Thursday, June 13, 2024

SPORTS | 21-01-2022 02:47

Returning heroes delight fans of Boca and River, but patience is required

Dario Benedetto and Juan Fernando Quintero return home. If one of the Superclásico pair was to repatriate one of their past heroes, it made perfect sense for the other to follow suit. Nostalgia, though, can be a dangerous drug.

“Anything you can do I can do better, I can do anything better than you. No you can't! Yes I can!” Irving Berlin may (indeed, almost certainly) not have had football rivalries in mind, much less so the eternal conflict between Boca Juniors and River Plate, when he composed that infuriatingly catchy ditty, but it sums up perfectly the spirit of one-upmanship that circulates on a constant basis between fans of the Buenos Aires giants, and often between players and coaches themselves.

So if one of the Superclásico pair was to repatriate one of their past heroes, it made perfect sense for the other to follow suit. In the space of 24 hours on Thursday both Boca and River had a returning idol to show off: the former sealed the signing of star striker Darío Benedetto, while the Núñez club announced with some fanfare the 'Return of the King' – Colombian playmaker Juan Fernando Quintero.

“I am so happy, I really am thankful,” Quintero beamed to reporters on his arrival in Argentina, almost four years to the day since first joining River back in 2018. “I am overjoyed, I can't wait to meet up with my new team-mates.”

Back then the Colombian was something of an enigma for the Millonario faithful. Blessed with sparkling football talent, in particular an almost supernatural ability in striking a football, Quintero had impressed as a youngster at Envigado and Atlético Nacional before seeing his career stall in Europe, bouncing around four clubs in barely five years and attracting stinging criticism over his work-rate and general physical appearance before coming to River on an initial loan move.

The rest is history. Initially a useful impact substitute with rather suspect stamina, the playmaker whipped himself into shape and into the hearts of his new employers, securing legendary status with his winning goal in the 2018 Copa Libertadores at the expense of none other than the Xeneize.

The question is, which Quintero has moved back to Buenos Aires? The wizard of those River years, or the player who struggled to make an impact over the past year in China for Shanghai Shenhua, who were happy to let him leave for more familiar ground? And just how much will his previous heroics count this time round?

Much the same can be said for Benedetto. In his first spell at Boca the striker was nothing short of spectacular, netting almost 50 times in three seasons – including a goal in each leg of that Libertadores Superfinal – and leading the club to back-to-back Primera Division titles before leaving for Marseille in 2019. His recent form, however, is rather less impressive. The last two years for the French club and most recently Elche in Spain have yielded just eight goals, while in the last month due to Covid-19 and injury he has made one single appearance off the bench for the Liga side.

There is no doubt that Boca could benefit from a proven centre-forward of Benedetto's calibre. The position has been a problem for the club ever since he left, with the likes of Ramón Ábila and Franco Soldano failing to meet the standards set by their predecessor.

Nostalgia, though, can be a dangerous drug. Both giants have the responsibility to temper expectations of their prodigal sons, as hard as that might prove behind the fan and media hype for two players who, after all, have been on the downslope since leaving. Offer them a clean slate and the chance to work their way back into form and each might just come through; expect them to pick up where they left off and disappointment is the most likely outcome.

Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards


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