First Class Feret: Return trip to Brittany

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By Pete Sharland

If you had a quick browse through Julien Feret’s career you would see that he started his time in football with Stade Rennais and after a number of transfers, has ended up back with his original club. It is a pattern repeated by many footballers but this is far from an ordinary journey, and Feret is far from an ordinary player.

To start with he almost never became a footballer. He progressed well in the Stade Rennais youth system but he, like so many others, was told that he didn’t have that extra bit that was needed to go professional. A lack of character was a primary reason he was dropped from the academy, and almost true to his coaches’ assessment he came very close to dropping out of football. He was on the verge of becoming a P.E. teacher when in the summer of 2003 National side AS Cherbourg came to his rescue. His teaching career was put on hold and it remains on hold today.

Feret happily plied his trade in France’s lower divisions for a few seasons, and he didn’t get his first chance in Ligue 1 until he was 26 when he signed for AS Nancy-Lorraine. In the early stages of his career Feret was deployed more as a holding midfielder, largely because the sides he was playing for couldn’t afford the luxury of an attacking midfielder. Despite his restricted role, Feret was already starting to exhibit the skills that would make him such a dangerous player in years to come.

It’s important to make clear that when Feret returned to Rennes in 2011 it wasn’t some sort of ‘return of the prodigal son’ homecoming. While Feret made it very clear that he ‘held no grudges’ for the way the club treated him, he also said ‘I didn’t have a particular desire to come back here’. Being released from the club at 20 years of age must have been tough on Feret and he was smart enough to realise it could well happen again. That was two years ago and there was no guaranteeing he would be any sort of success.

If character was what the Rennes’ coaches thought he lacked at 20, he certainly had it in abundance at 28 when he re-signed. Aside from the aforementioned quotes he also referred to the Breton club as ‘an opportunity, in phase with my evolution, to reach the French national team’, in other words a stepping stone. He could have come back to Rennes gushing about how this was his first choice, how he missed the club and how it always had a place in his heart. He didn’t, which shows a lot of courage. He recognised that while this could have been a long term deal, he hadn’t stayed with a club for more than three seasons and there was every chance he would be on the move again. Every footballer wants a fairy-tale ending to their career but Feret had higher ambitions.

What has followed since has been something magical as Feret and Rennes’ fans fell in love with each other. He has been pushed forward to an attacking midfield role (occasionally filling in on the wings) and he has been playing arguably the best football of his career. At 6’1″ he is a useful option in the air and a shy away from the current trend of smaller attacking midfielders like Mathieu Valbuena. His passing ability is something that has never been questioned and he has utilised this so well at Rennes; whether it is long cross-field balls or a deft touch to split a defence, he can execute it – he is a master of making the right pass at the right time.

The main part of his game, however, is goals – also something that has been prominent in his career. He has found the net at least five times in each of the last seven seasons and last season he reached double figures in the league for the first time, finishing with a tally of 11 to make him Rennes’ top scorer. These are not simple tap-ins following rebounds, these are clever finishes, thunderbolts from outside the area and, every so often, a cheeky chip. The thing with Feret that makes him such a danger is that he is a surprisingly good finisher for a midfielder and most of his goals are fired with pinpoint accuracy.

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The two goals that stand out most from this season just gone are very different, but each have their own significance. The first came in the game against Saint-Etienne on 9 March 2013, the third goal in the match to put Rennes ahead. Following the breakdown of an ASSE attack, Rennes broke away and Jonathan Pitroipa played an inch-perfect ball through three defenders to set Feret free against the goalkeeper. It looked like he had taken the ball too far into the penalty area but amazingly he still managed to lob Stephane Ruffier, demonstrating extreme calm under immense pressure. His composure was also impressive as he hadn’t scored in eight matches before that game. In addition to this it was the third game Rennes had played without the influential Romain Alessandrini following his injury. With Alessandrini out, the emphasis was really on Feret to step up and score more goals for the side.

The second goal was earlier in the season, on 17 November, but it was my favourite goal of the whole of Rennes’ season both because of the ability involved and what it meant. It came in the incredible 2-1 victory away at PSG. The champions only lost two matches at home all season and this was one of them. Unsurprisingly, Alessandrini opened the scoring for the away side but Nene soon equalised for PSG. Then goalkeeper Benoit Costil was sent off and Rennes were down to ten men, facing an onslaught from one of the strongest squads in world football. Rennes won a free-kick on the edge of the PSG box on the side favouring a left-footed player and the whole stadium waited with anticipation as Alessandrini took aim once more. No-one expected what happened next. Without breaking so much as a sweat Feret strode towards the ball, curled it around the wall exquisitely and saw it nestle in Sirigu’s bottom corner. It was a truly monumental effort after being reduced to ten men, and showed what sort of player Feret is.

Recently there has been talk around the club that Feret is set to be offered a new long-term deal, with the view that he may retire at the club. For me that is wonderful news because as well as being a great player he is also an important figure in the dressing room. With Vincent Pajot and Saido Diallo progressing well, having someone of Feret’s experience around will be good for their development. He may not have won his cap for Les Bleus, but this is probably pretty close to the happy ever after that Feret thought he would never have.

An excellent debut there by Pete Sharland. Make sure to follow him on twitter – @psharland55

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