Little over a month has passed since Juan Román Riquelme turned the Boca Juniors universe on its head. Now the Xeneize idol – winner of five league championships, three Copas Libertadores and the Intercontinental Cup during his four spells at the Bombonera – will find out just how much weight his name carries, as tomorrow the list headed by Jorge Amor Ameal, with Román’s name below as his vice-presidency candidate, is put to fans in elections.
Nothing as of yet can be taken for granted either in the Ameal/ Riquelme camp or for the current administration, running with Christian Gribaudo as Daniel Angelici’s dauphin – but if the reaction of the incumbent and his allies is any gauge, the appearance of the legendary No. 10 rattled more than a few cages.
Tomorrow’s vote arrives following a campaign that has been dirty even by the far from spotless standards of most football presidency runs. From both sides of the trenches – not to mention ‘third party’ José Beraldi, forgotten almost completely as a sideshow to the principal antagonists – wild accusations have been flung, from claims of incompetence to the bombshell that none of those interested in winning the elections are actually Boca fans; Angelici and Gribaudo, according to Riquelme, owing their allegiance to Huracán and Independiente respectively and Román in turn being a lifelong Tigre fanatic. High politics this is not: good old-fashioned mud-slinging is the order of the day around the Bombonera.
Rather more serious is the Xeneize hierarchy’s seeming attempts to deny all evidence of Riquelme’s existence until the winner is announced. To do so, the club has stooped to rather farcical depths. From airbrushing the 2000 Intercontinental Cup hero out of a photo commemorating 19 years since that famous win over Real Madrid to denying fans access to last week’s match against Argentinos Juniors with paper Román face masks, they are leaving no stone unturned in their bid to keep his face away from the Boca support. Gribaudo, meanwhile, has launched his own charm offensive across Argentina’s myriad sports channels, promising that the signings of Peru icon Paolo Guerrero and former Boca youngster Nicolás Gaitán are done deals, just so long as members put the right ballot inside the box.
‘WE HAVE EVERYONE’
Román responded on Wednesday in typically explosive fashion. Frustrated at what he perceived as a lockout from the most important broadcasters, he turned up in the unexpected environs of daytime celebrity gossip TV for an interview with América’s Tsar of tittle-tattle, Jorge Rial.
There was bad news, first and foremost, for coach Gustavo Alfaro. “I don’t want to talk about the coach. Alfaro is in charge until Sunday,” he fired. “We have our team for the youth divisions, we have everyone. On Monday we will reveal all if we win.
“We have a great chance of winning. You win with one vote, so it is crucial for all the members to get out and vote, we have to get 40,000 or 50,000 people [on Sunday].”
There was also a veiled warning to the Buenos Aires authorities to avoid any tricks in favour of political ally Angelici – “I hope [City mayor] Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and [vice Diego] Santilli keep doing things correctly and that the Boca elections are a party. We need everything to be peaceful” – as well as an answer to allegations from both Gribaudo and Beraldi that he had sold himself to the highest bidder: “Ameal hasn’t invited me even to a coffee, so just imagine”; and one final message to his arch-enemy: “A big kiss for Angelici, if he is watching.”
There is absolutely no love lost
between those tussling for power
in La Boca and no matter what
the result tomorrow, the election
is unlikely to calm any tensions.
Riquelme, however, will remain
defiant to the end: this is the
chance to end the political process put in place back in 1995 by
Mauricio Macri, and, never short
of confidence, while he might not
be gunning for the top job he sees
himself as the only man who can
bring about revolution at the
Bombonera. Those backing continuity feel the same way, which
explains why these last few weeks have seen the bitterest, most
personal election battle at the
club almost in living memory.