Crossing the Superclasico divide
© AFP

"You can change your job, your friends, wife and religion but never your team." While this adage, almost as old as the game itself, might still hold true for the fans, it no longer applies to the heroes they cheer on from the stands. In fact, over the years many a player has swapped local allegiances in some of the world's bitterest footballing rivalries, attracting the derision of the supporters who once idolised them.

There are few places in the world where the decision to switch sides arouses as much passion as in Buenos Aires, home to arch-rivals Boca Juniors and River Plate. One man who is about to experience what it is like to sit on both sides of the Argentinian capital's fence is the Xeneizes' new signing Luciano Figueroa, who could well make his debut this Sunday against River, one of his former clubs. And with the latest superclásico just around the corner, what better time for FIFA.com to take a look back at the most famous defections between these sworn enemies?

Rivalry and rancour
Cataldo Spitale was the first to make the change back in 1933, when he left Boca to sign for the Millonarios, and since then another 95 players have represented both clubs during the course of their careers.

"It's not easy I can tell you. One side looks on you as a traitor and the other doesn't really trust you. You need time to adapt and a lot of character to win people over." The words are those of the former Argentina defender Oscar Ruggeri, who was involved in one of the most remarked-upon transfers in the country's history when he and Ricardo Gareca moved from Boca to River in 1985, with Julio Olarticoechea and Carlos Tapia heading in the other direction. Within a year Ruggeri had helped La Banda Sangre become Copa Libertadores and Intercontinental Cup champions.

Not every player moving from the Bombonera to the Monumental or vice versa has met with the same success, however. Jose Manuel Moreno was one of the country's greatest footballers in the 1930s and 40s, but made little impact at Boca Juniors after 13 seasons in the red and white shirt. The reverse is true of Hugo Gatti, who struggled to make a name for himself at River before becoming Boca's most revered goalkeeper of all time.

In the 1970s and 80s Juan Jose Lopez and Carlos Morete represented both clubs as did Jorge Higuain, the father of Federico, currently starring for Real Madrid. The combative centre-half left the Xeneizes to become the inspirational captain of River's 1990 championship-winning side.

The modern era
Recent times have seen several instances of undying love for one side or the other. One-club man Reinaldo Merlo wore the River shirt in 35 superclásicos, six more than Silvio Marzolini in the blue and yellow of Boca. The Millonarios's Uruguayan legend Enzo Francescoli never tired of saying that he could never play for the other side, while during his Argentina Juniors days, Diego Maradona refused to contemplate a move to the Monumental, stating his dream was to play for Boca.

Perhaps the most graphic examples of the perils of switching sides was provided by Jose Luis Villarreal. A stylish midfielder in the Boca side that claimed the league title in 1992, Villita decamped to River the following season and quickly won the hearts of the Monumental faithful. In fact, he felt so at home he was even moved to declare, "My game is more suited to the history of this club." It has been years since Villarreal retired, but in all that time he has never returned to the Bombonera. "They never forgave me so I didn't go back, even as a spectator, to avoid any problems."

Another player to express his true feelings after moving across the city was Claudio Caniggia, who came through the ranks at River before starring in Italy and returning to Argentina in 1995 to team up with Diego Maradona at Boca.

"Ever since I was a kid I've been a fan of this club," announced the blond-haired striker when he was unveiled to the press, although that particular dagger to the hearts of River fans was nothing compared to the one he landed in June the following year, when he scored a hat-trick in a 4-1 Boca romp at the Bombonera.

A host of other names have tasted life on both sides of Buenos Aires's footballing divide, among them the Uruguayan duo of Ruben da Silva and Gabriel Cedres, who both ended their careers in blue and yellow. Then there is Gabriel Batistuta, who was released by River only to move to Boca and hone the skills that would make him such a feared sharpshooter.

And it is that selfsame path Figueroa will be hoping to embark on this Sunday when he begins a new phase in his career at the Monumental, where he enjoyed a promising but all-too-fleeting spell in 2006.