Jérôme Rothen: one of football’s great nearly men

JÉRÔME ROTHEN was one of many French footballers to be schooled in the famous Clairefontaine National Football Academy in France. He went on to represent five different French teams and his nation thirteen times. Famed for his set pieces, crossing and skills out wide, Rothen had an admirable career. During his playing career he picked up two French League titles at PSG and AS Monaco, the French Cup with PSG, a Confederations Cup in 2003 and the Scottish League and Cup double with Rangers. He was also a member of the AS Monaco side that finished as runner-up in the 2004 Champions League, Rothen’s side losing to José Mourinho’s FC Porto.

Despite growing up just outside Paris in Châtenay-Malabry and attending Clairefontaine, his professional career began 150 miles away in Caen. Here, Rothen progressed through the youth system at SM Caen to make his debut as a 19-year-old for the Ligue 2 outfit. He became a mainstay of the team on the left wing; across three years in the first team he scored 11 in just shy of 100 appearances. Ligue 1 side Troyes AC were able to secure Rothen’s signature on the turn of the millennium and Rothen headed up a division on a free transfer, under the stewardship of coach Alain Perrin.

Troyes enjoyed a much-improved season and finished 7th in Ligue 1 and qualified for the Intertoto Cup. Now 22, Rothen was part of a steady top division side. The following season brought with it an introduction to European football as Troyes qualified for the UEFA Cup following a 4-4 away draw against Newcastle in the Finals of the Intertoto Cup. Rothen scored the goal that clinched the Semi-Final victory over Wolfsburg, with a last-minute winner. Their stint in the UEFA Cup was short-lived as they were dumped out by Leeds United in the First Round, Rothen’s goal would have been enough to qualify for the next round but Troyes were stung by a Robbie Keane goal and crashed out of Europe. Rothen continued to be a dependable player for Troyes and his tally during his time at the club was 4 goals in 46 games, Troyes went on to secure a second consecutive Intertoto Cup qualification.

Rothen had done enough to impress AS Monaco, they were eager to add him to the squad despite their financial issues. Rothen joined Monaco for £4 million in the January of 2002 and was part of a team that slumped to a disappointing 15th place finish. The following season, 2002-03, was as terrible off the pitch as it was great on the field. In an amazingly tight league campaign where only six points separated first and seventh place, Rothen’s Monaco perhaps had grounds to feel most disappointed. They finished in second place just one point off Lyon, despite a better goal difference and less defeats. His performances meant he was rewarded with a place in the victorious French team in the Confederations Cup. The off-field issues reached a head in 2003. Regardless of the second-place finish, the club was demoted to Ligue 2 for accruing €50 million of debt. This was ultimately revoked following an appeal and replaced with a ban on being able to buy players. AS Monaco’s chairman of twenty-eight years, Jean-Louis Campora, was forced to step aside to be replaced by an administrator who was connected to Monaco’s princely family.

This meant that Monaco headed into the next season with frictions at board level, the players were in a strange position, bonded together in the knowledge that no new players could join. Monaco were by no means a poor side, they were managed by the 2018 World Cup winning manager Didier Deschamps and had talented players in their squad such as Fernando Morientes, Ludovic Giuly, Dado Pršo and of course, Rothen. A third-place finish in the league was certainly admirable but was hugely overshadowed by their run in the Champions League. After finishing top of a group that contained Deportivo La Coruña, PSV and AEK Athens, Monaco defeated Lokomotiv Moscow on aggregate. Then came a remarkable run. Following a 4-2 away defeat to Real Madrid, away goals from Sébastien Squillaci and Morientes proved vital. Monaco stormed to a 3-1 victory with a clever flick from Giuly proving to be a vital and famous goal for Les Monégasques. An incident with Zidane in this tie attracted attention following Rothen’s autobiography, it was revealed that Zidane called him a ‘fils de pute’, the same phrase that Materazzi was accused of calling Zidane in 2006. The Semi-Finals provided a match up with the newly moneyed Chelsea, the opposite of Monaco’s financial troubles. Monaco emphatically beat Chelsea 3-1 in the first leg and clinched a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge to secure a slot in the final. Monaco were to face Porto in Gelsenkirchen, Germany in their first ever Champions League Final. Both teams were huge underdogs in the tournament and it became a competition of upsets, unfortunately for Monaco they were to experience the greatest disappointment. Monaco started the better side with Rothen proving dangerous out wide and Morientes and Giuly testing the Porto defence. Their enigmatic captain, Giuly, was forced off through injury in the 22nd minute. Porto took the lead in the first half and never really looked back, goals from Carlos Alberto, Deco and Alenichev clinched the trophy for Porto and their tempestuous young manager.

However, despite this on-field success, the 2003–04 season was the worst financial year in Monaco’s history. Within a year, Deschamps left the club and Rothen was out in the summer of 2004. Rothen was selected in the French side for Euro 2004 but only made one substitute appearance. He was approached by his boyhood team PSG and signed for £9 million. Rothen had been approached by Manchester United, Chelsea and Valencia but the lure of his team was too much to resist. He went on to spend six years in Paris but struggled through injury to make an impact in his first two seasons. Despite this, Rothen was selected in the team that won the French Cup in 2006 against rivals Marseille. Frustrated at a lack of opportunities under boss Guy Lacombe, Rothen faked an injury to push for a transfer. The arrival of Paul Le Guen in January 2007 provided a new opportunity for Jérôme to aid a struggling PSG and help keep them in Ligue 1. His revival of form attracted suitors but his desire to retain a place in Paris was a priority as PSG won the league in 2007-08. He made 34 appearances in the 2008-09 season, but the arrival of former teammate Giuly marked a drop to the reserve team.

Rothen was now 31 and reaching the twilight of his career, this provided an opportunity to leave France for the first time. A one-year loan deal with Rangers made him part of a double winning season in 2009-10, but it was not successful for Rothen as he only made four appearances. The loan was terminated in January and he headed to Turkish side, Ankaragücü. After two difficult loan spells, Rothen spent a season in the PSG reserves and his contract was concluded in May 2011. Bastia had just secured promotion to Ligue 2 and Rothen’s experience was deemed vital, he was signed in 2011 and was a key part in a team that gained back-to-back promotions. Rothen was also voted the Ligue 2 Player of the Year, he spent another season in Bastia before returning to Ligue 2 and to Caen for his final season in professional football.

Rothen only made ten more appearances before his career was over. His time at Troyes proved his ability at a high level, Monaco swooped in and he was a pivotal part of a sensational team that surpassed anyone’s expectations. This season provided him the opportunity to play for his home team, the love for PSG perhaps inhibited his career and led to unsuccessful loan spells. A stint at Bastia displayed the talents an aged Rothen still possessed and set up a romantic return to Caen. His career was not littered with trophies nor monumental success, but it displayed his loyalty, hard work and obvious ability. The 2003-04 Champions League campaign was safely his golden hour and Monaco fans will always remember him fondly.

By Peter Kenny Jones with artwork by Agne Ziukaite

 

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