Friday, April 11, 2008

Rohan Ricketts Signs with TFC

First it was Laurent Robert, then it was Amado Guevara, and now you can add Rohan Ricketts to the list of newly-signed Toronto FC players. The official announcement came down today, but the deal became official on April 9, a day that could soon be remembered as the day that changed the club.

“Yeah, it’s a two-year deal,” said Ricketts, a right-sided midfielder who most recently played for Barnsley in the Coca-Cola Championship. Other terms were not released. This is Ricketts’ first move out of England, where he has spent his entire life. He will join a desperate Toronto squad that was most recently torn apart in the American capital; it’s a game that the club and its fans would soon like to forget. Ricketts, who has been capped for England’s U21’s, has been with six teams in his short career. However, this does not reflect his obvious quality as a player. He was once one of the more highly-touted young players in England, with Sven Goran Eriksson singling him out as one to watch.

Ricketts started out playing football at a young age, and by the time he was 10, he was playing in Arsenal’s youth system, which Rohan himself describes as “the best”. Ricketts would play under Arsenal’s watchful eye for his entire childhood, until he was given the opportunity he had been looking for. “I was eighteen years old, and I had only made one appearance for the first team. It was frustrating because we had such a good youth team, but you couldn’t see any of us getting a chance, a fair chance.” This sparked interest from around England, as there was no doubting Ricketts’ skill, but who would give him the playing time he needed?

“I knew of Tottenham’s interest, through an agent, and then I had to just manifest my way out of Arsenal,” said Ricketts, who would get out of Arsenal just as he had wished. This could be seen as one of the rarest moves in modern-day football, a move between bitter rivals, as Ricketts would join only three other players who had made the move from Arsenal to Tottenham.

While with Tottenham, Ricketts would meet Glen Hoddle, a man for whom Ricketts has the utmost respect. Hoddle can now be found speaking highly of Ricketts, wherever he goes. “Massive” is how Ricketts first described Hoddle’s impact on his career. “He helped me get into the actual industry at a certain level (first team). He was the first person to really give me a chance. I will always be grateful to him for that.”

Unfortunately for Ricketts, Hoddle would be sacked six matches into his stay with Spurs and, says Ricketts, “The guy who took over after, we didn’t really get along.” He would stay at Tottenham for two years, where he made 30 appearances. In the final month of Ricketts’ second season, he was loaned to Wolverhampton, where he would be reunited with manager Glen Hoddle. Ricketts would score one goal for Wolves, and play very well under Hoddle yet again. Wolverhampton was quick to show interest in Ricketts, as his contract with Tottenham came up for renewal at the end of his loan. The winger was faced with multiple offers from the Premiership, but would decide to stay where he felt comfortable, with Hoddle influencing his decision quite a bit. “I just knew that Glen liked me and he believed in me.” There is no doubting that Hoddle has had a significant impact on Ricketts’ career, with him telling me that as fans we really don’t understand how much of an impact a manager can actually have on a player’s career.

In 2007, Ricketts would sign with Barnsley, a team that Ricketts was glad to join. “When I got to the club, I was excited. I had had a really good preseason, and I was very optimistic.” Ricketts impressed both fans and coaches with his early play; however a major road block lay ahead for the young Londoner. He would injure himself, and sit for two months, a lay-off that severely altered his chances of returning to the starting eleven.

At first, the team did not play well, and a shake-up ensued. Ricketts would be moved from his familiar spot on the right flank to a more central role. However, the injury bug would again catch up with Ricketts, and he was forced out of the lineup for a considerable amount of time. Barnsley would, in the absence of Ricketts, go on a successful run in which they gained points in almost every match. The starting eleven was set, and Ricketts could not force his way back into the lineup, while attempts to go on loan were shot down as well. Ricketts had become a frustrated man, and who could blame him?

This frustration has, however, been a blessing for Toronto FC and its fans. After the trade of Ronnie O’Brien to San Jose, the Reds were severely in need of a right-sided player to fill the hole that had been left by O’Brien. John Carver and Mo Johnston would approach Ricketts’ agent, and they had found the right man. When he was approached, Ricketts had to think long and hard about the offer, but in the end Ricketts decided, “It may be far, but it’s football.” He was coming to Toronto on a trial.

The formerly disgruntled, but now ecstatic, midfielder had been given a chance to play the game he so dearly loves, football. The MLS intrigued Ricketts, who sees it as one of the fastest growing leagues in the world. When asked if his move to Canada was meant to simply act as a launching pad back to Europe, Ricketts was quick to express his interest in being a part of the growth of the league. He has no plans to jet off for Europe any time soon, and it sounded like he was looking to connect with the fans quite a bit.

The Skittles Man, who is a naturally two-footed player, will be featured on the right side. His versatility, however, should give defenders nightmares. “I can go either way,” said Ricketts, “It gives me an extra string on the ball.”

Ricketts’ ability to attack fullbacks with either his right or left foot, along with his wicked pace, gives him the ability to cause havoc for defenders. Add to that the fact that Ricketts is looking forward to linking up with Marvell Wynne, and you have one of the fastest and most dynamic right sides in the league. The Reds now also boast an impressive midfield that can lay claim to some of the leagues biggest names, thanks to the additions of Ricketts, Robert, and Guevara. It is almost night and day, when comparing the clubs opening day lineup to the one that will now attempt to give the fans their first win of 2008 in Los Angeles this weekend.

There is no doubting that Ricketts is impressed with Toronto. He speaks highly of the city and cannot wait to get out and explore it. He also seems at ease with the club, and in particular he speaks highly of Toronto FC coach John Carver, who was instrumental in bringing him over from England. “John seems like a really, really good coach…It’s been really refreshing, a coach telling me to play football the right way.”

“I’m naturally gifted, I’ve got pace, trickery as well…and I’d like to add some goals and assists as well,” said Ricketts, while sipping on his Gatorade. “I’ve got goals in me, and I’ve always been someone that wants to assist someone.” That to me is refreshing to hear.

Toronto FC’s newest addition will join Toronto on the flight down to Los Angeles on Friday, and when asked if he would be starting, Ricketts was quick to say, “I assume so, I mean I should be.”

And if he starts, and scores, look for Ricketts to be wearing a particularly personal shirt, one with which many people will be familiar. Welcome to Toronto FC, Rohan!


Roogsy said...

Great article. Great signing. Things are looking up! But witholding this from me? I thought we were buds...

Soccer City FC said...

Well done with the interview as always. I couldn't agree more about the new midfield.

Up with the MLS elite now!