Despite the Superclasico being one of the fiercest rivalries in football, a number of players have taken the path of playing for both Boca and River Plate. And some were pretty good
On Sunday afternoon in what will certainly be a raucous Bombonera, Boca Juniors and fierce rivals River Plate lock horns for the 243rd official match of their long history. The latest installment could scarcely be better poised with Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s Boca suffering a slight blip but remaining top and Marcelo Gallardo’s side in fine form, looking to close the gap to mount a serious title challenge.
Carlos Tevez was the hero when the two giants last clashed in December’s Superclásico in El Monumental and since the first official meeting back in 1913, many of the greatest names in Argentine football have graced the historic fixture.
The derby is a game in which club legends are made but there are some to have worn both the famous red and white of River and the blue and gold of Boca. No self-respecting supporter of either club would dream of wearing the colours of the enemy but here are a few of those players that have crossed the divide.
Goalkeeper – Hugo Gatti
With his trademark headband, long hair and eccentric goalkeeping style, El Loco Gatti is widely recognised as a Boca Juniors legend after racking up over 500 appearances for Los Xeneizes, more than any other keeper in the club’s history. Three Primera titles, back-to-back Copa Libertadores triumphs and an Intercontinental Cup win over Borussia Monchengladbach in 1977 place Gatti firmly in the Boca hall of fame but it might have been different had he not played second fiddle to the influential Amadeo Carrizo earlier in his career with River Plate.
After emerging from Atlanta’s youth system, River snapped up the 20-year-old and rotated him with Carrizo until his departure to Gimnasia in 1968. By the time, La Bombonera became his home, Gatti was one of the top goalkeepers in Argentina and was already well on the way to setting his record for the most penalties saved in the Primera División.
Right-back – Nelson Vivas
Temperamental Nelson Vivas is better known for his spell as understudy to Lee Dixon at Arsenal in the late 90s or more recently his unwanted headlines for punching a supporter when manager of Quilmes or ripping his shirt off in a rage with Estudiantes but the fiery former defender enjoyed a successful playing career that took in both Buenos Aires behemoths.
It was at La Bombonera that Vivas established his name after signing from Quilmes in 1994 and following a brief loan spell with Swiss club Lugano, Arsene Wenger paid £1.6 million to Boca for the full-back. The diminutive defender never really impressed with the Gunners and after continuing his time in Europe with Celta Vigo and Inter Milan, Vivas returned to Argentina with River Plate. Nearing retirement, there was only one season at the Monumental before hanging up his playing boots where it all began with Los Cerveceros.
Centre-back – Oscar Ruggeri
1986 World Cup winner Oscar Ruggeri is one of Argentina’s greatest ever defenders but made the controversial switch from Boca Juniors to River Plate in 1985 following a players’ strike and his unwillingness to agree to a new deal.
Ruggeri had come through Boca’s youth ranks and played alongside Diego Maradona in the 1981 Primera winning side before completing the transfer to River and becoming a member of one of the Millonarios’ most famous teams. In the same year that El Cabezón lifted the World Cup trophy with Argentina, Ruggeri was a league champion with River and finally ended the club’s wait for a Copa Libertadores title. A glorious 1986 concluded with an Intercontinental Cup triumph over Steaua Bucuresti and with it, Ruggeri would play a firm part in the histories of both clubs.
Centre-back – Jonatan Maidana
One of those that will be in action on Sunday, Jonatan Maidana forced his way into the hearts of River Plate supporters with a winning goal in the 2010 Apertura Superclásico despite spending three, trophy-laden years at La Bombonera earlier in his career.
The 19-year-old Maidana arrived in La Boca from lower league club Los Andes and although his tender age made him more of a squad player rather than a integral part of the first team, between 2005 and 2008 Jony picked up winners’ medals for the Copa Sudamericana, the Recopa Sudamericana, the Primera División in 2006 and 2008 and the Copa Libertadores. A brief spell in Ukraine and a loan move to Banfield ended with a permanent switch back to Argentina with River and since then the 31-year-old has won the lot.
Left-back – Alberto Tarantini
A mop of curly hair and a toothy grin, Alberto Tarantini’s comical appearance earned him the nickname ‘conejo’ (rabbit) from an early age but the 1978 World Cup winner is also considered one of the finest left-backs in Argentine football history.
A product of Boca Juniors’ youth system, Tarantini burst into the first team under iconic coach Juan Carlos Lorenzo and helped Los Xeneize to two Primera titles and their first Copa Libertadores in 1977. However, the relationship with the club soon soured over contract negotiations and Tarantini eventually found himself with Birmingham City. An ill-tempered and fleeting spell in England brought the defender back to Argentina with Talleres but after one season, River Plate came calling and Conejo played a part in two Primera triumphs before departing for French football.
Midfield – Juan José López
There are few more iconic River Plate players than Juan José López, following more than ten years of service throughout the 1970s, 466 appearances and seven league titles but that didn’t prevent JJ representing the blue and gold side of Buenos Aires later in his career.
