24 August ~ Why would a former England B international, who Sven-Göran Eriksson once considered good enough for the full national squad, pursue his football career in Moldova? Out of all the intriguing transfers over the summer, none is as unusual as Rohan Ricketts signing a one year deal to join FC Dacia Chişinău of Moldova. Ricketts, who is one of the few players to have played for both Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur in his career, is now with a club that finished fifth in the Divizia Naţională last season.
It makes the midfielder-cum-striker the first Englishman to play top-flight football in the former Soviet state, which last got international attention for the civil protests after their 2009 election. A far cry from London’s finest sights and stadiums. “My team-mate said our stadium is like White Hart Lane – it’s nothing like it!” Ricketts laughed after a recent match against Dinamo Bender. Attendances are low, TV coverage is limited, but FC Dacia are looking to push regular league winners FC Sheriff Tiraspol this season, with Ricketts at the forefront.
The club have a Russian president who is keen to spend money, but they are expected to perform. “I’m under pressure to score goals, which is difficult for me as these are the first competitive matches I have played since mid-2009, and I am not a striker,” he said after another difficult match which saw him substituted early in the second half for the third consecutive game. “The president is always asking me why I haven’t scored when I come off. It’s hard to explain to them that my natural position is in midfield.”
Why did he move to somewhere so far off the beaten track, where no English footballer or coach has gone before and where the people speak Russian and Romanian? “I needed to be playing again,” Rohan said matter-of-factly. “It’s been a long time since I was starting games. My agent and the club said I would be a starter and I wanted to give it a go.” There were tentative offers from a club in Greece and a now-League One side in recent months, but none of them was as serious as FC Dacia’s, with the club making it clear he would be a starter. It’s a far cry from winning the FA Youth Cup with Arsenal and being a regular for Spurs. In recent years, Ricketts has found the English game restrictive, with managers prescribing to tactical systems over talented players.
Off the pitch, Ricketts is residing in a local hotel, rooming with an Argentine trialist, and is starting to find his way around the Moldovan capital. He is making efforts to plan his post-football life too, and he jokes about the acting and writing opportunities that are starting to come through – “I want to be the English Will Smith!” It has been a difficult beginning though, with the team struggling to break down opponents intent on defending in numbers.
Those following his Twitter feed (@RohanRicketts) will know that crowd trouble after the Dinamo Bender match also saw the team bus stoned and held in a ramshackle car park for two hours after the final whistle. Not the sort of thing that happens in England or Canada, where he had a spell in the MLS with Toronto FC. Ricketts says he will stick it out though and “continue to do my best for the team”, an admirable outlook for an English player so far from their comfort zone. Gavin Stone lesrosbifs.net