Two of Argentina’s most gifted talents both celebrate their birthdays today as Lionel Messi turns 27 and Juan Román Riquelme 36. Despite their different career paths and very different styles of play, their talents are undeniable. Riquelme captained Messi to Olympic Gold in 2008 but perhaps Argentina did not see enough of this duo together.
With Lionel Messi currently in Brazil captaining Argentina, the celebrations are likely to be subdued but with the 27-year-old leading the charge for La Albiceleste, the nation might be warming to the Barcelona striker who has not previously been given the adulation that he receives in Europe.
In spite of a less glittering career, Riquelme (at least by the legions of Boca Juniors fans in Argentina) is idolised. At 36 years of age, his career is winding down but his performances in the recent Torneo Final proved his value to Boca and a new contract should see him lighting up La Bombonera for a while yet.
Both men have a Barcelona link but their experience with the Catalan giants could not have been more different.
While Messi was integrated into La Mesia as a child and nurtured into the star player, Riquelme followed a more traditional route. From Argentinos Juniors to Boca Juniors and then a big money move to Barcelona. However the €11 million move in 2002 did not work out with Louis van Gaal often playing the enganche out wide.
Just a year later, a loan move to Villarreal followed and eventually the deal was made permanent where Riquelme once again proved his class. His remarkable performances for Villarreal kept him in the Argentina side and at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the 28-year-old Riquelme was central while the 19-year-old, Messi was a peripheral figure.
Two years later, the pair were reunited with Riquelme captaining the Olympic team in China. Messi was now a superstar in his own right but with Riquelme’s Argentina career coming to an end, there were few chances to see the two together.
The two together at the peak of their powers could have been a frightening prospect.
Messi is now a year older than Diego Maradona when he led Argentina to the World Cup in 1986 and the hope remains that he will equal the feat of another of Argentina’s great number 10s. His reponse to this resposibility so far this tournament has been excellent but can Argentina go all the way?
Either way, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Lionel Messi and Juan Román Riquelme!