Worshipped and slated in equal measures, there were no grey areas with Argentina's Juan Roman Riquelme, who took the sporting world by surprise yesterday with his announcement that he would be stepping down from international duty, thereby ruling himself out of next year's Copa America in Venezuela.

The news was broken by the player himself during an interview with a local television station. "I'd like to announce that I will no longer be playing for the national team," the player explained with typical brevity.

"Since the end of the World Cup, my mother has been hospitalised on two occasions, and family comes before football. As it's her health we're talking about here, I didn't have to think twice about it.

"There's been a lot of bad blood and I don't want to make her suffer," he added, perhaps referring to the criticism of him in the Argentine press. "My mother is my mother and I can't compare her with the Argentina shirt or anything else."

The taciturn Villarreal midfielder was criticised in some quarters for his performances at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™,  although newly-appointed Argentina coach Alfio Basile did make him team captain for his first game in charge this month, the 3-0 defeat to Brazil. Nevertheless, the player's family problems coupled with questions surrounding his form make it unclear whether his self-imposed exile from the Albiceleste will be temporary or permanent.

Riquelme's record
Just like Diego Maradona, Riquelme got his first big break with the youth side at Argentinos Juniors, although the player former Argentina boss Jose Pekerman built his team around made his first division debut with Boca Juniors in 1996.

Under Carlos Bianchi, Riquelme was the driving force and key figure in the Xeneize sides that won the Copa Libertadores in 2000 and 2001, the Toyota/Intercontinental Cup in 2001 and three domestic titles (1998, 1999 and 2000).

The gifted playmaker made his full international debut on 16 November 1997 in a draw with Colombia in the South American qualifiers for France 98. Since then, the 28-year-old has donned the famous blue-and-white 37 times, scoring eight goals in the process.

However, his greatest success at international level came with the Under-20 side he helped win the South American U-20 Championship and FIFA World Youth Championship in 1997.

At club level, Roman left Boca Juniors in 2002 to join Spanish giants Barcelona. There he stayed just one season before moving to an up-and-coming Villarreal side, with whom he reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League in 2006. Unfortunately for the Argentine, it was his late penalty miss that condemned his side to defeat on that occasion.

Currently going though a difficult spell at his club, the talented midfielder now begins a new stage in his career away from the Albiceleste. Quite how long that remains the situation, only time will tell.