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Riquelme v Maradona

As the great Juan Roman Riquelme retires from football, discover his epic rivalry with Diego Maradona for the hearts of the fans of Boca Juniors.
This is an extract from Superclasico, by Joel Richards, available on our 90 Minutes ebook shorts label, £1 or less from all the usual suspects.


Pep's Moscow Experiment

AHEAD of Bayern Munich's meeting with CSKA Moscow, this exclusive extract from Marti Perarnau's Pep Confidential focuses on the German club's 3-0 victory in September 2013. It was Guardiola's first Champions League match in charge of his new team and he introduced a new formation to devastating effect.

Enjoy the extract and then watch the highlights, including the rehearsed free-kick routine for Bayern's second goal at 1:21.

Pep Guardiola's Moscow Experiment



Still Super

By Joel Richards (@Joel_Richards), author of Superclasico: Inside the Ultimate Derby

The extent of the rivalry behind the superclásico was laid out very clearly last weekend. River Plate had to prioritise between a semi-final with Boca Juniors in the Sudamericana, South America’s secondary continental trophy, or the league title run-in.

It was the superclásico that came first.

Sandwiched in between the home and away ties with Boca, River faced Racing on Sunday. For such an important game, which would all but decide the league title between the two, River lined up with just two first-team players. The rest were under orders to rest ahead of the return leg against Boca.

The gamble backfired. Racing won and with two matches remaining went top of a league that River have dominated playing stylish football in recent months. Success this season could well rest on the clash with Boca, placing yet more pressure on the fixture.

When we published Superclasico last year, River Plate and Boca Juniors had both recently turned to the most successful coaches in the club’s history, Ramón Díaz at River and Carlos Bianchi at Boca, in the hope of turning around their fortunes.

Both have since gone.

Bianchi left Boca near the bottom of the table, with three points from four games earlier this season. His Boca side was a shadow of the legendary teams he built in the 2000s. Díaz has also gone, though he improved his stock at River, leading the team to the league title and much-needed silverware after a miserable previous few years at the club.

Having both turned to former champions, they then both called on young coaches who grew up in their youth systems, Marcelo Gallardo at River and Rodolfo Arruabarrena at Boca.

Under Gallardo, River have played some of the most attractive football in the domestic league perhaps since the Huracán side of Ángel Cappa, which featured a young Javier Pastore. Over at Boca, Arruabarrena has brought order to the side and the dismal start to the season is long forgotten, as they are one match away from a continental final.

The week since the first leg has been particularly tense at River. Losing to Racing piled on pressure to beat Boca. Coach Marcelo Gallardo’s mother passed away, and scandalously, there were stabbings inside the club restaurant as over 100 of the barra bravas clashed.

At the Bombonera last week, the football was rough, and of poor quality. Maybe this was to be expected in the first continental clash between the two in 10 years. With tension guaranteed, neutrals will hope for more of a show as this famous and enthralling derby is settled at the Monumental.

Superclasico for dummies

As Argentina prepares for a Superclasico double header in the Copa Sudamericana, we thought we'd throw out a few pointers from Joel Richards on Boca Juniors v River Plate, one of world football's bucket list fixtures.

As part of our 90 Minutes series, we asked Joel to write about the backstory of this fascinating rivalry - its origins in Buenos Aires, the development of the two clubs, the players the derby has produced and the current state of play.

You can find Super Clasico on Amazon - 90 Minutes was a Kindle-exclusive series - but here's a taster, on the legacy of Diego Maradona on the derby, and that of his rival in the Boca pantheon, Juan Roman Riquelme.

Finally, here's a great video Joel shot in Buenos Aires, where you can see the two grounds and learn a lot more about the origins of the superclasico.



When Ancelotti met Liverpool: Istanbul 2005

Tonight Carlo Ancelotti takes his star-filled Real Madrid team to Liverpool in the Champions League.

The opposition is important for the Italian. In 2005, he was manager of the Milan team who were 3-0 up in the final of the same competition, before Liverpool mounted one of the most famous comebacks in football.

One of his players that night in Istanbul was Andrea Pirlo. Here, from his autobiography, I Think Therefore I Play, is how that defeat affected him.

I thought about quitting because, after Istanbul, nothing made sense any more.

The 2005 Champions League final simply suffocated me. To most people’s minds, the reason we lost on penalties was Jerzy Dudek – that jackass of a dancer who took the mickey out of us by swaying about on his line and then rubbed salt into the wound by saving our spot kicks. But in time the truly painful sentence was realising that we were entirely to blame.

How it happened I don’t know, but the fact remains that when the impossible becomes reality, somebody’s fucked up – in this case, the entire team. A mass suicide where we all joined hands and jumped off the Bosphorus Bridge. The famous strait proved narrow in the extreme. So narrow, in fact, that if the whole Istanbul experience was a suppository, it could find no escape once inside us. Every now and then, I feel it move, letting me know it’s still there, asserting its presence. It calls me by name and it’s a pain in the arse in the truest sense of the term.

When that torture of a game was finished, we sat like a bunch of half-wits in the dressing room there at the Atatürk Stadium. We were bloodthirsty zombies faced with an unforeseen problem – the blood was ours and they’d drunk every last drop. We couldn’t speak. We couldn’t move.

They’d mentally destroyed us. The damage was already evident even in those early moments, and it only got more stark and serious as the hours went on. Insomnia, rage, depression, a sense of nothingness. We’d invented a new disease with multiple symptoms: Istanbul syndrome.

I no longer felt like a player, and that was devastating enough. But even worse, I no longer felt like a man. All of a sudden, football had become the least important thing, precisely because it was the most important: a very painful contradiction.

I didn’t dare look in the mirror in case my reflection spat back at me. The only possible solution I could think of was to retire. And what a dishonourable retirement it would have been.

I glimpsed the end of the line: the journey was over. The story was finished and so was I.

It was a brief, intense, shitty period. You couldn’t escape or pull the plug on a world that had turned upside down, and you were forever surrounded by the other guilty parties in this theft of our own dignity. We always ended up talking about it. We asked each other questions, but nobody had any answers. This was a collective psychoanalysis session with one fairly sizeable flaw: there wasn’t any doctor, just a bunch of madmen. One thought he was Shevchenko, another Crespo, another Gattuso, Seedorf, Nesta, Kaká… I thought I was Pirlo. A gathering of impostors, too many to get away with it.

I could hardly sleep and even when I did drop off, I awoke to a grim thought: I’m disgusting. I can’t play any more. I went to bed with Dudek and all his Liverpool teammates.

Even now if I mess up a pass, that malign force could be to blame. For that reason, I steer well clear of the DVD from the Liverpool game. It’s an enemy that I can’t allow to wound me a second time. It’s already done enough damage: most of it hidden far from the surface.

I’ll never watch that match again. I’ve already played it once in person and many other times in my head, searching for an explanation that perhaps doesn’t even exist. Praying for a different ending, like with those films you watch a second time hoping that you misunderstood the final scene. Surely the good guy can’t die like that?

There are always lessons to be found in the darkest moments. It’s a moral obligation to dig deep and find that little glimmer of hope or pearl of wisdom. You might hit upon an elegant phrase that stays with you and makes the journey that little less bitter. I’ve tried with Istanbul and haven’t managed to get beyond these words: for fuck’s sake.

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