Riquelme - one of a dying breed
After last month's World Cup qualifiers left Argentina without a win in five games, I wrote a piece about their problems.
It focused on the team's deficiencies in both penalty areas - and for this reason I made a point of not even mentioning key midfielder Juan Roman Riquelme.
It was no surprise to me, however, when the comments section was full of references to him, many of them hostile.
Riquelme divides opinions, and with the qualification campaign resuming this weekend, the debate will rage once more. But it is much more than a discussion about a player; it deals with the very nature of the contemporary game.
So much of modern football is a desire for 'bigger, faster, stronger' and with the emphasis now on ever greater athleticism, is there still room for an old fashioned foot-on-the-ball playmaker who moves with the ungainly gait of someone wading through water?
Many, even in Argentina, would now say no. They would argue that Riquelme is a throwback to the 1940s, an expensive luxury always likely to be crowded, hustled and cancelled out in today's packed midfields.
I'm in the opposite camp, though I am fully aware that we have no monopoly on the truth.
One of the great strengths of football is that it can be interpreted in many different ways, but I love watching a player who does his part to keep alive two unfashionable concepts in modern football.
One is change of rhythm, the idea that the game can be slowed down before the application of the killer pass. The other is surprise - the ball that no one was expecting, that wrong foots the entire defence.
Riquelme seeks to pass his way through the opposition whereas so many these days are more concerned with forcing their way through. His type is an endangered species. Something special will be lost from football if they die out altogether.
This Saturday, Argentina are at home to Uruguay and I well remember this fixture four years ago, in the qualifiers for the 2006 World Cup.
It was Jose Pekerman's first game in charge of the senior side, and Riquelme's big chance. When Pekerman took over Riquelme had been an international for seven years, but had been given very few opportunities.
The Uruguay game was the first World Cup qualifier he started and the stadium rose to him, even the River Plate fans, and he took Uruguay apart with a magnificent display of passing football.
Those who saw it were therefiore not surprised - thrilled but not surprised - two years later by the famous Cambiasso goal against Serbia in the 2006 World Cup, where Riquelme was the hub of a hypnotic exchange of passes which left a defence which had conceded just one goal in Serbia's 10 qualifying matches in tatters.
This, perhaps, is the key to Riquelme. He may be an introvert, but he is no individualist. Many modern stars specialise in moments of individual genius and seek to win the World Player of the Year award.
Riquelme is a team player who helps bring out the best in those around him. For this reason it is vital that he is placed in the right context. He can pass the ball like no-one else - but he needs people to pass to.
The man without the ball makes the play, because he provides the options. Argentina look best when Riquelme and Messi are close enough to exchange passes. If the pair can truly click, then they can be like a single beast where Riquelme is the brain, and Messi is the legs and the bite.
Argentina also lack width, a problem since the demise of Sorin as a rampaging left-back. Angel Di Maria, the hero of the Olympic campaign, looks like an interesting addition and if Argentina's passing game sucks the opposition into the centre, Di Maria can then be sprung on the left.
It looked a very useful option last month against Paraguay, until Tevez was sent off and coach Basile had to rejig. Three days later, away to Peru, Basile, fearing a battle, went with Jonas Gutierrez.
The tackles were indeed flying, and when Gutierrez was injured early the coach brought on holding midfielder Battaglia, and once again left himself short of width.
Riquelme played badly in both games. He was sluggish, often caught in possession and unable to dictate the rhythm of the matches. Even so, he he set up Argentina's goal against Peru with the pass of the round, a diagonal slide through to Gago on the right that split the defence.
He was also involved in the goal against Paraguay, where his one-two with Messi paved the way for Aguero's strike and in the same game he also put in a high cross that Coloccini headed just wide, and a low one that Aguero struck over from close range - plus rattling the bar with a free kick.
There are very, very few players around who can play badly that well.
Same drill as usual - space below is for comments relating to this article. Questions on other topics to firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll pick out a couple next week.
I wondered if you could recommend any literature on football, both relating particularly to South America and if you knew of any general works that you feel help put football in a global context. I am particularly interested in the history of football and its development in relation to major cultural and historical events.
I think I can send you to the right place - David Goldbatt's 'The Ball is Round: a global history of football.' It's an absolutely magnificent achievement. I've recommended it to many people, and they usually write back to say how happy they are with it. Excellent on South America - excellent on everywhere.
I was wondering about your opinions on where Lucas Leiva is going? I had extremely high hopes for Lucas and still harbour a lot of hope for him. He seems like a good lad and has put in a good performance here and there but sometimes I wonder if he will really become the star that some people have tipped him to be. Do you see him ever making a lasting impression at Liverpool?
I haven't seen much of him at Liverpool recently, though I did see him play (badly, unfortunately) for Brazil against Bolivia recently. I think the first time I wrote about him was in World Soccer magazine at the start of last year, when I picked him out as one of the most promising players in the South American Under-20 Championships.
I commented then that I loved his forward runs, but I thought he should take more responsibility from deep. I wanted to see him set the moves in motion, work the midfield triangles, impose himself from centrefield - as well as bursting through into the opposing penalty area.
His recent international performances (Olympics, etc) disappointed me in this sense as well as making me depressed about contemporary Brazilian central midfield play. I think he's capable of being a more rounded player, of being much better than the Lucas who's recently been appearing for Brazil. But Liverpool fans are seeing much more of him than I am - I'd love to get their opinions.