Romain Alessandrini had worked his way up to the uppermost reaches of Ligue 1, earning a place with his hometown club – and one of France’s biggest teams – Olympique Marseille, and a spot on the fringes of the French national team picture.
But at age 27, he needed something different.
So after nearly a year of courtship, the winger joined the LA Galaxy as a Designated Player at the outset of the 2017 MLS season. And Alessandrini has quickly shown his abilities, scoring four goals and two assists in LA’s first eight games of an otherwise frustrating start to their campaign.
Alessandrini recently spoke in depth with MLSsoccer.com – in his native French – about the circumstances of his arrival, his observations of MLS and the Galaxy’s rough spring.
Matthias Van Halst: How did the Galaxy approach you?
Romain Alessandrini: I wanted to leave Marseille and LA Galaxy technical director Jovan Kirovski contacted my agents. He came to Marseille several times to see me. Seeing him traveling from so far, that meant a lot to me. I had contacts with a few clubs in Europe, but that wasn’t as concrete. I told my agent that I wanted to go to LA Galaxy, as I was interested in the sporting project of the club and the league.
MVH: When you signed, you said that you were having no fun on the field anymore. What happened?
RA: I suffered several injuries on key moments – for example a cruciate ligament injury only two weeks after having been called by the French national team. It came as a hard blow. In Marseille, expectations were high: I gave a lot for the club, but it didn’t happen as expected and it started to be complicated. I needed fresh air, in a club with less pressure.
MVH: What did you know about MLS and the United States before coming? Had you been to LA before?
RA: I was watching MLS from a distance. As soon as [David] Beckham signed here, it opened doors in Europe for MLS. I also followed Toronto, with Benoit Cheyrou, alongside whom I have played in Marseille, and [Sebastian] Giovinco becoming a standout. That made me want to follow the same path. I wasn’t familiar with LA, but that wasn’t my first time in town: I love to travel, and I had already spent four or five days there.
MVH: What are your thoughts on MLS after several weeks of competition?
RA: Since I’m here, I never stop! This is a huge change for me: new mentality, new food, new language… And a new soccer too. I try to adjust gradually, to be as good as possible on the field. Here, teams are more willing to play and to have fun. You see more games with plenty of goals. In France, when some teams playing to avoid relegation face top teams on the road, they defend with 10 players during the whole game. Here, teams want to put on a show and to produce spectacular soccer. Every team we faced until now also have good players. This is pleasant.
MVH: Could you compare the way teams defend in Ligue 1 and in MLS?
RA: There are more spaces in MLS. The tactical culture isn’t the same as in Europe, where it’s something common to kids as soon as they are 10 years old. Soccer here is still young, the game is evolving. There is a need of tactical improvement in MLS, but what the league shows after only a few years is already interesting.
MVH: Several big names left the Galaxy in the offseason: players, like Robbie Keane, but also coach Bruce Arena. As a newcomer, do you feel that the page has been turned?
RA: We still feel their presence. When players and coaches are so significant to a club, they are not forgotten. Fans still think about them. The page has to be turned by the players currently with the team: we must write our own history. But it’s only the beginning: with a lot of new players and a new technical staff, you need more than two months to build a team. Give us time, and we will be a very strong MLS team.
MVH: Who have you connected with on the Galaxy? Who’s taken you under his wing to show you around?
RA: It’s easier for me to speak with Jelle Van Damme, who speaks French, and with my countrymen Clement Diop and Bradley Diallo. When such changes happen in your life, it’s nice to work with people speaking the same language. I try to discuss with everybody and to adapt as best I can. I have basic English skills, learned at school, but also because I’ve traveled a lot.
MVH: Now that you know your club and your teammates, what do you think you bring to the team? Do you think that your best assets are being used?
RA: I’m here to be a decision-maker, to score goals, to provide good crosses and give assists. I try to bring my experience, my energy, to be impactful.
[But] I need my teammates. For example, Giovani dos Santos and I have the same way to play, we understand each other very well. However, we still need to develop chemistry. That requires time, training, games, repetition. I’m just here for two months. Moreover, I came here in the middle of a season, and spent two months taking care of administrative issues. I’m not fully fit yet; it will happen progressively.
MVH: Have you really said that you wanted to be the No. 1 player in MLS? Is that still the goal?
RA: Actually, I’ve said that I wanted to become one of the best MLS players, not the lone No. 1. That’s why I’ve been hired! I’m a Designated Player, I must score goals and help my team win.
MVH: Is it easy to get used to the United States, or did you experience culture shock?
RA: It’s different than France. But traveling allowed me to have the right expectations. What I’m living now matches them. I’m happy!
MVH: What are your favorite things to do in LA?
RA: I’m here with my girlfriend. We love to walk, visit tourist areas, eat in good restaurants and visit all the nice places in town, like Hollywood, Beverly Hills, but also the Getty Center, a park offering nice views overlooking Los Angeles. We love quiet places, allowing us to see something different… especially when the week starts. Because later in the week, I’m fully focused on practices and games.
MVH: What do you miss the most from your hometown Marseille?
RA: Both of us miss our family, above all. We have some friends, but we spend most of our time just the two of us. Thanks to the sea and the nice weather, there’s a bit of Marseille here.
MVH: What will be needed at the end of the season for you to regard your first MLS campaign as successful?
RA: Despite a poor start, LA Galaxy remain ambitious in MLS and want to end the season as champions. I hope to help the club to win the league, and to have a decisive role.