asroma.co.uk’s Legends of Rome series continues with the much-loved French international and Roma Hall of Famer, Vincent Candela.
Vincent Candela was born on 24th October, 1973 in Bedarieux in southwest France. Growing up in a region famous for its passion for rugby, Candela was a keen rugby player but eventually decided to focus on football as it was where his real passion lay. He joined Montpellier’s youth teams at the age of 8, where he started out as a forward but was gradually moved further and further back until he ended up in defence. Candela won the league title at youth level with Montpellier, before beginning his professional career with Toulouse and made his debut for them in October 1992. However they were relegated in 1993/94, and after they weren’t able to win promotion back to Ligue 1 at the first time of asking Candela decided to leave for Guingamp in 1995, having played 56 times for Toulouse.
At Guingamp, Candela won the Intertoto Cup and became the club’s first ever player to appear for the French national team, and he made such an impression that Roma came forward with an offer in January 1997. Guingamp tried to prevent the move from going ahead, doing all they could to disrupt the move even though Candela would have been out of contract the following season, but he eventually forced the transfer through. What he found at Roma in the middle of the 1996/97 season though was chaos. Carlos Bianchi was doing a disastrous job of managing a team that wasn’t short on quality, and he was eventually sacked in April. Nils Liedholm was appointed (for a fifth and final time) and together with Ezio Sella managed to steer Roma to safety as they finished four points above the relegation zone.
Candela, meanwhile, was beginning to establish himself. He had been signed along with the unfortunate Omari Tetradze, who never really settled due to a series of injuries, and in the summer of 1997 the departure of Amedeo Carboni allowed him to make the left back spot his own under new coach Zdenek Zeman. He played on the left hand side despite being naturally right footed, a decision that had been made while he was playing at Toulouse, and this meant defenders were put at a disadvantage as they were never sure which way he would turn. Zeman’s attacking tactics unleashed Candela down the left hand side as he used his superb dribbling ability to make deep runs into opposition territory, combining with his team-mates or finding an opportunity to shoot. This was typified by his goal in 1998/99 against Juventus, when he ran down towards the byline before cutting inside Alessandro Birindelli, who was expecting Candela to cross, and rifling a right footed shot into the roof of the net to seal a 2-0 win.
Technically very gifted and with great elegance on the ball, Candela was not only spectacular going forward but was very capable defensively as well. Unfortunately, he never really got a chance with the French national team, as he was competing against the excellent Bixente Lizarazu for a place in the side. Candela did have some opportunities with les Bleus though, playing in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta as well as France’s successful 1998 World Cup campaign. Although Lizarazu was first choice, Candela did play in the last group game against Denmark (France had already qualified for the last 16). He was then called up to the squad for Euro 2000, where France beat Dino Zoff’s Italy team in the final, but again he only played against the Czech Republic and the Netherlands. 2002 saw him take part in France’s disastrous World Cup campaign, playing against Uruguay and Denmark, and in August he played his final match for les Bleus in a friendly against Tunisia. In all, he played 40 times for France, scoring twice. If he had had a little more consistency in his performances from season to season, perhaps he may have had more success in his rivalry with Lizarazu.
At club level though, Candela had a particularly good understanding with Francesco Totti, and the charges down the wings by Candela and Cafu became the Giallorossi’s trademark under both Zeman and later Fabio Capello. Even though Capello altered the team’s shape to play with a three-man defence, Candela remained a vital part of the side that won the title in 2001. However, had things worked out slightly differently in 1999, Candela might not have been part of that scudetto win at all. That summer, he was close to leaving the Giallorossi for Inter after being put on the transfer list as Zeman no longer considered him to be part of his plans, and he even said goodbye to his team-mates after the final game of the season against Vicenza. Some disappointing performances the previous season had also created an uneasy relationship with the fans, who had started to whistle Candela at the Olimpico. But as it turned out, his proposed move to the Nerazzurri collapsed when Zeman was sacked and Fabio Capello was brought in.
