French football prides itself on its youth development with Stade Rennais FC widely recognised as being one of the best clubs at nurturing talent. The Breton outfit are currently providing the platform for Romain Alessandrini to flourish after the midfielder took a rocky road to Ligue 1.
"Can you believe it? I scored at the Parc des Princes," Alessandrini told team-mate Yann M'Vila after his brilliant first-time drive past Paris Saint-Germain FC goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu helped his team to a 2-1 win in the capital recently. "It's just magnificent. I knew I was up against two of the best defenders in the world in Alex and Thiago Silva, so I had no time to take an additionnal touch, and it worked!"
Though the strike, out of the blue from all of 25 metres, was special in its own right, it had added significance for the Marseille-born Alessandrini, who grew up dreaming of playing for his home-town club. That dream looked like it might become reality when he joined the OM youth academy, but when – aged 15 – coaches wanted to transform him from an attacking midfielder into a full-back, he knew his future lay elsewhere.
He joined non-league FC Gueugnon, where he made steady progress before his upward trajectory was abruptly halted when he ruptured knee ligaments in his first game as a professional at the start of the 2009/10 season. "My retirement was on the cards at that moment," he said. "But after six months without playing, I realised how fond I was of football."
That enthusiasm continued to shine through after his 2010 switch to Ligue 2 side Clermont Foot Auvergne 63, where he managed to catch the eye in a rugby-obsessed town, tempting Rennes into parting with €2.5m for him last summer.
"He is an artist," said M'Vila, who has seen his new team-mate score four times in Ligue 1 and twice in the League Cup, many of which have been early contenders for goal of the season. "Spontaneity is his strong point," said Rennes coach Frédéric Antonetti, whose new star has also contributed three assists in Ligue 1. "He looks particularly promising in the final third. He must now learn more about team play and how to build attacks."
If his former Clermont team-mate Cédric Lubasa is to be believed, Antonetti will not have to worry too much about Alessandrini progressing. "He knows that your career hangs by a thread. That's why he works so hard, and never gives up," said Lubasa, who drew parallels with a current French international who also came through the amateur ranks. "That's why he reminds me of Mathieu Valbuena. I predict he'll end up the same as him."
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