FOOTBALL

EXCLUSIVE: Chelsea, MLS and I – Craig Rocastle reflects on his 11 year career

Following the loss of his mother-in-law to cancer, Craig Rocastle was faced with the toughest decision of his life.

In a professional career that started in England and ended in America, by way of Greece, Scotland and Grenada, the midfielder knew it was time to call it a day. His family needed him.

The former Forest Green Rovers man is at peace with the decision, and has turned his attention to mentoring the next generation of American stars, with football now the third most played sport in the country behind basketball and baseball.

“Unfortunately I decided to stop playing due to losing my mother-in-law to cancer,” Rocastle told Park Life Sport.

“It was a tough time for me, my wife and our kids. It was the hardest decision of my life but it was the right one. My wife and kids needed me and it was time to be a father and husband.

“I now coach, train and mentor young players. The game is growing in the States at a fast rate and there is a lot of talent blossoming.

“I am currently taking my coaching licenses to further my career in coaching, but I am happy right now inspiring and developing young talent.”

After a spell with Kingstonian, Rocastle signed for Premier League giants Chelsea in 2003, regularly training alongside the likes of Frank Lampard, Juan Sebastian Veron and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.

Although he never made a senior appearance, Rocastle, who is the cousin of former Arsenal legend David Rocastle, says being in that environment helped him a massive amount.

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“Chelsea was a huge learning point of my career,” he added.

“Training with world class players and talented team members – it was the perfect place to enhance my game.

“Being able to train and watch players like Veron, Lampard, (Jody) Morris and (Claude) Makelele was brilliant.

“Having team mates such as (Leon) Knight, (Rob) Wolleaston, (Robert) Huth and (Mbark) Boussoufa, who were extremely talented, made it easy to want to be a part of it all.”

It was a loan spell to Scottish side Hibernian in 2004, who were under the leadership of Tony Mowbray, that Rocastle’s game would improve.

He followed that with a permanent transfer to Sheffield Wednesday, helping them seal promotion to the Championship. Beating Hartlepool 4-2 in the 2005 play-off final in front of 60,000 fans at the Millennium Stadium.

“Going on-loan to Hibernian from Chelsea with Mowbray was where my first team career went to another level,” he said.

“His coaching and team management was brilliant and the group of young players played to make a statement.

“Signing for Sheffield Wednesday from Chelsea was the best experience because it was a club I had seen myself playing for as a kid.

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“The fans and my team-mates were incredible, and winning promotion via the playoffs into the Championship is a memory that will never fade.”

In 2009, Rocastle decided it was time for a change of scenery, and transferred to Greek Superleague side Thrasyvoulos from Port Vale.

With the club in financial turmoil and players not being paid their wages, the former Oldham man took action and returned home to England on ‘strike’.

Forest Green Rovers, playing in the Conference, were in need of a midfielder, and the Londoner decided to sign with the club, and says he will forever be grateful to manager Dave Hockaday.

“I was having trouble in Greece – players were not getting paid for a long time,” he said.

“I decided to return home basically on strike, but it affected my chances elsewhere. David Hockaday was in need of a midfielder at Forest Green and called me in to train with the boys.

“After proving my fitness he offered me a deal. Hockaday knew the game and was a great coach to play for. He always cared about the players and he treated me well. The players he kept and brought in merged well together and the team started getting results.

“I left in February for America, but without his blessing it would not have been possible. I cannot thank him enough!”

The move to Major League Soccer side Kansas City Wizards, who would be renamed as Sporting Kansas City in 2011, saw Rocastle play against some of the greats.

Thierry Henry had moved to the New York Red Bulls from Barcelona in the same year, and Los Angeles Galaxy boasted the likes of English superstar David Beckham.

The big-name transfers had caught the attention of the American public, and Rocastle says it was the desire to play at the highest level that made him switch across the Atlantic.

“I wanted to play at the highest level I possibly could and there was interest in America,” he added.

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“Sporting KC showed the most interest and again asked me to come to training camp to prove myself. After a week of training and playing in one game they offered me a deal and I was thrilled to accept.

“The mindset of the club was to be bigger and better each year. That type of mentality matched mine because I played to win!”

Although he was born in London, it was a special relationship with his grandmother that made him choose to represent Grenada at international level.

The 36-year-old went on to represent the Caribbean country 12 times, scoring one goal.

“Playing for Grenada was an easy choice due to the relationship I had with my grandmother,” he said.

“It was a choice I made before I actually decided to play. International football is very exciting, especially when you get to make history.

“Qualifying and playing in my first Gold Cup was something that will stick with me forever. Meeting new people and the friendships is fantastic memories. Scoring my first goal at our home stadium was the best scenario I could wish for!”

As one chapter closes for Rocastle, it is time for him to write the next.

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