Capello went straight to Candela and told him that he was no longer for sale, and under the Italian he became a key part of the team. There was a mutual respect between the two, and Candela later said that Capello was the best coach he ever had. Rather than playing as a full back as he had under Zeman, Candela was transformed into a wing-back as the coach altered the team’s shape into a 3-5-2. This suited both Roma and Candela perfectly, and the defender quickly repaired his relationship with the supporters with a series of excellent performances early in 1999/00, particularly after scoring a brace against Lecce that rescued a 3-2 win from a potential disaster. Whereas a few months before he had been jeered, now the fans once more sang “Oh le le, oh la la, Vincent Candela, Vincent Candela”. President Franco Sensi said at the time that the Lecce match was the Frenchman’s best performance for Roma, and underlined how happy he was that Candela had stayed.
It was not only Sensi who would be happy that he stayed, as in 2000/01 Candela was a vital part of the side that went on to win the title. He scored a fantastic goal against Bari in May, flicking the ball up past one opponent, controlling it and lashing a volley into the top corner, all with his right foot and all without the ball ever touching the ground. It sent Roma on their way to a 4-1 win, keeping Lazio and Juventus at arm’s length with just a few games left of the season. Although Juventus made up ground with five consecutive wins, Roma’s victory on the final day of the season against Parma meant they won the title by two points. Candela had actually been very close to not playing in the title decider; two games previously, he had been sent off against Milan and was banned for the following games against Napoli – when Eusebio Di Francesco played in his place – and Parma. But, with 48 hours to go, Roma finally won their appeal against the suspension and Candela was able to play. He provided the assist for the opening goal of the game, cutting inside and picking out Francesco Totti with a pass for the captain to bury a finish past Gianluigi Buffon. Vincenzo Montella and Gabriel Batistuta also got on the scoresheet in a 3-1 win, and Candela said later that “I felt like a gladiator in that game, watching all those fans was a unique experience”.
The following season, Roma added to their league title with victory in the Supercoppa Italiana against Fiorentina, the Coppa Italia champions. A half cleared corner came to Candela some 35 yards from goal, and after taking one touch he fired a low shot that arrowed past Giuseppe Taglialatela into the bottom corner. It set Roma on their way to a 3-0 victory and their first ever success in the Supercoppa. It was his seventh year with the club when his decline started, as his age began to tell and he was no longer the same player as he once was. Years later, the Frenchman admitted that the reason for his decline was simple: “I fell in love. When you meet the woman of your dreams, have children, you start to prioritise them”. His performances began to decline and, no longer an automatic starter, the club decided to allow him to leave for another club to try a new experience abroad. He was one of two winners of the 2001 scudetto to leave the club in January 2005, as Marco Delvecchio left for Brescia while he was sold to Bolton Wanderers.
Unfortunately for Candela, his time in England wasn’t a success and he moved back to Italy with Udinese after just six months. He was able to play in the Champions League with the Zebrette, even scoring against Panathinaikos, before moving to Siena in 2006. His time in Tuscany only lasted a few months though before joining Messina, where he stayed for the remainder of the 2006/07 season. That summer though Candela failed to find a new club, and on 3rd September, 2007 he confirmed in an interview with L’Equipe that he was retiring. In 2008, he briefly made a return with amateur side Albatros, but officially retired on 5th June, 2009 when he played a farewell game at the Stadio Olimpico organised in his honour and played between the France 98 team and Roma’s title-winning side of 2001 in front of 40,000 fans.
After retiring, Candela stayed in Rome for another two years before moving back to Montpellier. He opened a number of restaurants and now also owns his own wine company and takes a keen interest in the production side of the business, and even made a special bottle to celebrate the anniversary of France’s World Cup win in 1998. He also created Roma Legends, a charity that organises events and fundraising schemes to allow disadvantaged children to play sport. Last year, he was voted into the club’s Hall of Fame in recognition of his enduring popularity with the supporters and of what he gave the club on the pitch. Many defenders who have followed Candela at Roma have found his legacy hard to match, a true testament to one of the club’s finest full backs.
Honours: Serie A (2000/01), Supercoppa Italiana (2001/02).
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