His story begins in the Alsace region in northeast France, with only the Rhine separating Strasbourg from neighbouring Germany. It is a city just as you would imagine; rich in architectural heritage with mazes of narrow streets that intertwine as you wander over bridges here and there.
The football club, Racing Club de Strasbourg Alsace, is the heartbeat of the city and it is here where a young Valérien realised his dream, growing up just a 15-minute drive from their home stadium, Stade de la Meinau.
“I was born in Strasbourg and grew up in Strasbourg, and this club was part of my childhood,” he began. “When you get the possibility to play for this club, it was a big dream I achieved – not only to play for this club, but to win trophies.
“This club is always a part of my life and I follow the club all the time. I gave everything for this club and that’s why it will always be a big part of me.”
Steeped in history, Les coureurs, are one of just six teams in France to have won all three major French trophies but were in the third tier, Championnat National, as little as five years ago.
However, during Valérien’s time as a player, Strasbourg enjoyed great success and won the UEFA Intertoto Cup, Coupe de la Ligue and Coupe de France in a six-year period. It was similar, in a way, to Manchester United’s famed Class of ’92 where the core of the team was made up of players who had graduated through the academy, who knew what it meant to play for the club.
“It started with the under 18s; we won the national title with this squad,” continued the Reds’ Head Coach. “I have to say this because it’s very important. With this squad, we had four or five players that played through to the first team and that was the first step to have the winning mentality.
“We were in the first team and kept this winning mentality and, with these guys, we won trophies with the club which was a very special thing for us because you play for your hometown club, you win the first trophy and you win with boys from this town.
“It was very high identification for the fans with us and it was, at this time, very good development to give the guys the chance to achieve.
“Olivier Dacourt played for Leeds United and Everton, and we started together in Strasbourg. Martin Djetou played for Monaco and the French national team. There were other guys who didn’t make the big jump in their career but still did well in the team at Strasbourg or at another club at this level.
“For us, it was a very good feeling to have players like brothers to grow up with these guys. We worked together from 14 and at 18 we had the chance to play for the first team; we’d all played together and that’s why it was a very good feeling.”
It wasn’t just the players who had come through the academy at Strasbourg that possessed incredible talent, but Les coureurs also had a number of world-renowned stars within their ranks.
One, in particular, who football supporters of a certain age may remember fondly, is goalscoring goalkeeper José Luis Chilavert; the eccentric Paraguayan who made a name for himself with his expertise from dead ball situations.
“He had a big personality and a big ego,” recalled Ismaël. “It was funny to speak with him because you would go in the locker room and this guy spoke about himself in the third person. If you asked Chilavert how he was, he would reply: ‘Chilavert is good today’ and it was a strange feeling to hear this, but he was a good guy.
“He had an unbelievable left foot and in training he made a bet with the other goalkeeper about free-kicks and he was clinical; from ten, eight hit the target and five went in. It was unbelievable. A left foot like this, maybe you have seen Maradona and then after comes Chilavert with his quality.”
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