Juan Pablo Angel on his return to River Plate: “It is great that people still remember you. They welcome you back again. I wasn’t expecting that. Overall, it was a great experience for me.” (Andrew Carpenean-USA TODAY Sports)
As part of Hispanic Heritage Month, FrontRowSoccer.com will run stories about players, coaches, personalities and situations related to the month. Our first story will have is about Juan Pablo Angel’s return to River Plate when he was playing with the Red Bulls. It was posted on BigAppleSoccer.com Feb. 23, 2009.
By Michael Lewis
PILAR, Argentina — In a sport where players come and go at an astonishing pace, it isn’t often when one can return to a former club as a conquering hero.
Juan Pablo Angel lived that moment at a River Plate home match at El Monumental on Sunday night.
For three seasons Angel was one of the key players for River Plate as a scoring terror in the Argentine First Division. He filled the net and the hopes and hearts of the River Plate supporters.
Sunday turned out to be the first time that Angel returned to the stadium where he forged so many memories and scored so many goals.
“It was a great feeling,” Angel said after practice on Monday morning. “Obviously a lot of memories went back to my head. It was great to be back to see old friends, to come back to a place where I enjoyed great times. It was beautiful. The whole experience was great.”
Angel admitted it was an emotional experience. When he played at River with such stars as Marcelo Salas and Javier Saviola from 1997-2000, Angel was nicknamed Angelito. Fans showed their appreciation and adoration by wearing angel wings.
“You try not to get too emotional, but I think it was a great experience for me to be back here,” he said. “I did not come to watch River Plate play for almost nine years. It was a great to see the club, old people, old friends.”
During his tenure at River Angel scored 46 goals in 96 matches, almost a goal every other game strike rate.
River supporters did not forget what Angel accomplished and what he meant to the team. On Sunday night, he was asked for his autograph and to have his picture taken with fans. In fact, he needed a police escort to get from one end of the stadium to the other side, according to the Red Bulls.
“People were going crazy over him,” said Herman Naumann, who owns a meeting planning company and has helped coordinate the Red Bulls’ two-week stay in Argentina. “They were saying come back!”
“It is great that people still remember you,” Angel said. “They welcome you back again. I wasn’t expecting that. Overall, it was a great experience for me. The love from the supporters, the club, the way they treat me. Fantastic. I couldn’t ask for more.”
Asked what his most memorable moment was wearing the red, black and white, Angel replied, “It was a lot of moments. We won championships here. We won derbies, important games. I always said that my experience with River Plate was going to be the best one because I always wanted to play for this football club. It was a dream come true. I remember everything that happened to me here.”
Prior to the game, Angel visited his old team’s locker room. “I just went to say hello,” Angel said. “I had a lot of friends here. I wanted to wish them well. Thank God they won the game.”
The final score was River Plate 2, Banfield 0. It certainly wasn’t a memorable match, but it was worth three points, especially for a team that finished in the basement of last season’s Clausura. Colombian international forward Radamel Falcao, who turned 23 on Feb. 10, scored a goal in the second half. Angel talked with his countryman before the kickoff.
“When I played here, he had arrived to the club to play with the lower divisions in the [club’s] academy,” Angel said. “So, I didn’t have a chance to see him play. Obviously, he’s doing great, scoring goals. He’s a great guy, a great kid.”