GUEST POST BY IGOR MLADENOVIC
Igor is a lifelong Paris Saint-Germain supporter who has written for a number of reputable websites including SF Union. In this piece he looks at the career of one Jeremy Menez who has been a catalyst in recent weeks.
A promising player once lauded as ‘the new Antonio Cassano’ by Zinedine Zidane both for his talent and his reluctance at working his socks off stands second on Ligue 1’s assists table this season, months after coming back to France from AS Roma.
PSG winger Jeremy Menez is a player who juggles with observers’ expectations like Diego Maradona with a football. The youngest ever professional player in Ligue 1 after signing his first contract with Sochaux aged just 16, he soon became the youngest player to score three goals in one game aged 17, upon coming on as a substitute against Bordeaux on May 22nd 2005. It took him seven minutes to bag a hat-trick and catch the eye of the little amount of European clubs that had not already heard of him beforehand (Sir Alex Ferguson having personally offered him a trial a few months earlier).
Like any French youngster who was skilful on the ball, he was soon heralded as Zidane’s successor and initially looked like he would end up the same way as others before him who were lauded in those terms – not fulfilling anywhere near their potential. Moving to AS Monaco, he was assigned the tough task of succeeding Ludovic Giuly who had gone to Barcelona. Menez found it hard to live up to those expectations. His sometimes whimsy behaviour led the Monaco board to consider offloading him despite him carrying the team on his shoulders and he soon moved to Italy barely aged 21.
Moving abroad to AS Roma, whose manager Luciano Spalletti made an absolute priority, Menez found a true mentor that helped him set his career on the right track. Incidentally, it could be said in hindsight that Spalletti was the only Roma manager to have truly supported Menez despite the Frenchman failing to find his feet precisely under his tenure, disappointing observers in his first few months at the club with what some labelled as ‘needless dribbling’ and overall individualism. He eventually got going under Claudio Ranieri and finally Vincenzo Montella, through hours of hard work in training and a firm belief in his capabilities, avoiding the many temptations surrounding a city like Rome.
Former Italian international and PSG legend Marco Simone indeed remarked that for a 21-year-old youngster allegedly renowned for his unprofessional behaviour, the way he handled himself among all the temptations one encounters in The Eternal City was top-drawer. Stuck on the bench in his first few months, Menez did not veer off track to taste the city’s nightlife like Adriano or Marco Borriello before him, and was rather said to be one of the first at training and last to leave the Trigoria training centre. Perseverance paid off as he became a stalwart in the Roma line-up under Ranieri, and what’s more, caught the limelight not for his solitary goals but for his brilliant assists, such as for Borriello in November 2010 against Bayern Munich in the Champions League. Another assist, this time for Francesco Totti in the Serie A, led the Italian to herald Menez as ‘the new Messi’, a player who ‘speaks the same football language as me’. That shows just how high Menez was being regarded in Italy during 2010-2011 – or how high Totti generally regards any players who gift him goals on a plate.
As PSG moved to another dimension after a Qatari-backed investment fund took over last summer, a priority of the Parisian board was to bring local players to artificially inject some identity into the club. Menez, born in lowly Southern suburb Longjumeau (in the 94 department, one he was so proud to represent he chose this number to go on the back of his shirt at Roma), was therefore a key target for PSG. Displays filled with inconsistency and lack of consideration for his team-mates at the start of the season has turned under the guidance of Carlo Ancelotti into intelligent commitment for the good of the team. The best sign that a freshly built team, or a team guided by a recently appointed manager, is coming together and playing for the good of the team. What Jose Mourinho does most brilliantly is exactly that. He coaches the most hopeless individualities (Angel Di Maria, Arjen Robben, Samuel Eto’o, Zlatan Ibrahimovic) and gets them to look at the bigger picture, even sometimes having them play in more defensive positions down the pitch.
Menez has done just that since Ancelotti took the reins at PSG last winter. His altruistic assist for Kevin Gameiro in the dying minutes of the game against Dijon, his all-important gift to Guillaume Hoarau against second-ranked Montpellier testify to the player understanding his part in contributing to the team’s collective. What a contrast to the game against arch-rivals Olympique de Marseille earlier in the season, where he replied to a beleaguered Andre Ayew asking him why he never tracked back that ‘running is other players’ job’. If he avoids suspension or injury, Menez will face Marseille in the return fixture of France’s biggest game with the tag of being the second best assistant in the league. Quite a turnaround from the days where the only thing he would try to pass the ball at was the back of the opponent’s net.
Still aged 24, it comes clear the Frenchman’s best years are ahead of him.
Thank-you to Igor for submitting yet another excellent article. You can follow him on Twitter @Mladenovic_