The battle for control of Boca Juniors – which pits legendary former midfielder Juan Román Riquelme against former Argentina president Mauricio Macri – has escalated to new heights as tempers flare.
The tone of the dispute has darkened with both national figures fighting to win the upcoming club elections. Riquelme, Boca’s current vice-president, is seeking the presidency. Macri, who led the Xeneize through a glorious 12-year spell beginning in the late 1990s, is seconding a ticket headed by Andrés Ibarra.
Campaigning for the elections entered the final stretch this week but a spanner was thrown into the works as a court moved to suspend the members’ vote scheduled for Sunday.
The move comes after a report produced by Macri’s opposition ticket alleged “anomalies” in the members’ electoral roll.
Responding to the news, Riquelme went on the attack, claiming on Tuesday that the former 2015-2019 president of Argentina is seeking to privatise the club and sell it off behind the back of fans.
“These people can’t ever step foot on our club again. They want to use it for something else,” declared the former number 10, who is considered by many to be one of the club’s greatest ever players.
Riquelme delivered the accusation at a press conference held at the club’s iconic La Bombonera stadium. They came after Macri himself had put the boot in at an earlier event at a hotel in Central Buenos Aires.
“Román, we have the chance to put an end to all these lies you’re telling. If you really want a transparent election, take these people [the alleged irregular members] out of the roll who shouldn’t be there, and we’ll vote on Sunday, which is what we all want,” Macri said, challenging his opponent.
“Only then will we see if people want to continue with this way of running the club, or to go back to what we once had – a professional, orderly club, above everyone else,” said the businessman, who last month clinched a deal with Javier Milei that helped libertarian lawmaker win the presidential run-off.
Without mincing his words, Riquelme – who previously showed an interest in holding the election earlier – lashed out at the opposition’s project to construct a “new” Bombonera with a capacity of 105,000 spectators.
“The only thing that can’t be touched are supporters. They want to take out their heart. They want the stadium a block away. If it goes, we’ll lose our history. These people aren’t interested in our club,” he snarled.
Riquelme, in contrast, is suggesting a larger Bombonera, for which the club would need to buy up properties around the famous stadium. That possibility was rejected several times by local owners.
“We’ll win the election and then I’ll have mate with the neighbours and ask them if they want to sell. If they all agree, we’ll expand La Bombonera. If anyone says no, we’ll leave it where it is,” the 45-year-old stated, claiming that he would win the election “95 to 5 [percent].”
Riquelme, a club legend, starred for Boca in two periods, between 1996 and 2002, and then between 2007 and 2014. He won 11 titles as a player, including three Copa Libertadores crowns and a Copa Intercontinental trophy.
Under his administration, the Xeneize have won six titles in the last four years, all of them domestic, though they made it to the final of the 2023 Copa Libertadores.
On the other side of the fence is Macri, president of Boca between 1995 and 2007, during which the side won 17 titles (including 11 international titles in eight years). He is the most successful administrator in the club’s storied history.
Since Macri threw his backing behind Milei in the presidential run-off against ruling coalition candidate Sergio Massa, Boca’s elections have taken on a significant political tone.
Underlining its impact, Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner – Macri’s political nemesis – alleged on Tuesday in a post on social media that the former head of state had “got the Judiciary to suspend the Boca election.”
Riquelme seemed well on his way to securing a comfortable triumph in the ballot a few months ago, but things turned complicated as Boca turned in increasingly erratic performances as the season neared its end.
As well as losing the Copa Libertadores final to Brazilian side Fluminense (1-2), the team exited the domestic cup competition and failed to qualify for the 2024 edition of South America’s premier club football tournament.