Biography: Martín Palermo

"Loco" Palermo during his last season with Estudiantes in 19
Martín "loco" Palermo was one of the most contentious figures in Argentine football. Opinion was divided on the player throughout his career. fans of Boca Juniors understandably view him as one of the greatest strikers in the history of Argentine club football, his critics however call him a donkey and protested vehemently when he was recalled to the Argentina national team in 2010.

Palermo was born in the city of La Plata on 7 November 1973, he joined his local team Estudiantes de La Plata as a teenager and on 5 July 1992 he made his debut for the club in a 0-0 draw against San Lorenzo at the age of 18.

Palermo scored 34 goals in 90 league games for Estudiantes before moving on to join Argentine giants Boca Juniors in 1997. Palermo upped his scoring rate and in Apertura 1998 he became the top scorer in Primera División for the first time with an impressive tally of 20 goals in 19 games, making him the first player to break the 1 goal per game average since Héctor Scotta in 1975. As a result of his phenomenal goalscoring exploits he was selected as South American player of the year for 1998.

During Copa América 1999 he famously missed three penalties in 3-0 defeat against Colombia, earning himself a place in the Guinness Book of Records and a 10 year exile from the Argentina national team. Later that year he scored his 100th Primera División goal in a game against Colón after brilliant work from Juan Román Riquelme to set up the chance.

In 2000 he was part of the Boca Juniors team that won the Copa Libertadores for the first time since 1978 and then scored both goals to beat Real Madrid 2-1 in the Intercontinental Cup. Shortly after this he won his 3rd league title with Boca Juniors in Apertura 2000. This success did not go unnoticed in Europe and Palermo was eventually signed by Spanish side Villarreal in January 2001 for a fee of €7,600,000.


Palermo's time in Spain was not a success, he struggled for form at Villarreal and on 29 November 2001 while celebrating a goal the wall he was standing on collapsed and broke the tibia and fibula of his right leg. Palemo recovered from the injury but continued to struggle for form, he eventually left Villarreal in August 2003 to join Real Betis.  Palermo spent less than a year with Betis before he was offloaded to 2nd division side CD Alavés in March 2004.


During the summer of 2004 Palermo decided that his time in European football had come to an end, so he returned to Boca Juniors who were still on a roll having continued the in the rich vein of form that had started off with their Copa Libertadores win in 2000. 


Palermo slipped quickly back into his goalscoring routine, scoring his 100th goal for Boca Juniors in a 2-0 win against Bolivian side Club Bolívar in the final of Copa Sudamericana 2004. Boca also won Copa Sudamericana 2005, Recopa Sudamericana 2006 and both league championships in the 2005-06 season.


Palermo became the top scorer in the Argentine league once again in the Clausura 2007 tournament with 11 goals in 16 games including a spectacular strike against Independiente from the halfway line, he also scored a hat-trick against his former club Estudiantes, but refused to celebrate any of the goals, as if to make amends to the Estudiantes fans he scored 4 goals against Estudiantes' bitter local rivals Gimnasia y Esgrima in the following game.


2007 was another good year for Boca Juniors, they won their fourth Copa Libertadores in the space of 8 seasons after annihilating Brazilian side Gremio 5-0 in the final, which was still the biggest margin of victory in a Libertadores final despite Palermo missing a penalty in the last few minutes of the 2nd leg.


Boca's astonishing run of success finally ended with the Apertura 2008 championship, since then the club have been in decline, failing to even qualify for Copa Libertadores 2010 or 2011. This decline did not stop Palermo from scoring goals.


In 2009 Palermo surpassed Pancho Varallo's tally of 184 goals in the professional era of Argentine football, unfortunately the charismatic 99 year old survivor from the 1930 World Cup final renaged on his promise to take to the field once again if Palermo broke his goalscoring record. Varallo died in August 2010 and Martín Palermo was amongst the attendees at his funeral.


In 2009 Palermo scored his 200th goal for Boca Juniors in spectacular fashion, netting an overhead kick against Venezuelan side Deportivo Tachira in the Copa Libertadores. In October 2009 he scored an unbelievable header from around 45m out in an entertaining 3-2 win against Vélez Sársfield.


In 2010 Palermo was recalled to the Argentina national team by manager Diego Maradona after a 10 year exile, he scored a vital last minute winner against Peru in a World Cup qualifier and was then selected for Argentina's 2010 World Cup squad despite vehement protests from many normally calm and reasonable commentators. Palermo's job in the World Cup was to come on as a super-sub if Argentina needed a goal. He only played in one game coming on with 10 minutes to go in a Game against Greece in which he did his job by scoring after the keeper spilled Messi's shot. This goal made him the oldest player ever to score for Argentina in the World Cup and also gives him an insane goal average of around 9 goals per game in World Cup finals based on a per minute strike rate.


On 4 September 2010 he overtook Roberto Cherro's all time goalscoring record for Boca Juniors with his 222nd goal for the club in a 1-2 win against San Lorenzo and on 5 June 2011 he scored the final goal of his career with a spectacular strike in a game against Quilmes to join Jose Sanfileppo as the joint 4th highest goalscorer in the professional Argentine Primera División with 227 goals. The following week he was given a huge ovation at the end of his final game at the Bombonera and he finished off his career with a last minute headed assist for team mate Christian Cellay in his final game against Gimnasia.


One of the main reasons that Palermo divided opinion in Argentina is the fact that he was a natural finisher, he was strong, athletic and one of the finest headers of the ball ever seen in Argentine football, not the speedy, technically gifted and exhilarating player of the Maradona mold that Argentinians are naturally inclined to favour. He was unfairly derided as lacking skills and technique and criticised for his robust style of play, in much the same way that another great header of the ball and relentless goalscorer Alan Shearer was unfairly criticised in England. 


Palermo gave his critics plenty of ammunition over the years, with his habit of missing penalties and wasting great opportunities like this one. In his defence he scored 297 career goals, he is the joint 4th highest scorer in the history of the Argentine Primera Division and all time top scorer for Boca Juniors with 236 goals in 404 games (an astonishingly good strike rate). He scored numerous brilliant, spectacular and vital goals during his career and will be remembered by Boca Juniors fans as a well loved and loyal servant to the club.

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