Maxi Rodriguez is much-loved by fans wherever he plays from Liverpool to Newell’s Old Boys – but love isn’t always enough to feel happy
Neymar’s potential $200 million-plus transfer has cast a light once more on the staggering sums of money involved in modern football and the question of player loyalty. But few could question Maxi Rodriguez’s motives when he bid Newell’s Old Boys a tearful goodbye to sign for Uruguayan giants Peñarol this week.
Even at 36-years-of-age, the signing is something of a coup for the five-time Copa Libertadores champions, when perhaps a more lucrative switch to the United States or Mexico was on the table, but to leave Rosario for any other league was not in Rodriguez’s plans when he made his triumphant return from Europe.
The former Argentina international said what was expected of a new signing at his official unveiling this week in Montevideo: “I’m very happy to be in Peñarol. I have a great relationship with the board and I thank them for always being interested in me.
— Maxi Rodríguez (@MR11ok) July 28, 2017
“Peñarol always has the obligation to fight for the championship. I know what this club means and I come here for the glory. I want to fight to keep winning things, I hope to contract that spirit and that desire and have come to add to it.”
Former Atletico Madrid teammate Diego Forlan and Barcelona striker Luis Suarez sold Maxi on the move but the Rosario-native made no secret of his desire, even at this stage of his career, to return to his first love once again.
“Newell’s is my home: I was born there and I will finish there,” La Lepra’s club captain from last season reiterated at his presentation with Peñarol.
Holding back the tears a couple of weeks ago, Maxi stated the same intention but also explained why he felt he had to leave: “Everything that happens here, wears on you mentally and so for my health, I have chosen to leave.”
Being careful not to air the club’s dirty laundry in public, Maxi made no reference to the dire financial state or the more disturbing barra brava influence at the club and like a few others simply made as quiet an exit as possible.
However, not even the staunchest Newell’s supporter could begrudge Maxi’s move; aside from the club struggling to make payments, death threats were scrawled on his grandmother’s house, a largely promising season blew up with manager Diego Osella resigning and vice-president Juan Matias arrested on his way into a stadium in relation to drug smuggling charges and La Lepra ultimately missed out on Copa Libertadores qualification.
To say Newell’s Old Boys are in a mess would be an understatement.
A one-year deal in Uruguay, and hopefully Maxi will make his proposed return to Rosario to see out his career, after all that is what should have happened following his big return in 2012.
Having initially left Rosario in 2002, as an under-20 World Cup winner, for Espanyol, Maxi enjoyed a hugely fruitful career in Europe with Atletico Madrid and Liverpool. Neither club may have celebrated many titles during this period (only an Intertoto cup with Atleti in 2007 and a League Cup with Liverpool in 2012) but with countless appearances, important goals and a tireless workrate, all the while remaining a key part of the Argentina set-up, Maxi is still a much loved figure at the Vicente Calderon, Anfield and with Albiceleste supporters.
Walking out onto the pitch at El Coloso in 2012, having already penned a letter to Liverpool fans to thank them, Maxi told his adoring public: “It’s the happiest day of my life, to return to my house, where they give me so much affection.”
That affections remains, as few have given as much to the great club as Maxi. Only a sixth league title in La Lepra’s illustrious history followed his return and in the same season as Newell’s reached the Copa Libertadores semi-final, only to agonizingly lose on penalties, Tata Martino’s team were unarguably the best side in Argentina.
Things have gradually declined since the highs of 2013 to reach this point and the only hope is that Newell’s can get back on track to give Maxi Rodriguez the retirement that his career truly deserves.