“Yo aprendí con usted a sentarlos de culo,” said Diego Maradona of his ídolo, Ricardo Bochini. Translated roughly, El Diego was saying “I learnt from him how to sit people on their arse.”
Maradona did that aplenty, most famously for Argentina against the English, dipping, diving, driving and beating six players en route to one of the most iconic goals ever scored. Bochini is Maradona’s unlikely idol. For Independiente, he’s a likely hero, their greatest player. Short, ungraceful, but a pure genius.
While relatively unknown in Europe, it is widely accepted by most Argentines, even the most steadfast of Racing fans (Independiente’s rivals), that Bochini is one of the finest players the country has produced. He is emblematic of the Argentine football style; raw but ever so entertaining.
Bochini was and is the master of la pausa, the exceptional and rare talent of delaying a pass in waiting for a teammate to reach the optimal scoring position, bypassing defenders, leaving the teammate one-on-one with the goalkeeper. That kind of pass is called, in Argentina at least, bochinesco (bochinesque pass). Strikers in a Bochini-Independiente team had only two tasks; making the run, finishing the chance. Beating a defender? Bochini’s precise assist would do that job, sometimes two or three players at once.
Bochini’s career is told best through three goals. The first came in 1973. Bochini had been born and raised in Zárate, a small city on the edge of the Paraná River. A one-hour-ten-minute drive from the centre of Buenos Aires, but a five-hour journey to training for Bochini.
He was close to but so far from the hub of Argentinian football, the nucleus of Argentina’s talent. His father had been persistent, taking him to trials in the capital city. Rejections came from San Lorenzo de Almagro and Boca Juniors, but Independiente offered him a youth contract in 1971, aged 17, after a successful trial. That took Bochini from his local club Belgrano and into the elite football world. It wouldn’t be long before fans began calling for his inclusion in the Independiente senior side.
But penetrating that side would be difficult. This was not just a strong Independiente side. They were champions, of the Metropolitano in 1970 and 1971 and of the Copa Libertadores in 1972 – the year Brochini made his debut. The starting XI was predominantly made up of Argentinian internationals. Any 18-year-old was unlikely to burst the balloon of success and force himself in. But Bochini did, impressing Pedro Dellacha after insistent calls from fans for his involvement having watched him for Independiente’s youth sides since his arrival from Zárate a year earlier.
They were right. He made his debut against River Plate aged 18. He played infrequently in 1972, but Independiente lifted the Copa Libertadores, giving his fledgeling career a push in the right direction.
So, to that goal. The 1973 Intercontinental Cup Final, against Juventus, European Cup runners-up. Bochini had been an integral part of a second successive Copa Libertadores victory – the second of four consecutive successes in the competition, a feat unmatched before and since.
He and Daniel Bertoni had formed a stunning partnership. “It was just natural,” Bochini told Jonathan Wilson of their relationship.
“We didn’t have to speak about it. It really felt as though we had been playing together for our whole lives.
“I was quick and skilful, he was powerful and good for one-twos.”
Independiente were underdogs as the South American team usually were against Europe’s best. But Bochini and Bertoni’s magic separated the sides and inscribed their names, for the first of many times, particularly for Bochini, onto the hearts of Independiente fans.
Juventus’ Antonello Cuccureddu had missed a penalty after the Italians had dominated and pressured Independiente. Bertoni, on the halfway line, pushed out a pass to Bochini with the outside of his right boot, starting one of their greatest and most iconic one-twos. Bochini took it on his right, shifting it onto his left momentarily to move past Claudio Gentile. He carried on into the space. Defenders backed off, then pushed up. Bochini allowed them to come close, then thrust the ball over to Bertoni who, demonstrating the brilliance of their unspoken connection, had floated centrally from the left to open up further space for his partner. Bertoni steered it straight back to Bochini.
One touch, another touch, the ball was stuck under his feet. Dino Zoff, the legendary Juve goalkeeper, charged out. Silvio Longobucco and Sandro Salvadore were either side of him. This had all happened in 11 seconds. One second remained to finish the move. But for some players, the seconds on a watch move just that bit slower. Bochini lifted the ball above Zoff and it planted right in the middle of the net. Independiente became the third Argentinian Intercontinental Cup champions. Bochini would win it again 11 years later in 1984.
That goal exemplified one of football’s great partnerships, a glimpse for European fans busy focusing on the great sides of Bayern Munich and Ajax.
Bochini’s brilliant use of la pausa did not just allow him to assist Bertoni on so many occasions. Of course, data on assists were not collected in the 1970s, but Bochini’s numbers would have been remarkable. It also set himself up for goals. That goal against Juventus was all about la pausa. Bochini waited for Gentile to approach him, then pushed it delicately to Bertoni. Bochini waited for Zoff to approach him, then lobbed him, sat him on his arse. You can see what El Diego meant with that quote.
Bochini’s second iconic goal is not videoed, at least not the best bits of it. This was in the 1976 Copa Libertadores semi-final group stages against Peñarol. Bochini scored the only goal for Independiente. This goal was the prequel to Diego Maradona’s against England at Mexico ‘86. Bochini jinked past Giménez, through Acosta and Pizzani as he moved to his left, he split Olivera and Zoryes. The recovering Acosta slid in as Bochini moved a yard away from the penalty area, but he couldn’t grab the ball. Bochini continued, past Garisto, through González and Olivera, for a second time, before his body shaped to finish, and he poked it through the legs of the Peñarol goalkeeper. Bochini eluded eight players for one remarkable goal.
