, without him in midfield, Argentina shook off the apparent lethargy which had marked their last few displays under Alfio Basile.
There is much to admire about Riquelme’s play. His elegant, languid style is a refreshing sight in the modern game, with its emphasis on speed and strength, and sadly he appears to belong to a dying breed.
But too often his temperament lets him down. Many feel he is over-sensitive to criticism and it took only a innocuous comment from Maradona in a television last week to dent his pride.
“We don’t think the same way,” said Riquelme with an expression resembling a sad puppy whose favourite bone has just been taken away.
“We don’t share the same codes of ethics. While he is the coach of the national team, we can’t work together.”
“Sometimes, it seems like I’m a disaster and can’t make a single pass,” he added, referring to criticism of his recent performances with Boca Juniors.
Claudio Mauri, a columnist in the daily newspaper La Nacion, wrote: “Riquelme showed that his pride makes no concessions, not even to Maradona and everything that his figure respresents.”
Under Basile, Riquelme had everything he wanted. The team was built around him and he was ever-present in Argentina’s first eight World Cup qualifiers, no matter how he played.
Although Maradona had also pencilled in Riquelme as his playmaker, it was clear the 30-year old would no longer enjoy the same influence.
There has been widespread speculation that Riquelme had fallen out of favour with senior members of the squad with some versions talk of an incident with Lionel Messi during the Copa America in Venezuela.
Maradona would certainly have risked disrupting his team if he had introduced Riquelme into the mix in the World Cup qualifier against Venezuela later this month.
He also has a reputation for underperforming on the big occasions.
Will Argentina do better without him?
PHOTO: A combination of file pictures shows Argentina’s national soccer team coach Diego Maradona (L) and playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme. Riquelme announced he was quitting Argentina’s national squad due to differences with the team’s coach, Diego Maradona, during a TV interview. REUTERS/Staff/Files