RICARDO BOCHINI: The Woody Allen of football
“We already knew that.
And for a long time.
He had just arrived in the ‘Seventh’ Club. He was only 16 years old, but it only took a few games that the word had already spread among all the ‘hinchas’ of ‘Los Diablos Rojos’,
Within a few weeks of his arrival, there were three times as many spectators as the previous season to watch the games of these youngsters.
He was the ‘Joya’ of the youth sector.
Not even two years later he made his debut in the first team (at the Monumental against River, not just any cancha!) and soon became one of the absolute benchmarks of a team that had long been at the top of Argentine football.
When he scored that goal in Italy and against an Italian team in the Intercontinental Cup final, the whole world discovered who Ricardo Bochini was.
It was 28 November 1973.
Juventus dominated the match. Only the goalposts and a few miracles by our goalkeeper Santoro kept us in the game. There were about ten minutes to go in the match. Bochini was given the ball on the midfield line. He started in progression, skipping a couple of Juventus players. Arriving near the Bianconeri area he looked for his ‘twin’, Daniel Bertoni. He passed him the ball and Bertoni, with first intention, returned it to Bochini. ‘El Bocha’ found himself inside the penalty area. Two Juventus defenders pressed him while Dino Zoff, the Juve goalkeeper, was ‘avalanching’ on his feet. At this point Bochini slowed down his run, lifted his head and with a very delicate lob passed over the onrushing Zoff. It was a wonderful goal.
It was the goal that decided the match.
We were World Champions.
But from that day on, we began to be afraid.
We were convinced it would only be a matter of time before some big club from Brazil, Mexico or even Europe came and took him away from us.
He was only 19 years old but the Argentine national team had already noticed him.
The following year there would be the World Cup in Germany and the whole world would get to know this phenomenon that we had the chance to see in action every week.
But then something absurd, inexplicable, totally unexpected happened.
Bochini was not even called up for that World Cup.
He couldn’t believe it and neither could we, who for a couple of years had been glazing our eyes and warming our hearts with his incredible plays.
There was the Huracan bloc then.
A great team that contributed so much to bringing Argentine football back to its purest tradition.
Brindisi, Houseman, Babington, Carrascosa … all great footballers.
The ‘Bocha’, among them, would have been like a diamond in a beautiful crown.
It was not to be.
The most selfish among us said it was better that way after all.
Without that showcase we could perhaps have kept Bochini with us for a while longer.
“After all, he is only 20 years old. He will play at least three World Cups.
I didn’t think that was right.
Not least because I was absolutely convinced that with Bochini on the field (and even the egotists knew this) we would have had a stronger national team.
But then I thought about what it would be like to go to the ‘Doble Visera’ and never see him on the field again.
… and I ended up agreeing with the ‘egoists’ …
A few months later ‘El Bocha’ took his revenge by winning the Copa Libertadores.
For us hinchas of the ‘Rojos’ it was the third consecutive year.
We had a fantastic team.
Daniel Bertoni, ‘El Pancho’ Sa, Ricardo Pavoni, Ruben Galvan, José Pastoriza, Agustin Balbuena, Eduardo Maglioni … all great footballers that the talent, class and vision of the ‘Bocha’ exalted, making them all look even better.
In 1978 the World Cup was played at home.
We told ourselves that either we would win it this time or we would never win it again.
Those were terrible days for our country.
A ruthless dictatorship was so cunning and protected that it was hidden from the eyes of the world.
Bochini should have been on the pitch with our national team.
This time, however, it was politics that decided
The military junta had its preferences and there was nothing in the lives of Argentines where they did not interfere … let alone in football, one of my people’s reasons for living!
General Carlos Alberto Lacoste, a huge River fan, wanted ‘El Beto’ Alonso in Cesar Menotti’s 22.
Alonso was a great, great number 10.
But Ricardo Bochini was a span above him.
Menotti, who was disliked by the military junta (which ‘El Flaco’ absolutely loved) was forced to accept.
Even today it is said that ‘Alonso entered the list in place of the young Diego Maradona’.
Alonso entered the place that was Bochini’s, and no one else’s.
However, the ’10’ that should have been Bochini’s did not go to Alonso but was instead handed to Mario Kempes who was the exact opposite of Bochini.
Tall, powerful, handsome and with thick hair.
So Menotti partly took his revenge and Norberto Alonso played a supporting role in that world championship.
And so Bochini was still with us.
Even when, at the end of that World Cup, his favourite partner, Daniel Bertoni, left for Europe.
Then we really trembled.
We knew only too well that Bertoni was an excellent striker … but it was Bochini on the flank who made him look like a champion.
Instead, Sevilla only took Bertoni, leaving us Bochini who, having not played that World Cup, was clearly not in the sights of European teams.
To take his umpteenth revenge he did not have to wait long.
On 10 January for the final of the Nacional Championship we faced River Plate.
The River of Passarella, of Fillol, of Luque … and of Alonso and General Lacoste.
The first leg at the Monumental ended 0-0.
In the return leg, in our cancha, we didn’t give the ‘Millionarios’ a chance: 2-0.
Bochini scored both goals, proving that he too, like Passarella, Luque, Fillol and Alonso, deserved to be called ‘world champion’.
And so Bochini stayed on.
He did not even play in the World Cup in Spain in 1982, despite the fact that he was probably at the top of his career at that time.
Too many cocks in the henhouse of that Argentina team that went to Spain as World Champions and was perhaps even stronger than the team that won the World Cup four years earlier.
By now ‘El Bocha’ was resigned and we with him.
After all, he was the worst promoter of himself and in a football where ‘image’ always counted more, Ricardo Bochini looked like a footballer from another era… and not only because of his incipient baldness, his tiny and unattractive physique.
