When he arrived in Rennes from Ligue 2’s Clermont Foot, nobody expected much from Romain Alessandrini, not this soon anyway.
The 23-year-old inspired the club to a fifth-placed finish in France’s second tier, challenging for promotion against the odds and was one of the league’s outstanding performers. However, with Rennes swooping for his signature, the capture went under the radar given the focus on Yann M’Vila’s antics in Poland and Ukraine which then turned into a long and arduous transfer saga.
With no European club prepared to risk investing in the troublesome midfielder, it is attacking midfielder Alessandrini who emerged from the darkness to lead Rennes up the table after a poor start to the season.
Over the summer, the Rennes hierarchy had to deal with a number of want-away players and not just M’Vila. Last season’s top scorer Jires Kembo-Ekoko had his head turned by the riches offered by Al-Ain in the United Arab Emirates and a host of other first-teamers such as Kader Mangane (Al-Hilal), Yacine Brahimi (Granada), Tongo Doumbia (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Alexander Tettey (Norwich), Youssouf Hadji (Al-Arabi) and Razak Boukari (Wolves again) left the club in exodus.
Given the volume of departures it is a miracle Rennes is not rock-bottom given the turmoil that set in because of the M’Vila episode, but Alessandrini has combined with the club’s other new arrivals, Jean II Makoun and Sadio Diallo, to more than make up for their absence.
Already drawing comparisons from French football experts to David Beckham, Alessandrini’s rise to national prominence has been meteoric. So far this season he has scored six goals and laid on a further three in just 13 matches with Rennes sitting seventh in the table.
More remarkable yet is the fact that only one of those six goals was scored during the first seven weeks of the season in a period where he also assisted on no goals, those figures a reflection of the malaise that afflicted les Rouges et Noirs at the start of the campaign. A 2-1 home defeat to bitter Breton rivals Lorient actually had them in the bottom three by the end of Week 5 before Alessandrini finally found his feet in Ligue 1.
His maiden goal in Rennes' colours against Bastia was then followed by another strike in the impressive home victory over 2011 champions Lille before another in the 3-1 win at Nancy. However, it was his sumptuous snap-shot finish against heavyweights Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes that really caught the attention, putting Frederic Antonetti’s men on the way to a famous 2-1 win with only nine men in the capital.
Since then, Alessandrini has registered vital goals at Troyes and then at home to Brest as the Breton club has continued its ascent.
A classy player on the pitch, the Marseille native (rejected by the club’s youth academy at nine years of age) is refreshingly muted off it despite his relatively immediate success in Ligue 2 following a move from provincial formative club Guegnon to Clermont, where he was then named in the league’s best XI in both of his seasons there at only 22.
Not yet a French international at any level, a call-up from national team coach and former OM boss Didier Deschamps surely can’t be too far away if he maintains his current form.
Left-footed and equally as creative as he is deadly in front of goal, Rennes’ No. 19 is a potential long-term solution to les Bleus' dearth of left-sided talent despite often drifting inside from his wide berth.
If his ascent continues at this speed, interest from outside of France will soon start pouring in and international acclaim will surely follow. Rennes are a fantastic club for nurturing youth and developing talent, but in terms of offering Alessandrini sustained success, the Breton club may not be able to fulfil his ambitions.
But for now, Antonetti’s men have a star in the making amongst them and the season’s prospects look bright if Alessandrini’s red-hot form continues to drive them forward, the 2.5 million euro transfer fee is already looking like a bargain.