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Last Updated: Monday, 5 June 2006, 05:51 GMT 06:51 UK
Back to the future
By Tim Vickery
South American football reporter

Juan Roman Riquelme in action
Riquelme knows when to slow the game down and when to speed it up

Jose Pekerman,
Argentina coach

When Juan Roman Riquelme receives the ball for Argentina it feels like the hands of time have been turned back.

"We used to have players like Riquelme," said Pele recently to a Brazilian TV station.

But these days Brazil have no one to compare with Argentina's maestro, who plays his club football for Villarreal in Spain.

Brazil's talent can now be found up front or at full-back rather than in the centre of midfield. Many other countries have gone the same way.

Riquelme is one of a dying breed; an old style playmaker who likes to put his foot on the ball and dictate the rhythm of the game.

Argentina coach Jose Pekerman would certainly agree.

His first move in the job was to decide to build his midfield around Riquelme, who at that point, some seven years after his international debut, had never even started a World Cup qualifier.

"I've seen very few players with Riquelme's capacity to understand the game," says Pekerman.

"He knows everything that's going on around him. He can define any player with precision.

"He can tell you why a team is playing well or badly. On the field he knows when to slow the game down and when to speed it up.

"He's one of those players who are disappearing from the game.

"Football is producing electrifying players, speed merchants. But it's losing the type of player who really knows what he's doing."

Such players have fallen out of fashion, victims of the frenetic rush towards ever-greater athleticism.

My job is to make sure that my team-mates can always find me to give me the ball

Juan Roman Riquelme

They can also fall foul of the dreaded statistical analysis. Brazil's chief scout has argued that if a team takes more than eight passes in a single move it is reducing its chances of scoring a goal.

The traditional Argentine school would completely disagree.

It holds that the more the ball is passed and the more the opposing defence is shifted around, the greater the possibility of creating two against one situations and goalscoring chances.

But it all depends on the quality of the passing and movement and that is why Riquelme is in the side - to pass, pass and pass again.

Argentina's coach is flying in the face of the contemporary idea that the game is won and lost either on set pieces or on transitions, those moments when possession changes hands and a rapid counter-attack can be launched.

Instead, control of midfield is king.

As Riquelme says: "Pekerman wants us to have the ball for the entire game, and my job is to make sure that my team-mates can always find me to give me the ball."

It all means that Argentina are a thoroughly old fashioned football team.

While fashions come and go, winners are usually imitated.

If the playmaker shines and Argentina go far in Germany then there could be plenty of Riquelme clones wearing various colours at the World Cups in 2010 and 2014.

Argentina team guide
27 Apr 06 |  Argentina
World Cup fixtures
09 Dec 05 |  Schedule
Have your say on the World Cup
28 Apr 06 |  Football
BBC World Cup coverage
27 Apr 06 |  BBC coverage
Tim Vickery on Riquelme
18 Apr 06 |  Europe
Riquelme switches to Villarreal
22 Jun 05 |  Europe

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