Falcioni gambles his own Boca future by axing ever-popular Riquelme
"I donÃ¢ÂÂt give explanations," was all Julio CÃÂ©sar Falcioni was willing to offer. "ItÃ¢ÂÂs not a tactical question, itÃ¢ÂÂs to do with how the team operates," he added, before stating that the side that he had chosen was the Ã¢ÂÂbestÃ¢ÂÂ team he could field.
To the devotees, to the fundamentalists, to the believers and definitely to the group that met at Buenos AiresÃ¢ÂÂ phallic landmark The Obelisk on Wednesday to kick up a fuss in the centre of town and show support for their idol, the idea that the Ã¢ÂÂbestÃ¢ÂÂ Boca team does not include Juan RomÃÂ¡n Riquelme is heresy.
By excluding him from the squad - not just the starting eleven, but the squad - Falcioni is the first coach to leave out a fully-fit Riquelme. "I donÃ¢ÂÂt agree with the decision," muttered the dropped number 10.
It is a decision that will define FalcioniÃ¢ÂÂs reign at the Bombonera and, therefore, define RiquelmeÃ¢ÂÂs future.
Just two matches into the Clausura, the Boca coach has taken on the biggest fight of all, against the star player, against the fansÃ¢ÂÂ favourite, against members of the board. It is an enormous gamble.
A distilled reading of what has happened so far goes like this: on his debut at the Bombonera, Falcioni lined up with Riquelme, and the team lost 4-1 to Godoy Cruz. It was a historic thrashing. The following week, without Riquelme, the team won away to Racing, 1-0.
Julio CÃÂ©sar Falcioni - he seems...fun
But beyond pure resultadismo, there is more going on. Against Godoy Cruz, playing just behind Riquelme was Walter Erviti, a creative and thoughtful passing midfielder who operates best slightly deeper than Riquelme, but whose function in his teams (before moving to Boca on the insistence of Falcioni) has always been similar to RiquelmeÃ¢ÂÂs.
The side made several chances, and bad luck and poor finishing conspired against Boca. At the other end the team leaked chances, and together with a nervy performance in goal by Javier GarcÃÂa, they conceded four.
The following week against Racing they won, but neither Erviti nor Riquelme played. Boca created nothing. The only goal came after Javier GarcÃÂa, back on form, held on to the ball for 10 seconds, much to the disgruntlement of Racing fans, and then thumped the ball forward. One bounce took the ball to Pablo Mouche, who was left unmarked and finished well.
It wasnÃ¢ÂÂt so much route one as route zero (Riquelme, as Jorge Valdano once commentated, prefers to take the longest route possible).
Falcioni has form in dropping big name players from his spell in charge both at VÃÂ©lez and Independiente, but as one radio announcer delicately put it during an interview with Riquelme after the news broke that he had been dropped, Ã¢ÂÂwho has got the testicles to put Riquelme on the bench?Ã¢ÂÂ If Boca donÃ¢ÂÂt find their stride quickly on Saturday against All Boys, Falcioni is in for a rough ride in front of the home fans.
All of this plays out in the context of a wider battle at Boca, within which Riquelme-gate is just one of the various plots, albeit one of the central ones, interweaving with other stories of power struggles. RiquelmeÃ¢ÂÂs contract extension split the board down the middle. Handing him an expensive four-year contract with his history of injuries was too much according to some.
The fact that the club then brought in a stern coach who doesnÃ¢ÂÂt like to play with a classic enganche is, as Ariel Greco put it in PÃÂ¡gina/12, "like a top end restaurant bringing in a cook who only flips burgers because he overcooks the sweetbread."
And beyond the decision to bring in a conservative-minded coach while renewing the contract of the star player whose characteristics essentially demands building a team around him, rest several other problems.
Last week directors had to publicly refute reports that punches were thrown during a board meeting. Whether there were punches or not, the fact they have to deny those reports speaks volumes of the current climate in the boardroom. And things aren't looking much cooler in the dressing room eitherÃ¢ÂÂ¦
FIXTURES Friday Olimpo v Godoy Cruz, ColÃÂ³n v Gimnasia Saturday LanÃÂºs v Quilmes, San Lorenzo v Racing, Boca v All Boys Sunday Estudiantes v Banfield, Argentinos v VÃÂ©lez, Independiente v River Monday HuracÃÂ¡n v Arsenal, Tigre v NewellÃ¢ÂÂs