Romain Alessandrini’s dream came true when he was still in grade school.
Like most boys growing up in the French port of Marseille, he longed to play for the city’s storied soccer team. And when he was 10, the team invited him to join its youth academy.
But 18 months ago, his hoped-for career in his hometown soured. Public spats with two coaches and Marseille’s passionate fans caused a rift that even dreams could not bridge, making it clear Alessandrini had to go somewhere else to reinvent himself.
“I need to have a new start in my career. Because in Marseille it was a little bit difficult,” Alessandrini, 27, said before Saturday night’s final preseason exhibition with Portland at the StubHub Center.
Alessandrini came on for the second half, playing an active 45 minutes in a 2-1 loss, with the Timbers getting both goals from Farnendo Adi and the Galaxy answering with a late set-piece score from defender Daniel Steres.
A new beginning for Alessandrini would also help the Galaxy, of course. Which is why they spent much of the winter trying to win over the Frenchman, who was also courted by England’s Hull City and Italy’s Genoa.
The Galaxy’s interest was so sincere, they sent technical director Jovan Kirovski to France to meet with the player and his representatives four times, according to Alessandrini’s agent.
“They didn’t just call,” Yvan Le Mee said. “They showed up.”
They also paid Marseille a $1.75-milllion transfer fee and offered Alessandrini a three-year, $6-million designated player contract. And to underscore his importance, when Alessandrini arrived for his first training session last Monday, they handed him Keane’s No. 7 jersey.
In Marseille, he wore No. 11.
“I have pressure,” Ales-sandrini said in halting English. “For me, it’s important. It’s a good pressure.
“I’m very excited to start because it’s a new challenge for me, a new life, a new team.”
The relationship with his last team ended poorly.
During five years in Marseille’s youth academy, Alessandrini was unable to impress the staff enough to be offered a contract. So at 16, he left for Gueugnon, beginning an odyssey that saw him play in the third-tier Championnat National in 2008, in Ligue 2 with Clermont Foot and in the French first division with Rennes, where he scored 16 goals in 49 games. That earned him a brief a call-up to the national team and a reunion with Marseille, whose management reportedly paid a $5.3-million transfer fee for a player they once didn’t want.
Once again, Alessandrini was unable to impress the coaches, with Marcelo Bielsa starting him just 13 times in 38 league matches. When the popular Bielsa left at the start of the following season, Alessandrini criticized him publicly, and the fans turned on him.
His situation didn’t get much better with new Coach Rudi Garcia.
The Galaxy open the MLS regular season March 4, playing host to Western Conference favorite FC Dallas. And while Coach Curt Onalfo said he expects Alessandrini to play in that game, he might not start. Alessandrini spent most of February in France, taking care of immigration paperwork, and as a result he’s trained with the Galaxy only five times.
“I don’t know my teammates,” he conceded. “Every day I’m concentrating in training, trying to know every player.”
The Galaxy already know him well, though, so Alessandrini will get all the time he needs to get acclimated to his new surroundings.
It may not be his dream home, but for someone seeking a new start, it’s not bad.
“We got him for a reason,” Onalfo said. “He’s a very, very good wide attacking player.
“But he just got into town. When that happens, you’ve just got to try to incorporate the player as quickly as possible but do it at a rate that’s good for him. It doesn’t happen overnight.”