Interview – Catch him while you can: Palacio is what makes Boca tick, but Europe is calling

p1_palacio_1107It’s no surprise that Boca Juniors has dominated South American soccer in recent years. Not only is it the most well-organized and recognized club around the continent, but it’s the one that consistently produces players of the highest caliber.

This season Los Xeneizes are closing in on what would be a record third successive Argentine league championship. As of Tuesday, they are atop the league standings and looking as strong as ever. Their success is due, as always, to their unbelievable depth and, in particular, their most potent attacking weapon: Rodrigo Palacio.

The exciting 24-year-old striker is currently the hottest property in Argentine soccer, and is looking to finish another year on a high note after helping Boca to five trophies in less than two years.

Although Palacio is renowned for avoiding the press, I was able to convince him to discuss his rise to fame after a recent training session. We touched on several issues, including his success at Boca, his thoughts on the national team and the rumors surrounding his possible transfer to Barcelona. You are without doubt the most complete striker in Argentina. But what do you think is your best quality as a player?

Palacio: I think my speed is probably the most important quality I have. How have you developed during your time at Boca Juniors?

Palacio: I’ve learned a lot since arriving at the club, and I think day by day I have progressed. To arrive at such an important club like Boca gives you certain privileges, and being able to have the opportunity to play with such high-quality teammates allows one to learn a lot. Day by day I continue to grow. Did you expect to achieve so much success when you first arrived here?

Palacio: To tell you the truth, when I first arrived, I thought that I would have an opportunity to maybe win a title. But everything that has happened to us in these last two years has been amazing. We practically won everything we played and it has been great. Who were your idols when you were growing up as a soccer player?

Palacio: Well, my idol was Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who now is my teammate. So that is also like a dream come true for me. As a youngster I always admired him, so to play on the same team as him is huge. I always watched his games and tried to copy as many things of him as possible. Now you are one of the most admired players in Argentina. How does it feel to be the idol of so many young Argentines?

Palacio: I don’t know if I’m seen as an idol. I think there’s still a long way to go before I become one. Maybe kids have other idols, players like Guille, who has played here for a long time and who has won everything, or Martín [Palermo], or the Pato [former keeper Roberto Abbondanzieri] — they are players who have played at the club for a long time. I’ve just started over here, and there’s still a long way to go before I can achieve this. So I don’t consider myself an idol yet.

p1_palacio2_1107 Boca’s transition under new head coach Ricardo Lavolpe hasn’t been as smooth as was expected. Do you feel the team is starting to adapt to his style of play?

Palacio: Yes, slowly we are improving. We are starting to understand the things that he wants, and I think match by match the team has showed that it is growing as a unit. I hope that we can continue improving and winning matches. Day by day we will become more adapted to his style. How has the team changed from when Alfio Basile was in charge?

Palacio: I don’t think the team has changed much. Maybe Ricardo plays with another type of system when compared to that of Basile’s, but we have to adapt to the system that he wants. Well maybe he made a few changes to the team, but there haven’t been too many. Besides Boca, which teams do you feel are candidates to win the Apertura Championship?

Palacio: There are lots of teams that look like candidates. Taking the points into account, there’s Estudiantes, Boca and River. But I think the championship is very even, and many rounds still remain, so any team that wins a couple of matches in a row will be in with a good shot. But from what I see now, I think it’s mainly out of Estudiantes and Boca, two teams that are playing great soccer and who look like the main contenders for the title. Although your playing time was limited, how was the whole World Cup experience?

Palacio: The experience was fantastic. To be part of a team with so many stars was like a dream come true for me. I enjoyed it a lot and I learned a lot of things. Living with the best players in the world for 40 days was amazing. Maybe it wasn’t so good for me on a personal note, because I didn’t play as much as I would have like to, but that wasn’t because I didn’t play well — I slipped quite a lot and couldn’t perform as well as I would have liked to. But besides that I think Argentina had a great World Cup, but unfortunately we were knocked out on penalty kicks. What do you think of the appointment of Basile as the new national-team coach?

Palacio: I think it was the right choice. I think “El Coco” deserved this opportunity for everything he did here at Boca. I think this opportunity with the national team was well deserved, and maybe it will open doors for us players here at Boca to prove ourselves with Argentina. He knows all of us very well because he saw us as a team and hopefully we will play important roles in his team. Do you think Basile’s appointment will increase your chances of playing regularly for the side?

Palacio: I don’t know if I will have a greater chance. One has to perform well at his club before thinking about being called up for the national team. But maybe we will have more of an advantage because he knows us more than the other players. He was our manager for two years, and he knows what we can give. He watched us in every training session, and maybe this gives us an extra advantage over the other players. But regardless, the players who will be selected will be those who are playing better at the time, no matter which club you’re with. Many top European clubs have shown an interest in you, but you insist on staying on at Boca. With your enormous potential, many are asking how long you’ll stick around.

Palacio: Yes that’s true, many clubs are interested. But not long ago I signed a four-year contract. My deal at Boca lasts until 2010, so I’ll be staying at the club until then. Further ahead, we’ll see if there’s a possibility for me to move abroad, and we’ll see if it suits me. But if nothing comes up, I won’t be worried. I’m very comfortable here at Boca, and would be happy to stay here. Barcelona president Joan Laporta was recently in Argentina and reportedly has an eye on you. Would you like to play for Barça?

Palacio: I don’t really think about that too much. I’m aware that there has been lots of speculation, but I’m not sure whether there have been any concrete offers. But well, for me to be talked about by the president of such an important club is an honor in itself. This gives me lots of strength to keep on learning things, to continue improving — if one day it happens, I’ll try my best to make the most of the opportunity.

Gregory Sica

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