Ah yes. The Superclásico.
You can keep your run-of-the-mill, bog standard clásicos. This here, Boca Juniors v River Plate, is a superclásico. All other clásicos pale in comparison. Barca-Real? Pah, nothing but a provincial squabble.
And if it wasn’t enough that Boca-River is such a gargantuan event in its regular form, the next edition of the fixture will be the final of the Copa Libertadores, CONMEBOL’s equivalent of the Champions League.
John Brewin’s calling it perhaps the biggest club game this year, or even this decade.
So it’s fair to say that this is a pretty huge deal.
Which got us thinking about some of the characters who’ve stood out from the crowd over the course of the Superclásico’s history, mainly by being absolute lunatics.
You have to have a fairly resolute constitution to survive in this rarefied atmosphere, and some certainly showed their ‘personality’ more than others for either or both teams down the years.
Like these five, for example.
Germán Burgos – River, 94 apps
It’s not particularly hard to justify Burgos’ inclusion here.
For a start, his nickname is ‘Mono’, or ‘Monkey’, and secondly, he fancies himself as a bit of a heavy metal god. Here he is (with the bandana and skull t-shirt) performing with his bad, The Garb:
According to Dermot Corrigan for ESPN, Burgos and his band recorded five records during the 1990s. If only he’d still been playing when Jurgen Klopp took charge of Liverpool.
Aside from his music career, old Germán is generally just a bit of a headcase. Here he is having to be held back by Diego Simeone, of all people, during a Madrid derby:
Diego Armando Maradona – Boca, 70 apps, 35 goals
Chances are, you might have heard of this guy. Back in the day, he was rumoured to be an attacking midfielder with a decent left foot, albeit one known as much for his ‘extra-curricular’ activities as anything else.
Only joking, of course. Still, over time, Maradona has become something of a parody, a gurning grandad who falls asleep at games and mouths off about, well, literally the first thing that comes to mind whenever he wakes up. But that shouldn’t change the fact he was the greatest player of his generation and also one of the best ever.
Considering his penchant for women, wine and illicit substances, he did well to last so long at the top of the game, which is a tribute to the man’s longevity, if not his professionalism.
An entire book could be devoted to cataloguing Diego’s ‘moments’ – in fact, several have – so there’s not much point in trying to do so here.
Instead, we’d rather appreciate him for what he was – a gifted genius who gave far more to the world than he took.
Not much remains to be said that hasn’t already been said about him. He’s an idol to millions, particularly in Argentina – and especially among Boca fans – and his behavioural wobbles haven’t done much to change that so far, and probably never will.
Enjoy some of the highlights from his return to La Bombonera in the 1990s:
Hugo ‘El Loco’ Gatti – River, 77 apps; Boca, 381 apps, 1 goal
Look, even Maradona called this guy ‘Loco’. Which tells you pretty much everything you need to know about Hugo Gatti.
Before Alisson, Ederson or Manuel Neuer, there was Gatti, one of the original sweeper-keepers. There was nothing more this man loved than charging out of his box, whether to hoof clear a through ball, scythe down a marauding attacker or showcase some of his mad skillz.
He was box-office:
And what about those headbands? Classic stuff.
This was a pure showman, a player who loved being the centre of attention, which is perhaps how he got the confidence to join Boca in 1976, having made his name as a River player in the sixties.
Martín Palermo – Boca, 318 apps, 193 goals
Oh look, another South American footballer nicknamed ‘Loco’.
Also known as ‘Titán’, Martín Palermo is sadly perhaps best remembered in the Anglophone world for his exploits from the penalty spot against Colombia in the 1999 Copa América:
Remarkable stuff, really.
Still, we may laugh, but this is a man who once scored a header from 40 metres:
Palermo often gave a slightly unhinged impression when he was on the pitch. He played with a level of aggression and commitment that was verging on manic, and his goal celebrations were notable for their unfettered nature – he once broke his leg after jumping into the crowd at Villarreal and causing an advertising hoarding to collapse.
His madness, along with his goals, endeared him to fans of the clubs for whom he played. Understandable, really:
Ariel Ortega – River, 272 apps, 65 goals
Ariel Ortega was gifted, one of the most outstanding playmakers of the late 1990s and early 2000s. But he never really lived up to his vast potential, partly thanks to the fact he was a bit mad.
They called him ‘El Burrito’, not because he resembled a classic tortilla-based meal, but rather because he was, well, a little donkey. For some reason, it seems like a perfectly suited moniker. Ortega was a stubborn wee lad who kicked hard.
When he went to Europe after spending most of the nineties with River, he found that he didn’t really like being told what to do. So he pretty much did whatever he wanted, and was soon banished from Valencia by Claudio Ranieri, who’d signed him hoping he would be the next Maradona. To whom, incidentally, Ortega once remarked that he ‘could be unprofessional just because he f*cking felt like it.’
His career was marked throughout by indiscretions. He walked out on Fenerbahce after half a season. At the 1998 World Cup, Ortega headbutted 6’5″ Edwin van der Sar; Ortega is 5’7″ – the Little Donkey, eh?
Sadly, his latter career was marked by alcoholism, for which he ended up seeking help. In 2007, he went on a bender the day after a game and had to be escorted from a beach resort by River’s medical team. He spent much of the following four years on loan to smaller clubs.