This one goes out to the one I love
This one goes out to the one I’ve left behind
A simple prop to occupy my time
This one goes out to the one I love
Back in early 2000s, there was a small kid from Argentina who fired up the footballing world. As a little kid, his childish face and rabbit-like speed (which is also why he got his nickname El Conejo/The little rabbit) was more than enough for Saviola to grow on me. He was also the best player and scorer in Fifa’s U-20 tournament in 2001, and Barcelona wasted no time. Argentina was looking for next their savior, the next Maradona, and it looked like the wait is over. Javier Saviola appeared.
In hindsight, the comparisons with Messi are unavoidable – they both possesed blistering pace, fearless dribbling in traffic, and great finishing. They both won major youth tournament for Argentina and they both started their European career in Barcelona. Where did it all go wrong for the little magician?
Saviola started off his professional career in red and white part of Buenos Aires – River Plate. He won Southern America’s best player award at only 19, and he also helped his team win Apertura and Clausura*
*Complex Argentinian championship system with two champions each season – one for opening (Apertura) and one for closing part of the season.
At the time of his arrival, Barcelona was in a bad spot. The club was going through a major change – Cruyff’s dream team from the 90s has ended, Ronaldo and former president, who greatly helped Barcelona’s rise, Nunez, departed, along with van Gaal. What followed was constant change in coaching position amid arrival of Saviola. Van Gaal took over once again in 2003, but what followed was maybe the worst La Liga campaign in Barcelona’s history, even falling to 15th place in the second part of the season. However, Saviola lived up to his reputation, netting 17 goals in his first season at Barcelona. Javier couldn’t find his place in returning van Gaal’s plans, and scored only twice in the first part of the season. That, however, changed when Radomir Antić took charge, and Saviola scored 11 times until the end of the season.
With the arrival of Laporta, Rijkaard, and the departure of Gaspart, who was main man in charge of Saviola’s transfer, things went downhill. He wasn’t in new coach’s plans, so he moved on loan to Monaco, after which he moved back to Spain on another loan, this time to Sevilla, where he was fifth best scorer in the league and UEFA Cup winner.
Barcelona took him back for 2006/07 and gave him somewhat Paco-esque role, starting only six matches and scoring five goals. Eto’o missed most of the season due to injury which opened up some playing time for Saviola.
In 2007. Saviola shocked Barcelona – when his contract expired, he moved nowhere else, but to Real Madrid, ready to prove everyone wrong. He even reportedly turned down 16(!) offers just so he can go to Madrid. Unfortunately, it turned out Real Madrid only took Saviola to spite Barcelona, as he was nowhere near their serious plans. Real Madrid already had Higuain, Robben, Robinho, Baptista, van Nistelrooy, he was unnecessary.
After failing in Real Madrid, he roamed Europe, playing in Benfica, Olympiakos and Malaga before he returned home, place where he’ll always be accepted – River Plate. Things didn’t go as planned and Saviola couldn’t score in 13 appearances which meant retirement.
He’s still in football today, managing in Andorra, and he seems happy with where he is. “The little rabbit” always stayed the same way – smiling, playing for the joy of it. Today’s football doesn’t accept much of that, he learned the hard way.
There’s strong message for younger generation along these lines – in one moment, you’re unstoppable, the king of South America with dream move to South America’s favorite club – FC Barcelona. Few years later, big clubs already moved on to newer, younger and better versions of him.
I don’t know why, but Saviola always had special place in my heart. He wasn’t the next Maradona, but when you watched him, you watched football being played with soul, there’s no explaining it.