BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Enigmatic playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme has solved Argentina coach Diego Maradona’s biggest dilemma for him by turning his back on the national team.
The elegant but inconsistent Boca Juniors player has missed Maradona’s first two games in charge because of club commitments. Without him, previously lethargic Argentina have played well and beaten Scotland and France.
Maradona said in a recent interview that he gets up at four o’clock in the morning to think about team selection and much of his deliberating would have been on how to introduce Riquelme without disrupting the team.
He may be able to sleep a little longer in the morning now that Riquelme has announced his international retirement for the second time in three years.
“We don’t think the same way,” said Riquelme in a television interview on Tuesday. “We don’t share the same codes of ethics. While he is the coach of the national team, we can’t work together.”
The 30-year-old has been a prickly subject for successive Argentina coaches. “Riquelme always needs to be one of the main players,” said former Argentina striker Jorge Valdano in an interview last year. “It’s impossible to have him in the team without giving him all the responsibility.”
Marcelo Bielsa gave him few chances and left him out of the squad for the 2002 World Cup.
But four years later in Germany, Jose Pekerman built the team around him and successor Alfio Basile did the same.
Riquelme rewarded them by inspiring some excellent Argentina performances, notably the 6-0 win over Serbia & Montenegro at the 2006 World Cup.
But he underperformed when it mattered most in the 2006 World Cup quarter-final against Germany and the 2007 Copa America final against Brazil.
Although Riquelme’s announcement was sudden, it was not entirely surprising after Maradona made public comments about his playing style last week.
Riquelme is highly sensitive to criticism — the reason he quit for the first time after the 2006 World Cup — and believes firmly in the so-called “codes of football” under which players and coaches should not talk about each other outside the dressing-room.
Last year, he fell out with Boca Juniors team mate Julio Cesar Caceres, who gave an apparently innocuous interview to a radio station in his native Paraguay about Riquelme’s loss of form.
In November, Riquelme got upset with a Boca fan during a home game against Racing Club. After scoring a goal shortly afterwards, he ran 50 metres and pointed at the fan who was pushed by several people sitting near him. Public prosecutors said he could face charges of inciting disorder.
Riquelme’s goal celebrations often have an air of defiance about them as he pushes away his team mates, runs to the crowd and puts his hands to his ears as if to demand applause and recognition.
Maradona, who is still idolised in Argentina and almost never confronted by other players or coaches, said he was perplexed by Riquelme’s outburst.
“Riquelme was on my list for the World Cup qualifiers,” he was quoted as saying by the sports daily Ole on Wednesday. “Now, I’ve rubbed him out completely.
“All I said was that I wanted him to play 15 metres further up the pitch. What have I done for him to be scared of me?”
“If I can’t say how I want my players to play, then I’m in the oven,” he added.