(Reuters) - In Argentina, there will always be only one Juan Roman Riquelme who thrilled a generation of football fans with his grace and swagger. But it turns out that in Brazil, there are hundreds.
Brazil and Argentina may be sporting rivals but Vasco da Gama have a 17-year-old left back called Riquelme Viana, while Corinthians recently signed 17-year-old holding midfielder Riquelme Rodrigues Mendes on a three-year contract.
One of the teenage players killed in the fire at Flamengo’s training base earlier this year was named Rykelmo de Souza Viana.
A search carried out for Reuters by the Brazilian Football Confederation produced 110 player registrations under the name Riquelme and another 41 named Rikelme. There are many more with creative spellings, including Riquelmo and Rykelme.
The passion for Juan Roman is particularly evident at Cruzeiro, where four members of the youth team are named after the Argentine playmaker – Riquelme, Riquelmo, Rikelme and Riquelmy.
“It’s funny, sometimes you get whole generations who are named after a player or an actor; we once had six players named after Caua, a TV Globo soap opera star,” Alexandre Grasseli, Cruzeiro’s Under-17 coach, told Reuters.
“That’s what’s happened here with the Argentine player and it has really made communications complicated. We had to find a way round it. So we decided to give them all different nicknames.”
It is not uncommon for parents to name their sons after footballing greats.
Brazil is filled with Edsons (named after Pele’s given name Edson Arantes do Nascimento) and Arthurs (named after Zico’s birth name Arthur Antunes Coimbra).
But there is something peculiar about Brazilians naming their offspring after someone who played for their greatest rivals, a man famous for his lack of charisma, and for never winning a major title with the national side.
One of the explanations is in the timing. Most of the namesakes were born in the early part of this century, when Riquelme was at the helm of a Boca Juniors dynasty, helping them to Copa Libertadores titles in 2000, 2001 and 2007.
Tellingly, each year they beat a Brazilian side in the semi or the final.
“They chose my name when Riquelme did over Palmeiras in the Libertadores,” one of the Cruzeiro players told O Globo. “My dad supports (Palmeiras’ arch rivals) Corinthians so that explains it.”
Another explanation is more satisfying; Brazilians see the elegant schemer as one of their own.
“Riquelme played attractive football, just like a Brazilian, with creativity, talent and intelligence,” said Grasseli. “He wasn’t quite a Messi or even a Neymar but was the symbol of an era.”
Editing by Christian Radnedge