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Sunday Times


Riquelme is the real threat to Everton
By Ben Lyttleton
Sunday Times, 7 August 2005


Villarreal were already established as a club where talented South Americans could restore their careers before Uruguyan striker Diego Forlan, the former Manchester United forward, scored seven goals in five games at the end of last season to equal Samuel Eto'o as La Liga's top scorer with 24 goals.

Before him, two Argentinian players had worked their way back into their national team: left-back Juan Pablo Sorin, who had fallen out of favour at Lazio, and midfielder Juan Roman Riquelme, who was dumped by Barcelona and loaned out to Villarreal two years ago.  More recently, and more impressively Luciano Figueroa whom eagle-eyed Birmingham fans may remember as a 2.5-million forward who spent four months in the Midlands last year has got back into the Argentina side thanks to a brief spell at Villarreal.

But it is Riquelme who poses the biggest threat to Everton, their opponents in the Champions League third qualifying round as both clubs make their debut in the competition.  The 27-year-old spent one miserable season at the Nou Camp before moving to the side based in Levante on Spain's east coast.

"Villarreal have helped me get my football life back," Riquelme said.  "I'm happy again at Villarreal.  Things have been going well and I get to play every game.  I have the confidence of the coach and that obviously has an effect on my performances."

The fact that he is one of 10 South Americans at the club helped him adapt and he plays alongside two of his former team-mates from Boca Juniors in Sebastian Battaglia and Rodolfo Arruabarrena.

In his first season, Riquelme helped Villarreal mark their UEFA Cup debut with a place in the semi-finals.  Along the way, he scored against Galatasaray and Roma, after which El Mundo Deportivo newspaper advised fans to put a recording of the game in their video collections "if you ever need cheering up".  Last season he scored 16 goals as Villarreal finished in third place, the highest they have achieved.

The South American press have also sung his praises.  After Argentina beat Brazil 3-1 in Buenos Aires last month to go four points clear at the top of the South American qualifying group and seal their World Cup place, the Argentinian daily newspaper Ol crowed: "So, poor Brazil!  Did Riquelme give you enough of a run-around?  It was tango, samba, pure dance - just the type of thing you like, Brazil."

Villarreal's Chilean coach Manuel Luis Pellegrini, a title winner in Argentina with San Lorenzo and River Plate, was appointed only last summer but quickly won over neutrals with his team's attacking philosophy.

"Reaching the Champions League is a great achievement but what pleased me is the standard of football we played," he said.  "But this team is capable of giving even more and that is our next objective."

Villarreal have long been in the shadow of more illustrious neighbours Valencia and the shift in power brings particular pleasure to Villarreal president Fernando Roig, a grocery tycoon whose brother Francisco was, until recently, president of Valencia.

"We are thrilled to be in the draw but we know that Everton will be a hard game.  They did well last year in the Premier League and it will not be easy, he said.

Forlan, meanwhile, is confident that Villarreal whose nickname, 'The Yellow Submarine' is appropriate for the tie against the Merseysiders are a match for anyone, especially if Riquelme is on form.  "As a striker it's great to have someone behind you feeding you quality passes," he said.  "He knows where I'll be running to and his philosophy is simple if you are in a better position than him, he gives you the ball."

Facing Liverpool at this stage would have been tough on Everton, but Villarreal are certainly a tricky alternative.


[The above is unedited and provided within ToffeeWeb for archival purposes.]


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