Small with hair resembling a mad balding scientist rather than a fluid, quick footballer, Bochini had scored the finest goal in Copa Libertadores history and, until Maradona did it on a World Cup stage against England, the greatest goal in Argentina’s illustrious football history.
Argentinian football is founded upon wildness, craziness, talent formed on the streets. This goal was all of that in one.
Ten years and one month later, Bochini made his one and only World Cup appearance, aged 32. El Diego had, three days earlier, scored the most iconic goal in Argentinian history, against England, the recreation of Bochini’s. Maradona, captain, had insisted to manager Carlos Bilardo that Bochini must be in the squad.
It is quite remarkable that a player of Bochini’s talent waited so long for a World Cup appearance. There are three potential reasons as to why it didn’t happen for him sooner. Two are unprovable. There were rumours in 1978, Argentina’s home tournament, that Bochini was overlooked for Beto Alonso because the latter was a favourite player of Admiral Carlos Lacoste, the organiser of the tournament and later interim President of the country. Another possible idea is that manager Cesar Luis Menotti primarily favoured players from Boca Juniors and River Plate. The most obvious reason, though, is that Menotti put great emphasis on pace in his 1978 World Cup squad. Pace and power were the foundations upon what that squad was built upon, and they were things that Bochini did not have. Acceleration, yes, but his pace was not so impressive in comparison to Argentina’s other options.
And so, it came down to Diego Maradona to allow Bochini a World Cup appearance. As Bochini replaced Jorge Burruchaga, Maradona supposedly said, “Maestro, we’ve been waiting for you,” as he shook his hand with delight. Bochini, though, is believed to have felt patronised by the whole incident.
That goal against Peñarol brings into focus Bochini’s odd link to Maradona. It is strange that this fluid dribbling god in Maradona idolised a player most well-renowned for la pausa. Bochini was a true number 10, providing opportunities for players like Bertoni. As a kid, he had dreamed of emulating José Sanfilippo, a strong and quick centre-forward for San Lorenzo. However, his stature simply did not fit that position. Maradona, meanwhile, wore the same number, but did not play in the same way.
Interestingly, it has been suggested that had Maradona not burst onto the Argentinian stage in the late 1970s, Bochini would be more well-known in Europe and across the world. But ultimately, there is little better praise than that from El Diego, “watching him play drove me crazy with delight.” – it’s hard not to agree.
The final of Bochini’s career-defining goals came 11 years before his retirement. Another iconic moment for Independiente fans and perhaps the most memorable match of the 1970s’ cup-happy Independiente side. January 1978, the second leg of the 1977 Nacional final match. The first leg had seen a 1-1 draw against Talleres de Córdoba. With 16 minutes remaining, and the aggregate score 2-2 now, Córdoba took a lead as Ángel Bocanelli rather obviously handled the ball into the net. It must have been horrendously blatant as three Independiente players were ushered off the pitch after being shown red cards. One of those players, Omar Larossa, was given a 20-match ban. “We probably called him everything but ‘nice man’” he later said.
Eight men. That’s how many Bochini had beaten against Peñarol, but then it was how many players Independiente had left on the pitch looking for an equaliser. Football has consistently shown that nothing is impossible. But if ever there has been an appropriate situation to deem impossible, it may have been this. Trailing with a quarter of an hour remaining, with eight men. Bochini thought nothing of the sort. He played a one-two with Bertoni, of course, and struck, unbalanced and leaning back on his heel, with his left foot to win Independiente the 1977 Nacional on away goals.
“A midget, ungainly, imperturbable, without a powerful shot, nor header, nor charisma,” is what Hugo Asch wrote of Ricardo Bochini. All of it is true. But Bochini was a genius if not your typical footballer. The master of la pausa, perhaps succeeded by Juan Roman Riquelme. Was he the last of such players? Perhaps, though the talents of Andres Iniesta could be classed as similar.
The bochinesco is now used to refer to Bochini-esque passes – precise, perfectly accurate, leaving the striker one-on-one with the goalkeeper, splitting defences.
Bochini won 15 trophies with Independiente, playing 740 games in 19 years. He didn’t move to Europe, instead staying to conquer Argentina. In 2007, a street near Independiente’s stadium was named after him. In the area around the stadium and across Buenos Aires, Bochini can be seen on the walls of bars and restaurants in that iconic red Adidas Independiente kit, surrounded by trophies. It was once claimed that “the style of Independiente died when Bochini retired.”
“Bo-chini! Bo-chini!” sang the Independiente fans for 19 years. They were lucky. Playing with Bochini must have been easy. With his exquisite use of la pausa, he gave strikers, most prolifically Bertoni, through balls that put them immediately one-on-one with the goalkeeper. They never had to beat a defender, Bochini’s pass did that for them.
Watching him, though, makes your body convulse with pleasure, the bochinesco pass sends a rush of astonishment through your body.
Ricardo Bochini – “watching him play drove me crazy with delight.” El Diego put it perfectly.
By Harry Robinson.
Header Image: @sebastian1906