Dominique Rocheteau is an iconic figure at Saint-Etienne, and for the past year and a half he has been back working behind the scenes at the club he graced as a player between 1972 and 1980. “I joined the supervisory committee initially, then later I was brought onto the board,” Rocheteau told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview.
“At first people thought I was there as Sporting Director, but that’s genuinely not my role. I’m involved with helping the club at every level,” added the former France international, who has just been named as L’ASSE’s Sporting Coordinator.
This new role, which Rocheteau took up after the Ligue 1 winter break, makes him one of those charged with overseeing the club’s youth system as well as its relationship with supporters. In the latter sphere particularly, the status the player earned during his days flying down the right flank in Saint-Etienne’s 1970s’ heyday will no doubt stand him in good stead.
Nicknamed L’Ange Vert (The Green Angel), Rocheteau helped L’ASSE to win three consecutive French titles, the 1977 Coupe de France and earn legions of admirers in their run to the final of the 1975/76 European Cup, where they were denied only by the mighty Bayern Munich at Hampden Park.
A hero and a gentleman
Yet Saint-Etienne would not have reached the decider without an epic turnaround in the quarter-final tie against Dynamo Kiev. Beaten 2-0 in the first leg, Les Verts stormed back to beat Oleg Blokhin and Co 3-0 in the return, with Rocheteau himself firing the clinching goal in extra time after latching onto a pass from Herve Revelli. “I was stricken with cramp by then and could barely walk, but when I saw the ball come my way I managed to get my legs going again,” recalled the hero of one of the most memorable feats in French football history.
However, even so many years later, Rocheteau still harbours regrets over the final reverse at the hands of a Bayern side featuring the likes of Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller. “I’ve got very mixed memories of that. It’s especially frustrating because I couldn’t start the game, I was injured and could only come on late in the match,” said Rocheteau on the final decided by Franz Roth’s solitary strike.
When it came to major tournaments, I often wasn’t 100 per cent fit. But that’s part of the game…
“I was only 20 at the time and I told myself that I’d play in other European Cup finals in my career, but in the end that never happened,” added the wide-man, before also touching on similar disappointments suffered in his nonetheless sparkling career with France. “I’ve realised that, when it came to major tournaments, I often wasn’t 100 per cent fit. But that’s part of the game…
“My style was based around dribbling and taking on players, which meant that I was often on the receiving end of fouls from defenders. That said, I was fortunate enough never to be seriously injured,” continued L’Ange Vert.
“I only ever got two yellow cards during my career too, which may be more than Gary Lineker – who was never booked – but I’m still proud because it’s all about how you behave out on the pitch. It was also an era where the defensive demands [on attacking players] weren’t as high.”
Facing the future
Nowadays, meanwhile, Rocheteau and Saint-Etienne are working hard at building a bright future for Les Verts and avoiding the pitfalls of nostalgia. “We can’t rewrite history. I hope that one day we find ourselves around the very top in Europe again, but that would be a very different adventure [to the 1975/76 run]. Of course, the past is important to a club. It provides a good base to work from and we mustn’t forget it, but nor can we rest on those laurels. In any case, these things happen in stages and we’re not going to get back in Europe overnight.”
For all that, Rocheteau will be aware a healthily stocked trophy room makes dreams of repeating such successes that much more legitimate. Indeed, European heavyweights such as AC Milan and Real Madrid place great store in employing former favourites who know how it feels to win silverware, with a view to using their experience to keep a club’s winning tradition alive.
Without a title in over 30 years, Les Verts have followed a similar route by deciding to bring one of their own heroes back into the fold. However, it is still too early to say whether or not Rocheteau’s efforts are bearing fruit, while the man himself insisted that any success achieved will be “thanks to the work of a whole team."
“Saint-Etienne are going through a rebuilding phase but the fact that the coach, Christophe Galtier, has had his contract extended is a good thing. It means he can see his job through in peace. That’s not something that you often see in football: having a level of long-term stability and the chance to carry out a plan over several years,” he added.
All of which will be music to the ears of fans of the Loire outfit after three trophy-less and often chaotic decades. And having finished a solid tenth last term and enjoyed an encouraging start to this Ligue 1 campaign, Les Verts will be hoping they are finally on their way back to the top.