His shyness off the field was proverbial.
No interviews, never out of line, never argumentative, angry or aggressive.
He would play and then go home to his beloved Antonia.
In 1983 a ‘new’ twin arrived in the team.
His name was Jorge Burruchaga. He played alongside him in the midfield of the ‘Rey de Copas’, as we were now called throughout South America.
They compensated each other perfectly. Burruchaga would conquer ball after ball, feed them to Bochini and then launch himself into space to attack the depth to receive the delicious assists of the ‘Bocha’.
A perfect understanding.
‘El Burru rhythm guitar and El Bocha lead guitar’ is what we used to say in those days.
We won the Metropolitano, then again the Copa Libertadores (where we gave a football lesson to the Brazilians of Gremio) and we came back, 10 years later, to play an Intercontinental Cup final again.
This time, no return matches.
A single final, in Tokyo.
Facing not just any team but Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush and Alan Hansen’s Liverpool.
For the first time, just two years after the Malvinas War, we were facing a British team.
The whole of Argentina cheered for us that day.
And our boys did not disappoint.
A goal from José Alberto Percudani after a handful of minutes was more than enough to put this trophy back in our trophy cabinet.
That year (and it was about time!) Bochini won 3rd place as the best footballer in South America and the year before (finally!) as the best Argentinian footballer.
The years meanwhile passed and Ricardo Bochini was rewriting the history of our club.
He still remained with us, although he was obviously no longer the same player as a few seasons earlier.
He had lost an ounce of his flair and his area of manoeuvre had shrunk.
But if possible he had even more sharpened that incredible vision of the game that ‘made him see highways where others could not even see paths’.
In 1986, Carlos Bilardo finally included him in the squad for the Mexican World Cup.
The team revolved around Maradona but only those born outside this country can think that Burruchaga, Valdano, Ruggeri, Brown, Batista or Borghi were mediocre players.
For our ‘Bocha’ it was a career award even though he might have deserved something more than a fifteen-minute catwalk against Belgium.
He continued to play at the highest level for another four seasons, and in 1989 we lifted the First Division trophy again.
He seemed to have a map of the field in his brain. And he always knew where his teammates were.
He was eternal, unburnable and resilient.
In spite of that physique that made him look even older than his years.
“You’ll see, Bochini will play forever!” was now the phrase heard in every game at Doble Visera.
Then came that day.
That cursed day and that cursed player.
El Bocha received a ball in the opponent’s three-quarter, made a feint and with the outside of his foot sent his direct opponent to the bar.
Always with his head up, always with the ball caressing his foot.
From behind, late and with no chance to hit the ball, a tremendous ‘patada’ came at him.
Ricardo Bochini fell to the ground. We all heard his scream. He came out on a stretcher.
Pablo Erbin, the Estudiantes defender, did what no European or South American team had managed to do for almost 20 years: take away the pure happiness of seeing our number 10 play.
That was the end.
We never saw ‘El Bocha’ on the field again.
Thus ended the story of one of the greatest footballers ever to appear on a football field.
And I feel immensely sorry for those, and unfortunately there are many, who were not able to see him in action.
We at Club Atletico Independiente were lucky.
Ricardo Bochini was, is and will be, always and only ours.
ANECDOTES AND CURIOSITIES
One of Ricardo Bochini’s greatest admirers was undoubtedly Jorge Valdano. He was the first to compare El Bocha to Woody Allen. ‘They both have the face of losers, a tiny and unattractive physique. They look like the ones who get beaten up by everyone at school as children. But both are ABSOLUTE GENIUSES in their professions’.
Valdano continues. ‘Bochini was a genius who invented miracles with his head and performed them with his right foot. And he used his whole body to deceive his opponents. Explaining ‘El Bocha’ to people born outside Argentina is almost impossible.”
Before arriving at Independiente Bochini tried out for two other great Argentine teams. ‘his’ San Lorenzo (of which he always declared himself a fan) and Boca Juniors.
… receiving in both cases the exact same answer. ‘He doesn’t have the physique to play football’.
As a child, football was an obsession for Bochini.
Once his match with the peers was over, instead of changing, he would stay for the next one in the higher category.
He would stand near the bench hoping that sooner or later he would be called upon again … and given his skill, it often happened!
When he arrived at Independiente he was placed in a guesthouse along with many youth team players, earning a sum that was not enough to support him, and only thanks to the help of friends from his Barrio di Zarate was he able to support himself and continue playing football. Things changed little even after his debut in the first team. ‘I was too shy to ask for a raise … and too happy to play in the first team to risk ruining everything,’ recalls ‘El Bocha’ today.
Everyone knows that Ricardo Bochini was Diego Armando Maradona’s great idol. It even seems that Bochini’s call-up for his first and only World Cup, the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, had Diego’s hand in it.
Memorable were the words of Maradona himself when, less than a quarter of an hour before the end of the match against Belgium, Bochini entered the cancha in place of Burruchaga.
‘Please Maestro. We have been waiting for you,’ Maradona said to the 34-year-old Bochini.
Adding that ‘playing together in a World Cup match was a great prize. But it was a prize for me, not for Bochini. He was so great that he didn’t need it’.
Finally, the memory of his ‘twin’ Daniel Bertoni, with whom he shared the path in the youth teams and for over a five-year period in the first team.
“I always wonder if the people of Independiente really realise what Ricardo Bochini was. He should feel enormous pride knowing that a player of his class chose to play his entire career at this club. I know for a fact that in my entire career I have never played alongside someone stronger than him’.
You can read many more Remo Gandolfi stories at www.ilnostrocalcio.it