There aren’t many players in the game that make the average man admire as well as relate to him.

His awkward dribble as well as his movements had the fluidity of a sputtering car. Many coaches tell you that you have to shoot with both legs, yet he did not.

Penalty kicks are usually an 85% chance for the player kicking it. Although with him, it was a 50/50 chance.

But through all this he had intangibles that that were undeniable.   This is why Martín Palermo became revered by fans with not just Boca Juniors fans, but also with fans of other club.

His career emerged from the pages of a Hollywood scriptwriting brain storm session.   It had all the basic components to the typical feel-good movie with a great deal of drama added to it.  All six Rocky sagas plus a dash of Rudy with a pinch of Raging Bull and the old guy from Caddyshack who played gold in the rain.  The only difference there is that Palermo became almost superhero-like when he got struck by lightning.

People knew that when he was at Estudiantes he had the potential to be a very good scorer although they knew that he would be limited because of his lack of speed and lack of ability with the ball at his feet.

From his crazy blonde locks to his shaved head and his picture on Argentine sports daily Olé dressed drag he had several stages in his career where he constantly emerged.   We saw him go down in flames in Copa América when his three penalty kicks against Colombia brought the wrath of a nation down on him.   He would then come back and score the second goal of the match against Uruguay where the biggest quality of Martín Palermo’s success was plastered all over his face.

Palermo 1999  Copa America

The shot that he took to his face and the ensuing 56th minute goal where he would put Argentina over the top that Copa América.  His celebration of that goal against arch-rivals Uruguay was the picture of revenge.  Unfortunately, that would not be enough for him to keep his spot with the national team.

Palermo was a figure in Argentine football that would not allow you to be mad at him for long.  His knack for redemption was as fervent in his life as much as his penchant for finding the opposing net.

What made him so special was his gift to be able to maximize his talent and make the grandiose entrance in the biggest moments.  If there was a player that always showed in the big games, it was Palermo.  River Plate quivered, Real Madrid realized what the hoopla was all about, and teams that faced Boca wanted to hope that he wouldn’t show up.  Unfortunately his stint through Europe was not as successful as it should have been, but his return saw a Palermo that gained maturity and was as intelligent as ever without the ball.

From El Loco To Titán

One of his nicknames was ¨The Optimist of  Goals¨.  Never was that nickname more fitting than in his swansong.   After going scoreless for the first nine weeks of the season, he came back and was able to score six goals in his last eight, including a goal in his final Clásico against River Plate.

Although many can think that he can play maybe two more tournaments, but he knows something that some of the greats know.  He said it himself this past week in his much ballyhooed press conference.  ¨I’d rather retire from the game than the game retire me.¨

The timing could not have been better as he leaves the game with Destiny guiding and pampering him en route to his rightful place alongside the scoring gods in football’s Olympus.

One of the most telling goals of his career I remember living alongside my co-workers.  Watching the World Cup, I saw the scenario against Greece developing like that special sequence in a movie’s denouement.

Messi’s shot that is deflected in the direction of Palermo and he pounced on it like the other 300-plus goals that he scored in his illustrious career.  It was that goal that refreshed the collective attitude of a nation.  On that moment, he united a nation.  For that brief moment in time, there were no Boca or River fans.  There were just fans of the game that wanted to see one of the good guys of the game succeed.

His life became something out of a movie script when you saw him come back from injury.  Seeing him step onto the pitch late in the match against River Plate in the 2001 Copa Libertadores semifinals after being out with a severe knee injury only to score in the dying seconds of the match.

To see him be the savior in the World Cup qualifiers when Peru were close to knocking out the Albiceleste yet again.  For Argentines, the rains coming down on that day were the tears of God and his angels crying for San Martín.

There were no nationalities or language barriers at that moment.  It was all about a galvanizing figure that allowed us to enjoy the game at its purest level.  Palermo made us all believe in dreams and believe in the fact that any man with a huge heart and a desire to succeed can truly win people over.   Seeing my co-workers… Colombians, Brazilians, Cubans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Americans, Uruguayans and Argentines running around celebrating a goal that was rather meaningless in the overall picture was emotional.  To see men of the same age embrace and cry, feeling good for a man who was close to being forced into retirement due to a second ACL tear truly was one of the most memorable moments of South Africa.

In 25 years I can already see the conversation with my grandchild.

¨Did you ever see a player score a goal with both legs?¨- Yes.

¨Did you ever see a player miss a penalty kick three time in a game?¨- Yes.

¨Did you ever see a player score a header from 40 yards out?¨ Yes.

¨How about from the middle of the pitch?¨’  Yes.

¨Did you ever see a player score a goal with his leg broken?¨ Yes.

¨Did you ever see a player score against Real Madrid and Milan?¨ Yes.

¨Did you ever see a player score a goal after missing a penalty?¨ Yes.

¨Wow, grandpa you’ve seen a lot of players haven’t you?¨

-  No.  I just saw Martín Palermo.

Martín Palermo just had a air of greatness to him.  That player that many people made fun of, but loved to see him be successful.  It was his attitude towards the game and his team that infected many with emotion.   If there was only one unfortunate thing to this was that it took so long for football fans to truly appreciate him.   Honestly, better late than never.  If there was any other indication that was needed, well the reception given to him in his final match at La Bombonera against Banfield was all we needed.  It was only then when we all were able to realize that the biggest argument between Boca fans was answered by their love for their all-time leading scorer.

 

 

 

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