He’s played in three different continents, he’s moved from Arsenal to Tottenham, and he’s been a victim of English football’s fetish for physique over flair. His journey has taken the 34-year-old around the world, and it’s clear from our meeting that he has returned to these shores bursting with confidence.
As we enter South American restaurant, Faktory in Elephant and Castle, Ricketts is instantly glued to the Manchester City-Swansea game being shown, it’s evident his love for football has never wavered. He’s keen to chat about the issues at the top of the game from whether Pep Guardiola will be successful at City to a potential role for Arsene Wenger at the FA, but not before he’s ordered his meal, in perfect Spanish, of course. The QH can instantly tell that this isn’t your average ex-footballer from East London.
It all started when he was part of Arsenal’s all conquering two-time FA Youth Cup winning side of 2000 and 2001, also featuring the likes of Moritz Volz, Steve Sidwell and the precociously talented Jermaine Pennant. “There was a lot of emphasis on repetition,” he tells The QH. “It was very disciplined, and we had a fixed way of playing, we were very quick on how we wanted to circulate the ball.”
After just one appearance for the first team in a cup match at Old Trafford, Ricketts felt the need to leave Highbury in search of first team opportunities, a fate that ultimately fell upon all of that successful youth team. “The great Don Howe was knocking on Wenger’s door all the time, trying to find out if there was actually going to be an opportunity for these kids to play.” But whilst clearly frustrated, Ricketts bears no grudges, “Wenger didn’t give me an explanation, nor did I seek one, the explanation was right in front of me, his name was Patrick Vieira.”
His next step was an unusual one, as in 2002, Rohan Ricketts became just the fourth player to transfer from Arsenal to Tottenham, just a year after Sol Campbell had gone the other way. “When Sol Campbell moved obviously he was a star, I wasn’t,” Ricketts admits before revealing, “I got a little bit of hate mail but not a lot, I didn’t really care.”
Despite making the switch, Wenger’s lessons stuck with the young midfielder, as he reveals one of the Frenchman’s unusual anecdotes, “With Fabregas and Gilberto Silva he said, if a man has boxers on you don’t take his boxers off, you give him trousers.” But as he crossed the divide, Ricketts struck up an instant rapport with his new manager, “In life you meet someone that believes in you, training every day, you’ve got to be on it, you can’t have off days, you need that someone that believes in you, Glenn Hoddle was that person for me.”
Whilst he didn’t immediately get into Tottenham’s first team, Ricketts’ talent in training didn’t go unnoticed, “Jamie Redknapp was the skipper, he took special care of me, Robbie Keane as well, they went up to the gaffer when we were on tour in South Africa and told him that Rohan Ricketts needs to play.”
The 2003-04 season was a breakthrough year for Ricketts, making 24 Premiership appearances for Spurs, but it wasn’t to last, as his mentor Hoddle was sacked, replaced by David Pleat. “I thanked Glenn for giving me an opportunity in life, he said you worked for it, you deserved it,” but a warning was to follow, “he told me be careful, for whatever reason Pleat doesn’t like you.”
Despite having won Tottenham’s player of the month award two months running, under Pleat Ricketts soon found his first team opportunities dwindle. When the opportunity came to link back up with Hoddle at Championship side Wolves, he took it, “I went on loan as I wasn’t playing at Spurs under Jacques Santini, it was a fantastic time, they offered me a two/three-year deal and I jumped at the chance.”
Again however, Hoddle was sacked and Ricketts found himself playing under Mick McCarthy, a manager with a very different philosophy and things began to deteriorate. “It’s crazy I was on the edge of the England squad under Glenn, playing really well, Glenn gets sacked and before I knew it I was on the verge of playing in League 2, just two and half years after playing well against big teams in the Prem and getting plaudits from the likes of Gerrard.”
But his career was about to take a very different turn after a short stint at Barnsley, “I wasn’t playing and I got a phone call, I could have gone to Switzerland, or Spain with Deportivo La Coruña, then I got the offer from Toronto FC and thought yeah, why not?”
After a good spell in the MLS, his then coach John Carver told Ricketts he was in the best shape of his life, and to get himself back to England. But after struggling to find a club willing to take a gamble on him, a very difficult period of his career began, as he signed for Diosgyori VTK in Hungary, “It was a nightmare, disgraceful, a terrible set up, badly run club, an absolute nightmare.”
Amidst contract disputes, Ricketts then found himself playing in Moldova and the lower reaches of German football. On the suggestion that he became English football’s globetrotter, he simply responded, “It wasn’t something I planned…it’s fucked really.”
However better spells followed, as he got to play in the Europa League with Shamrock Rovers, which included a return to White Hart Lane, something he reveals, was very special. “It was amazing, the whole stadium stood up like I was an all-time legend, even though I wasn’t, I had a nice rapport with the Spurs fans,” he said, before smiling as he tells The QH, “There’s a lady there with Ricketts tattooed on her arm, I’m still looking for her! To be appreciated by the Spurs fans like that after so many years was unbelievable, such a nice moment.”
Following his European exploits with Shamrock Rovers, as well as having various spells in Asia, Ricketts played in South America with Ecuadorian side Deportivo Quevedo, citing it as the highlight of his football ‘globetrotting’ “I danced salsa, learnt Spanish, met some funny people, I absolutely loved it.”
When asked what’s next, Ricketts is passionate and unequivocal, “I want to be a fantastic coach, a manager, and I want to keep writing.”