Secret diary of a nomad searching for latest club
Rohan Ricketts' blog is a must-read as he plies his trade at far-flung outposts
The Independent, 15 April 2003: "Two of the most promising players educated by [Arsenal's] Liam Brady and Don Howe, Rohan Ricketts and David Noble, are hoping to break through at Tottenham and West Ham."
Some seven and a half years later, the same Rohan Ricketts is drinking peppermint tea in a cafe on Clapham High Street, recalling how short-lived that breakthrough at Tottenham was and waiting for confirmation that a career on football's road less travelled is about to take him to Germany, after Moldova, Hungary and Canada, via Wolverhampton, Coventry and Barnsley. The tale is a reminder that there is more to the life of a professional footballer than fast bucks, fast cars and faster women and is reflected in a regular blog on the Sabotage Times website that has earned him a reputation as a cult figure for its frankness on topics like "what players really think of supporters" and "being a player can ruin your love of football".
Coincidentally, he happens to mention towards the end of our conversation the name of Noble, as an illustration of his belief that English football is obsessed with the athletic and powerful rather than the technically proficient. "David Noble was an outstanding talent, a Spanish-style player who could have played for England. He went to West Ham, then couldn't get a team anywhere, he had to go to Boston United when they were bottom of League Two." Noble eventually moved a couple of rungs back up the ladder to Bristol City and is now at Exeter. It was never the sort of route that appealed to Ricketts, a central midfielder who styles himself a "purist" and cannot see himself battling away in the lower divisions.
The one manager in England who seems to have believed in him was a kindred spirit, Glenn Hoddle, who picked him for the first six games of the 2003-04 season for Spurs, before being sacked, then took him to Wolves. "You need that, someone to believe in you. I heard about one Premier League manager recently calling me 'a bad egg'. If he says that in front of two or three others, word spreads and what chance have you got? David Pleat [Hoddle's temporary successor] wasn't fond of me and Jacques Santini came in, which wasn't good for me, he was really defensive."
A new life in Toronto appealed and Ricketts spent an enjoyable 2008-09 season there in Major League Soccer until the manager left and the budget was cut, leaving him at the mercy of agents who may or may not have had his best interests at heart. "It's like a girl having a new boyfriend," is his analogy, "not sure if this guy's on the level, totally loyal. Agents love to talk and I've seen some of the things they've done to players. I spoke to a couple of agents and one of them said I was going to Turkey, so I turned down trials in Poland and Israel. Then at the last moment they said they couldn't do it. So then you're relying on another guy to move you. They're scratching around, they said Moldova.It was one of the worst things I ever did."
He joined Dacia Chisinau inAugust, went eight weeks without being paid and returned to England last month. Now, after German agents organised a trial in Bavaria, he is optimistic about joining small Bundesliga second division club Ingolstadt following the winter break. In the meantime, he is expanding his media activities. There is motivational speaking, and publication this week of an e-book offering advice to parents of aspiring footballers, which will reflect his own self-belief and determination from earliest days in south London: "Brought up round here, Clapham, Stockwell, Brixton, you're susceptible to many bad things. I saw friends that did drugs, passed away, got killed, went to jail. But I always had this inner belief that I'd be something. I like to read motivational books, that make me analyse myself and see where I'm going wrong."
His 28th birthday this Wednesday, followed by the ending of an eventful year (there was one match for a Hungarian club along the way) will be a time for further reflection, in which he insists football will have primacy. "2011 has got to be a big year for me. I just want to be playing consistently, whether in mainland Europe, the United States, and having stability. I've been training and working hard. The other stuff, the media work, is secondary. People see me and say 'aren't you playing any more?' And I say: 'I want to but people are messing me around.' I don't want to be sitting here, I just want to be playing."
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