WTTGT Writer: Simon Bourne (Site Editor) – Follow Me
Back in 2000, Arsenal were in a period of success that was arguably the best in their long history. Not only were the likes of Bergkamp, Vieira and Seaman winning trophy after trophy, but the Gunners’ youth setup was doing likewise.
Rohan Ricketts was part of that team who lifted the FA Youth Cup two years running. Under the leadership of Don Howe and Neil Banfield, Ricketts was one of many talents in a team set to dominate Premiership team-sheets for years to come.
“We had Pennant, Thomas, Sidwell, Volz, Bothroyd, Juan, Bentley, Hills, Chilvers” Ricketts told WTTGT.
“Don Howe and Neil Banfield were amazing. They were the reason behind all of our careers. We were motivated, we trained hard, we were organised and well disciplined.”
Ricketts had to look on at the conveyer belt of talent that Arsène Wenger was bringing over shore, patiently waiting for a chance that ultimately failed to really come. But Ricketts doesn’t consider himself bitter and remains admirable of the Frenchman’s work: “Arsène is a good man. He has a great coaching philosophy and nobody can argue with him. Me, I was what I like to call a footballer’s footballer. I liked to play intelligently.
“At the time it was hard for Arsène to find the right balance between bringing through youth players and buying new [players]. He was winning trophies and it wasn’t easy to change his philosophy.
“He has tried to change this now, and while he gets nicer football out of it, he isn’t winning trophies.
“I don’t think I got enough chances there but it was just bad timing for me. I mean that whole [FA Youth Cup] winning team didn’t make it at Arsenal. You just have to take your chance at the right time.
“People have suggested Wenger is anti-English but I don’t think so. It’s all about timing.”
Following his solitary appearance in the League Cup, Ricketts had the rare chance to move across North London to Tottenham. He said: “It wasn’t a difficult decision because by moving there I was closer to the first-team. Glenn Hoddle gave me chances in the first-team. Tottenham believed in me and gave me the freedom to play.”
Ricketts in action
Ricketts went on to play for Coventry, Wolves, QPR and Barnsley before he joined the Beckham MLS revolution across the Atlantic with Canadian side, Toronto FC.
“The MLS is growing as a brand and a business” he said. “They are very fit and well organised there, but technicality has got to improve. The problem is that across Canada, there is only one MLS club, and that is Toronto. Vancouver and Montreal are of course developing their teams now, but while I was out there, the youth setups were just not there.
“There isn’t enough opportunity for the kids to play in Canada. This is why I am setting up my own academy, to give kids that chance. It’s called Rohan Ricketts, Train like a Pro – Soccer and Lifestyle Clinic, and hopefully my expertise can help these kids develop their talents.“
On the likes of Beckham and Thierry Henry’s decisions to play in the MLS, Ricketts is complimentary, but he also feels that things still need to change. He told WTTGT: “There needs to be that middle ground if it is going to improve. It’s all well and good having a superstar, but you need some players in the middle.”
Following on from his time in the MLS, it was the start of an unsuccessful journey for Ricketts across Eastern Europe. He found himself first playing in Hungary, and then in Moldova: “It was all down to the wrong agent and bad timing again. Aberdeen wanted to sign me and I wanted to sign for them, but they couldn’t afford the deal and it all fell through; so I ended up giving it a try in Moldova.
“The lifestyle there is pretty poor. I wasn’t a fan of the food. Their first language is Romanian so I had to overcome that, but the people there, they seem to lack ambition and dreams. People just didn’t believe in themselves and that’s why I didn’t like it.”
After a few years away from the UK, Rohan is hoping to return this summer and believes he still has a lot to offer the game: “I still have some good years ahead of me. I know I can play in the Premier League, but I will need to start lower down.
“A few years back I had the chance to join Paul Ince at MK Dons, but at the same time Barnsley came in for me. I went for Barnsley as they were playing at a higher level and sure enough, Ince landed the Blackburn job and took two players with him. This is what I mean about bad timing.”
Away from football, Ricketts is very much hands-on and living the dream. He has a huge passion for talking and writing, meaning he is regularly seen and heard on the TV and radio. He writes regularly for The Sabotage Times, and also runs his own magazine, Column 10. He added: “Column 10 is a real mixed bag. We have exclusives from footballers, music stars, agents, stylists, and even porn stars.
“I am also going to be covering this summer’s U21 European Championships on TV so I’m very busy, always looking for opportunities to gain more experience.
“My book is out in a few weeks called Passion for Football. It’s aimed at parents and children, hopefully giving them the best opportunities to become a professional footballer.”
Ricketts was one of several Arsenal players who had the globe at their feet in 2001 when they lifted their second consecutive FA Youth Cup, but he remains thankful and realistic about what has become of his career, saying: “It’s easy to say you would have done things differently, but it’s made me who I am. I have grown up with it and because of it, I am who I am now and I’m happy.”