Arguably one of the biggest games in football history sees Boca Juniors and River Plate lock horns in the final of the continent’s most illustrious tournament, Jack Tilghman takes a look at ten players to have crossed the divide and played for both bitter rivals…
The debate as to what is the greatest derby in world football will long carry on, but as the football world prepares for the first ever Superclasico in a Copa Libertadores Final, no one can deny that Boca Juniors vs. River Plate is at the big table in terms of rivalries.
What better way to prepare for undoubdetly the biggest Libertadores Final in history, than to look through the ten greatest players to play for both River and Boca.
The only foreigner on our list, the Uruguayan midfielder first moved to Argentina in 1994 to play for Argentinos Juniors. His brilliant displays quickly caught the attention of River who bought the player after only six months with the Paternal club.
At River, he would go on to become a popular player with the fans, as many Uruguayans before and after have, winning the 1994 Apertura in undefeated fashion and then the 1996 Copa Libertadores. Shockingly and with an Intercontinental Cup Final looming in the horizon with Juventus, Cedrés ‘crossed to the other side of the street’ as the saying in Argentina goes to Boca, stating he had finally lost his feathers, a dig at River and their supporters, forever known as las gallinas, or chickens.
A World Cup winner in 1986, el Vasco has the distinction of having played for three grandes, having also played for Racing. After beginning his career for the Avellaneda giants, the young defender made the big money move to River, where he joined a team full of stars in 1981 including Beto Alonso, Ubaldo Fillol, Mario Kempes, and Daniel Passarella, helping River win the title.
He made over 100 appearances for the Millonarios before doing the unthinkable and moving on to archrivals Boca. Although his time in La Boca was short and trophy less, he did win the World Cup while still a Boca player, though the best times of his career were most certainly with Racing.
Berti’s time with Boca first team was brief, making just six appearances, but after coming through the youth ranks, joining River in 1990 as part of a trade for Gabriel Batistuta, was as severe a betrayal as they come in the eyes of Boca supporters.
He went on to be a River legend in three spells at the club winning eight trophies. He quickly became an emblematic player, especially in Superclasicos where Boca fans and players alike were never shy about showing their hatred for him. In 1992, after being targeted by tough tackles from Boca players in his first few Superclásicos, Berti finally snapped. Boca’s Paraguayan defender lashed out at him, before the River midfielder retaliated with a brutal kick of his own.
In 2002, after leaving River for Club América of México, Berti returned to La Bombonera to face his archrival Boca. Before the match, threats from Boca supporters in the run up to the match including violent, menacing songs caused La Bruja to back out of the match citing his own safety and that of his family as the reason.
The only active player for either club to make the list, Maidana also has the distinction of having won the Copa Libertadores with both clubs: in 2007 with Boca and 2015 with River. The Adrogue-born Maidana started his career with local club Los Andes before moving to Boca where he won not only the Libertadores, but also the Copa Sudamericana, Recopa Sudamericana, and two first division titles.
He then made the move to the Ukraine to play for Metalist, before returning to Argentina to play for Banfield. Despite being so identified with Boca, Maidana moved to River in 2010, scoring a goal against Boca in his first match against his old club.
His first season for River was not to be all happy however, as he suffered relegation with the club for the first time in history. Showing his loyalty, Johnny stayed with River throughout the taxing campaign in the Nacional B to win promotion back to the Primera after just one season. His loyalty paid off, helping River win a plethora of trophies including a topflight triumph in 2014, the Copa Sudamericana, two Recopas Sudamericana, two Copas Argentina, Supercopa Argentina, and a Suruga Bank Championship.
Known for his eccentric playing style of using his feet in an era where most goalkeepers used nothing but their hands and for his penalty saving heroics (he saved 26 in his career, tied for the most ever in the Argentine top flight), Gatti made 757 top flight appearances in Argentina for Atlanta, River, Gimnasia, Union de Santa Fe, and Boca.
El Loco arrived at River during the last years of Amadeo Carrizo’s time between the posts, Gatti was never able to quite fill the great man’s boots, leaving for Gimnasia de La Plata after playing 77 matches over four seasons. After his time in La Plata and Santa Fe, Gatti moved to Boca where he would cement himself as one of the club’s all-time greats, helping them to three domestic titles, the first two Copa Libertadores in club history, and the first Intercontintal Cup.
Despite all he achieved in his career, Gatti is perhaps best remembered for the anecdote when he called a young Diego Maradona, then at Argentinos Juniors, a “fatty,” only to have el Pelusa score four goals past him the following day in a dominant Argentinos’ victory, convincing Boca’s directors, and Gatti, that Maradona should sign for the club. Despite his longevity at Boca, Gatti has confessed various times he supports River, which is perhaps one reason why he lives in Spain, far from La Bombonera.
Jose Manuel Moreno
River Plate’s La Maquina of the 1940’s is not only one of the few teams in history to be known only by its nickname, but also by its famous forward line: Muñoz, Moreno, Perdernera, Labruna and Loustau. Real Madrid all-time great Alfredo Di Stefano, then a River reserve, called it until his dying day undoubtedly the best forward line in history, far greater even than his famous Real Madrid teams.
Moreno was arguably the key man in the lineup, scoring 180 goals in 320 games helping River win four league titles. After moving to México and then onto Chile, Moreno made a shocking move to Boca. Although Moreno’s move may be viewed as treasonous, it was actually his initial move to River that could be viewed as a betrayal.