Only three players have racked up more appearances for River than López and after coming through the youth ranks, the midfielder was a regular in the side from his debut in 1970 to when he left to join Talleres in 1981. After a year in Córdoba, the 32-year-old returned to Buenos Aires, only it was now for the club that he had scored seven superclásico goals against earlier. The veteran’s spell at Boca lasted only 38 games before a successful switch to Argentinos Juniors coincided with Los Bichos claiming their first and second league titles and the Copa Libertadores.
Midfield – Sergio Berti
Sergio Berti’s fiery nature was evident from an early age and while it fuelled his competitive, never-say-die approach it also perhaps led to his controversial transfer from Boca Juniors to River Plate at the age of 21, making him the youngest player to make such a switch. After forcing his way into the Boca first team two years earlier, Berti had already lifted the 1989 SuperCopa when a dispute with the coaching staff resulted in La Bruja swapping La Bombonera for El Monumental.
During three spells with River, interrupted by moves to Parma and Real Zaragoza, Berti was part of a truly great era in Los Millonarios’ history. Alongside the likes of Enzo Francescoli and Ariel Ortega and a little later Hernan Crespo, Juan Pablo Sorín and Pablo Aimar, El Loco won six Primera titles and the Copa Libertadores and the hatred that the Boca supporters had for one of their former players, only made Berti more popular with River.
Midfield – Julio César Toresani
As if playing for Boca and River didn’t ruffle enough feathers, Julio César Toresani also crossed the divide of the Clásico Santafesino, after beginning life at Unión only to later in his career enjoy three spells with fierce rivals, Colón. It is in Santa Fe, where El Huevo is perhaps better known but when the right-sided midfielder left Unión in 1991, River Plate was his destination.
Four years at the Monumental yielded three Apertura titles before Toresani completed his first move to Colón. However, this lasted just a season and soon after Toresani was heading back to Buenos Aires, only this time with Boca Juniors, despite some previous run-ins with Diego Maradona. Such confrontation with La Bombonera’s deity doesn’t make for the smoothest transition into the club but the midfielder’s battling qualities soon endeared him to supporters, albeit briefly before a transfer to Independiente.
Forward – Claudio Caniggia
Forever immortalized through his World Cup semi-final winner against Brazil in 1990, Claudio Caniggia is better known for his successful career with La Albiceleste or spells in Europe with Hellas Verona, Atalanta, Roma, Benfica, Dundee and Rangers but El Pájaro also spent time at the Monumental and La Bombonera.
Quick, direct and versatile in attack, Caniggia made an instant impression upon breaking into the River Plate first team as an 18-year-old and after being around the squad that lifted the league title, the Copa Libertadores and the Intercontinental Cup it wasn’t long before Europe beckoned. After several years in Italy, a 13-month ban in 1993 for taking cocaine and a season at Benfica, Argentine businessman Eduardo Eurnekian purchased the rights to Caniggia and close friend Diego Maradona, loaning both to Boca Juniors, where during a fairly turbulent couple of years, Caniggia scored a hat-trick against former club River.
Centre-forward – Gabriel Batistuta
Whether banging in goals in the iconic purple of Fiorentina, firing Roma to the scudetto in 2001 or smashing an incredible 56 goals in 78 appearearances for Argentina, Gabriel Batistuta is one of the game’s greatest number nines and after starting his career with Newell’s Old Boys, Batigol spent time with River Plate and Boca Juniors.
A testing start to life as a professional with Newell’s was brought to an end when River Plate swooped to bring the 20-year-old Batistuta to the Monumental. Despite impressing manager Daniel Passarella, Batistuta fell out of favour somewhat and ended up making the switch across town in the same transfer that saw Sergio Berti move in the opposite direction. While Berti gave Los Millonarios years of service, Batistuta’s star shone too bright. A title winning season with Boca as the Primera’s leading scorer and a Copa América for Argentina in 1991 prompted Fiorentina to bring Batigol to Italy, and the rest is history.
Forward – José Manuel Moreno
The name of José Manuel Moreno may not be as well known as the likes of Diego Maradona or Alfredo Di Stéfano but there are many that would undoubtedly mention El Charro in the same breath, among the game’s greats.
As part of River Plate’s famous Máquina side in the 1940s, Moreno terrorised defences together with Ángel Labruna, Félix Loustau, Juan Carlos Muñoz and Adolfo Pedernera and it is unquestionably with Los Millonarios that Moreno is most associated with. However, things could have been very different had Boca not passed on the opportunity to sign the 15-year-old Moreno when he trialled with his local club. Los Xeneizes loss was most definitely River’s gain and during two spells with the club, Moreno lifted four Primera titles during a golden era for the club. Transfers to México and Chile, eventually led back to Buenos Aires and Boca but this and any future moves were nothing but footnotes in a remarkable career with River and Argentina.