Back in my early CdT days, Chris was fond of saying that, much like a kitten or a trout, I was attracted to shiny things. While I do have a few bedazzled outfits in my attic, he was referring to my mindless attraction to pacy and tricky wingers, but I couldn't help it. As a relative newbie to the sport, I was drawn to fleets of fancy, to body feints, to endless arrays of pointless step overs, and to the site of a scrawny-legged winger putting an opposing full-back on skates.
While my understanding and appreciation of the game have become more nuanced since then, show me a fast-paced kid with a shiny YouTube highlight reel and I'm hooked. I've been entranced by the likes of Erik Lamela, Cengiz Ünder and Hakim Ziyech in the past, but one of the first players to lure me in was a scrawny 21-year-old from the suburbs of Paris.
By the summer of 2008, I was firmly entrenched as a Roma fan. While I hadn't yet joined the CdT crew, spending the prior two years watching Roma get teased by Inter Milan, I had digested the full Roma experience: Totti and De Rossi would do amazing things, but in the end we were a day late and a dollar short.
Roma in the mid to late 00s were a solid enough team, but they needed that extra little spark to push them over the top; someone who didn’t have to rely on Totti or Pizarro to get their goals. They needed a fast, aggressive and creative winger. Someone who wasn't afraid to take initiative.
They needed the youngest player to ever score a hat-trick in Ligue 1 history. They needed the most hyped prospect to cross paths with Roma since Antonio Cassano.
They needed someone like Jeremy Menez.
Coming from Monaco in the summer of 2018, Menez didn't fetch a world-record fee, but the €12 million Roma paid for his services was one of their biggest expenditures of the latter-Sensi period, bested only by Mirko Vucinic a few years prior, and it very nearly matched the amount they fetched for Mancini; the man Menez was ostensibly replacing.
Menez had the usual rough edges one typically associates with a young, brash winger—a bit selfish, a bit lacking in understanding—but his first season in Rome was pretty successful all things considered. With four goals and three assists in about 1,200 league minutes, Menez’s first taste of Serie A was plenty promising.
But you already know how this tale ends.
Pairing with Vucinic and Totti at the front of Spalletti's attack, big things were expected of Menez. With a solid debut season under his belt, he was supposed to be a crucial part of Roma’s 2009-2010 squad; it wouldn't have been crazy to imagine Menez putting up a 12 goal and 8 assist campaign in only his second season with Roma—his future was that bright.
While Menez took a bit of a hit following the departure of Luciano Spalletti at the start of the ‘09-’10 season, he eventually settled into Ranieri's rotation, but the concerns many had about Menez soon surfaced. Following a 15 minute cameo against Cagliari in January of 2010, a match in which Roma blew a 2-0 lead after the 90th minute (much, much more on that later in the week), Ranieri, as well as several of his teammates, were quick to call out Menez for his lack of effort.
Menez apologized to his teammates but struggled to crack the rotation after that, making appearances off the bench for the next several matches. Menez would eventually regain Ranieri's faith, making eight starts down the stretch for Roma, but had little impact in Roma's quest to hunt down Inter Milan.
And a year later, after another managerial change and a series of arguments with new coach Vincenzo Montella, Menez's Roma career was done and dusted, with the club selling him to PSG for €4 million loss in the summer of 2011.
I've been sitting on this piece for about two weeks now, so you could imagine my surprise when Menez recently reflected on his career, particularly his stint with Roma:
I could’ve done so much more, but I didn’t work enough. I thought talent would suffice...
Playing in Paris was my dream, that’s why I chose to leave Roma and turned down Juventus, even though Antonio Conte called personally to convince me.
Luciano Spalletti and Claudio Ranieri were like fathers to me, which also meant giving me a telling off to help me grow up. I still don’t know how we didn’t win the Scudetto in 2010. Francesco Totti was a big brother, as just like he did with Antonio Cassano, he invited me to live with his parents for the first few months in Rome.
When asked what advice he'd give to his younger self, Menez replied “To work had and do less dumb things.”
The football world has certainly seen graver sins than a talented kid not fulfilling his enormous potential, but that was Menez’s ultimate undoing in Roma. He wasn't a bad teammate, he certainly didn't break any laws, but he just didn't make enough of his god given talent.
And to those of us who can only dream of spending a single day as a professional athlete, there may be no greater transgression than wasted talent. So while we should credit Menez for being mature and introspective, much like Antonio Cassano before him, we're left to wonder what.
A fully engaged, free-spirited and attacking Menez could have put Roma over the top in 2010, but we'll never truly know.