Despite his status as the undisputed figurehead of the Roma team, club legend Francesco Totti is nevertheless anxious to see team-mate Jeremy Menez challenge him in the popularity stakes at the Estadio Olimpico. The Giallorossi captain has high hopes for the 23-year-old, a player capable of bringing the fans to their feet with his lightning change of pace.
“Menez likes to keep himself to himself, but he’s a good lad,” said Totti, who, like the Roma tifosi, is still waiting for the French attacker to unfurl his full range of skills on a more regular basis.
A pure footballing talent from the suburbs of Paris, Menez was discovered at an early age and signed his first professional contract as a mere 16-year-old. In January 2005 he made a name for himself by scoring a seven-minute hat-trick for Sochaux, the fastest-ever treble in French league history.
That achievement seemed to presage a bright future for the youngster, who months earlier had collected a UEFA U-17 European Championship winner's medal as part of a France side that also featured luminaries such as Samir Nasri, Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa. Capable of slotting in anywhere up front or in an advanced midfield position, Menez’s signature trait is his blistering turn of pace on the ball, a quality his coaches have come to value him for.
“In terms of technique and pace he reminds me of Kaka,” commented Luciano Spalletti, who took him to Roma. “There are very few players in Italy who are able to combine that quality with that speed. He can go like a bullet in the opposition half.”
Menez arrived in the Eternal City in the summer of 2008, determined to take his career forward after two seasons of relative underachievement at Monaco. No sooner had the new recruit arrived than Spalletti made a rapid appraisal of his strengths and shortcomings: “Roma shouldn’t be making any demands of kids likes this and should be doing what they can to help him blossom.
"He’s a very young player with a lot of quality and potential, but he needs to acquire experience, learn his trade and develop. He’s skilful, fast and creative too, but he needs to deliver more consistently.” Two years on, Spalletti’s shrewd assessment still holds some truth.
The mental side of my game is improving and I’m getting more consistent. I’ve made mistakes but I’ve learned from them, and when you’re young you think that you know everything.
Menez, who now wears the No94 shirt in tribute to the French département he hails from, can give off a frustrating air of discontent, but there is no question he has the skills to win over even his biggest detractors. The superb volley he struck against Chievo not long after joining Roma provided an early indication of that.
Further signs have come this term, which began with the Frenchman virtually carrying the side during a troubled start to the campaign and has latterly seen the Romans rise to a more respectable eighth place. Gaining in confidence under Spalletti’s successor Claudio Ranieri, Menez has said he has no regrets whatsoever about joining I Giallorossi.
Even so, the new season has not been entirely plain sailing for the gifted Frenchman. After showing some superb form for a month and a half, Menez attracted criticism for a disappointing display in Roma’s 3-1 defeat by Palermo in late November, enduring one of those days when nothing would come off for him.
“There are times during a player’s development when they stagnate or take one step back before taking two steps forward,” said Ranieri in analysing the ups and downs of a player described by some as the 'French Cassano'. “I don't have an issue with that. Jeremy is an intelligent lad and he understands the mistakes he made against Palermo.”
Despite the problems he has faced in his short but promising career, Menez believes he is close to finding the balance he needs to become an influential performer week in, week out. “The mental side of my game is improving and I’m getting more consistent,” he said.
“Whenever I lose possession now I try hard to win it back straightaway, whereas before I just used to give up and feel sorry for myself. You can't allow yourself to do that. I’ve made mistakes but I’ve learned from them, and when you’re young you think that you know everything. You can easily get a little pig-headed.”
Capped just twice by his country to date, Menez not yet been able to re-establish his rapport with former youth team-mates Benzema and Nasri. Should he continue to chart an upward learning curve at Roma, however, it will surely not be long before he is back in blue.