The Ajax winger that impressed Maradona

Roughly two months before the start of the 21st century, Mauro Damián Rosales made his debut for Newell’s Old Boys as an 18 year old right winger. The Villa María born Argentinian would develop into an important player for his club, but perhaps more important for an Argentinian, he impressed none other than Diego Armando Maradona.

After making two appearances in his debut 1999/2000 season, Rosales managed to score his first two goals the following season. It led to him being called up for the Argentinian U20 national team. He participated with this team in the 2001 World Championship, which was hosted in Rosales’ home country. It was an excellent opportunity for the winger to present himself, and he succeeded leaving a positive memory in scouts’ minds. Despite not scoring in the tournament, Rosales made a good impression on the right wing alongside youngsters as Javier Saviola, Andres D’Alessandro, Maxi Rodríguez and Fabricio Coloccini. The Albiceleste would go on to win the tournament, after beating Ghana 3-0 in the final in Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires. (Ex-)Ajacieden Rafael van der Vaart, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Jurgen Colin made their appearence for the Netherlands that tournament, but the Dutch got eliminated by Egypt in the quarter final. After making a good impression at this tournament, Rosales’ would go on to play more regularly at Newell’s Old Boys.

In his third season at the club, he would play 27 games and scored three times. Delivering a significant amount of assists and being dangerous with his dribbles, it was unimaginable to put Rosales out of the starting eleven. In the 2002/2003 season, adding onto his dangerous way of play for opponents, he started scoring more goals and developed into one of the best players of the league. The following season, Rosales proved he was no longer a talent, but an arrived player in the national league. Rosales scored fourteen goals which helped his club secure the league title.

By the summer of 2004, it became clear that he would be selected for the Argentinian Olympic squad that would compete for the golden medal in Athens. In the birth country of the Olympics, the Argentinians had a very strong team competing for the medals. Future stars as Javier Mascherano, Gabriel Heinze, ´Kily´ Gonzalez, Roberto Ayala, Javier Saviola and Carlos Tévez were all part of the team, but Rosales was the eye catcher together with Tévez, who became top scorer of the tournament with eight goals. In the final against Paraguay, Tévez scored the only goal of the game from a Rosales assist. After the game was over, none other than Diego Maradona entered the dressing room of coach Marcelo Bielsa. Maradona, whom many believe is the best player in history, got so impressed by Rosales that he asked for his shirt and shook his hand. From that moment on, the term ‘Hand of God’ would forever have a different meaning for Rosales.

It became clear that the then 23 year old winger had become too good for the Primera Divisíon. Despite having some heavy competition in capturing the dribbling winger, Ajax´ technical director Louis van Gaal persuaded Rosales to sign for the Amsterdam greats. However, the date that he signed, August 30 2004, will forever be remembered as the day that Zlatan left for Juventus to embark on his journey to become one of the most feared attackers of the planet. Despite the loss of the Swedish superman, Rosales started of well on his adventure in Amsterdam. In his first season he scored five goals, despite having several injuries. After a year without winning a single prize, Ajax coach Ronald Koeman left the club to be replaced by Danny Blind. Despite getting a lot of playing time, Ajax didn’t reach the quality height needed for a title and saw a strong PSV side win the league. Although the Dutch Cup and Supercup were won, it was a disappointing season. Nevertheless, there was one game in the middle of that season exemplary of how high Rosales’ potential level could be. After Ajax qualified for the second round of the Champions League, Rosales gave the perfect assist to Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and scored the second goal just twenty minutes into the game. It was perhaps the best game of Rosales in the Ajax shirt, though fans will always have a special place in their hearts for his goal against Feyenoord. After Danny Blind left the club, Henk ten Cate took over. It would mean the beginning of the end for the Argentinian, as Ten Cate placed him on the bench. Player, trainer and club all decided it was best for him to leave.

Rosales decided to return home. With memories of the Amsterdam ArenA fresh in his mind, Argentinian and South American giants River Plate came knocking. Rosales would end up staying at that club for three years, where he had the highlight of his stay in 2008 by winning his second Argentinian league title. After that, the Major League Soccer in the United States came calling for the winger. In a league that was in full development, Rosales decided to move to USA’s west coast where he received the award for best new player in the league after his first season at Seattle Sounders. That wasn’t a total surprise, considering he scored thirteen goals and did what he could do best: giving assists. Football fans in the United States got to know the winger and after spending three seasons in Seattle, Rosales settled for a move to Chivas USA, but that wasn’t a success. The Argentine then moved to Canada, where he would play two seasons for the Vancouver Whitecaps, upon opting for a short stint at FC Dallas. The now 36 year old is likely to spend his last year(s) of his career at the MLS club.

Considering his qualities as a pure winger, it is perhaps fair to say Rosales could have gotten more out of his career. On the other hand, he played for his home country, got a fan in Maradona and won several championships and other (personal) silverware. Now in North America, he seems to have found his home. As his career comes to an end, football lovers and Ajacieden will remember him as the pure, exciting and assisting winger. As a winger in the style that gave Ajax it’s name and fame. In the footsteps of Simon Tahamata, Tscheu La Ling, Marc Overmars and Finidi George. Dribbling past a man, reaching the back line and seeing the striker tap in a perfect cross. It seems that nowadays a player like Rosales is a breed soon to be extinct. Just for that, a player like him will always bring joy in a world of modern football, where the charm of the past is rapidly disappearing behind a smokescreen of inside-cutting, goalscoring wingers.