If Sunday's tepid 1-1 draw against Sarmiento was cause enough for concern around La Boca, things would only get worse for the Xeneize in the aftermath of the game. Eduardo Salvio managed to play less than half an hour before coming off in evident discomfort, and it was later confirmed that the winger had suffered a cruciate ligament injury that will rule him out for most of 2021 and certainly the remainder of this Copa Liga Profesional campaign.
Out of every crisis, though, arises possible opportunity. And at the Bombonera, a tantalising prospect: that local legend Luis 'Pulga' Rodríguez, still wowing all-comers in the top flight in the twilight, could finally receive his chance to shine at one of Argentina's biggest football institutions.
Salvio's injury means that Boca are free to sign a new player in order to fill his spot on the roster. While Tucumán native Rodríguez is hardly a long-term option at 36, he appears to be in the form of his life, fresh from being named the Copa's Player of the Month for February after scoring two goals in three games for Colón and helping the Santa Fe side to record a perfect start to the tournament. El Pulga does not just make the ball sing: his exquisite right foot has the potency of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra belting out Mahler's Symphony No. 3 in D Minor, and his mere presence in the final third electrifies crowds and terrifies opposition goalkeepers in equal measure.
While his prior appearances for Colón in the current competition would restrict his availability to the Libertadores, Rodríguez, who is out of contract in June at the Sabalero, is also enthused by the prospect of joining a club he has followed since he was a child. “The truth is I'm crossing my fingers and begging for it to go through,” he admitted to Olé this week. “I like Boca, I was a fan, or I am, but when you're playing you sort of have to leave that fanaticism behind you.
“Atlético Tucumán is the place that gave me everything, it's the only shirt I've kissed and right now I'm thinking about Colón, being at 100 percent and trying to do better in the coming game than I did in the last one.” He also received the approval of former Boca star Diego Latorre, who told ESPN: “He is the second 'people's player.' He's likeable. He's the prototype of the Argentine footballer.”
It has been a long road for el Pulga, born and raised in the tiny town of Simoca in Tucumán province. While still a teenager he was taken to Europe by his agent and trialled for the likes of Inter and Real Madrid, but after he was left stranded in Romania at just 16 he decided to return home and make a living as a labourer to support his family. It was not until his early 20s that Rodríguez re-appeared in the professional game, becoming an icon with Atlético Tucumán as he led the Decano from the third tier of Argentine football to the Copa Libertadores, scoring more than 100 goals in two separate spells with the club. His talents also caught the eye of one Diego Maradona, who gave him his international debut in 2009 as part of a squad consisting of domestic-based players.
In 2018 el Pulga caused a huge surprise by leaving his beloved Atlético for Colón, but he continues to shine despite the Sabalero's mixed fortunes in recent years, taking them all the way to the Copa Sudamericana final in 2019. His unique abilities on the ball, softly spoken nature and cheeky nutmegs on unsuspecting referees have made him a folk hero in a local game desperate for loveable characters; and while Boca would have to pay dearly to bring him to the Bombonera before his contract expires, it would be a dream move for a man who deserves more than most to cap his brilliant career in the limelight of a Grande.