El Charro was actually born in La Boca, not far from La Bombonera, and grew up supporting his local club and playing in the youth division, only moving to River at the age of 15 when he was deemed not good enough for los Xeneizes. Despite his time at Boca (he only played one season), Moreno is immortalized throughout the River Museum thanks to his time in the club’s greatest ever team, La Maquina.
Few players can play for archrivals and still receive respect from both sides, and no one can fit this billing more than Gabriel Omar Batistuta. Long before he was Batigol and famous the world over, Batistuta began his career at Newell’s before moving to River. After starting well with the Millonarios, a coaching change brought Daniel Passarella to the helm and Bati quickly fell from favor in a feud that would continue through Passarella’s tenure as national team coach.
His lack of playing time and the way he was pushed out the door made his move to Boca far less controversial than any other. Although he improved greatly with the Xeneizes, Bati would not truly explode until he moved to Europe where he was a true legend with Fiorentina and Roma. His time with the Argentine National Team also makes him one of the greats of the Argentine game, netting 54 goals, including ten in World Cups, winning two Copa Américas, finishing as top scorer in Chile ’91 and scoring twice in the Final against México in 1993.
For those who saw the 1990 World Cup, few images are as memorable as the flying blond winger being taken down by Cameroon’s Benjamin Massing with a ludicrously violent tackle. The ‘Son of the Wind’ (El Hijo del Viento) would go on to be a world star thanks to his late goals against Brazil and hosts Italy. Yet before this, Caniggia was already a household name in Argentina for his time at River Plate, where he was a squad member in the team that won the Argentine Primera Division, Copa Libertadores, Intercontinental Cup, and Copa Interamericana.
Caniggia then moved on to Europe where he played for Verona, Atalanta, Roma (where he was banned for alleged cocaine use), and Benfica. In 1995 however, Caniggia did the unthinkable when he decided to return home to be reunited with his Argentina teammate and good friend Diego Maradona, at…. Boca Juniors.
Before his arrival, Boca fans unfurled a banner stating they were waiting for Caniggia, causing disturbances in the crowd, with River fans eventually stealing the banner in disturbingly violent clash between supporters.On the field, his time at Boca yielded no trophies, but he was more prolific in front of goal than any time in his career, netting 32 times in 74 games. His hat-trick against River in 1996, where he celebrated with passion, made him persona non-grata in Nuñez, never having been invited back to the club for events that honor past World or Libertadores champions.
At national team level, Caniggia will not only be remembered for Italia ’90, but also for forming a tremendous partnership with Batistuta as Argentina won the 1991 Copa América, his two goals and subsequent injury against Nigeria at USA ’94, and being sent off without setting foot on the pitch against Sweden at Japan/Korea 2002.
The majority of players to have played for both River and Boca never reached true idol status before making the big move, but Oscar Ruggeri certainly did. The towering center back who would win the World Cup for Argentina in 1986 and two Copa Américas in 1991 and 1993, came up through the youth ranks at Boca, helping the club win the Torneo Metropolitano in 1981 with Maradona.
In total, he represented the Xeneizes over 150 times when in 1984, with Boca on the verge of bankruptcy, el Cabezón (Bighead) committed nothing short of treason in the eyes of Boca fans when he and Ricard Gareca left La Boca and packed their bags for Nuñez. The wrath of Boca supporters was felt by Ruggeri more than any other player in recent memory, as the former Real Madrid defender claims that Boca Juniors supporters set fire to his parents’ house and his car after the controversial switch.
Ruggeri would have the last laugh however, winning everything with River from the Argentina Primera Division, Copa Libertadores, to the Copa Intercontinental. He also famously scored a goal in La Bombonera celebrating his goal with all his might in front of the Boca supporters.
Juan José ‘JJ’ López
Much like Ruggeri with Boca, JJ López was an absolute idol with River. Although he missed out on Argentina’s World Cup triumph in 1978, López was considered by most the best number eight (right-sided box-to-box midfielder) in the country. His time with River was nothing short of glorious. After coming through the youth ranks in Nuñez, Lopez played 466 times and scored 84 goals over 11 seasons winning seven league titles. His greatest goal for the club came in a Superclasico in 1979 from nearly 40 yards:
In 1982 however, with River in dire financial straits, López was unceremoniously pushed out the door to play for Talleres de Córdoba. A year later, out of spite, Lopez undid all his time at River by moving to Boca, instantly earning the title as the biggest traitor in club history.
Although his time with the Xeneizes was short (he played just 38 games), López was never able to reconcile with the River fan base, despite repeatedly stating how much he regretted the decision and how he and his family were still River supporters. Finally after years of waiting, in 2010, when Daniel Passarella took over as River President, he opened the door for his old friend to return to the club he claimed to love, with a position in the youth system.
When Angel Cappa was fired and River found itself without a coach and on the verge of relegation for the first time in history, Passarella promoted JJ to first team coach. Although his results were not terrible compared to his predecessor Cappa, a horrible run of draws and a heartbreaking loss to Lanús on the last day of the season put River in the promotion/relegations playoffs against Belgrano de Córdoba. River lost away and drew at home and were relegated for the first time in club history, sealing JJ’s fate as one of the most hated men in the club’s long, storied history.