A Blues ‘blessing’ who should never have left in first place

Ricardo Rocha made his third full Pompey debut in the 3-2 defeat at the hands of Leyton Orient on Tuesday night
Ricardo Rocha made his third full Pompey debut in the 3-2 defeat at the hands of Leyton Orient on Tuesday night
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Ricardo Rocha discovered he had no Pompey future by reading The News.

He had his suspicions, of course he did. Out of contract and at the age of 33, the doubts were patently there.

Publicly, former Blues boss Michael Appleton had never sworn faithfully there would be a fresh deal.

Neither had he done so in private discussions with the defender.

Nonetheless, on May 21, Rocha’s nagging fears were confirmed.

His time at Fratton Park was over – it was there in black and white in the local newspaper.

After 76 appearances and two-and-a-half seasons on the south coast, it was time to leave his Fareham home and seek pastures new.

For Rocha, though, there was no animosity.

The manner in which his departure was handled should have left him seething and spitting expletives.

Instead, he wished Appleton all the best and spoke of being ‘blessed’ to have represented Pompey.

A true gentleman to the very, very end.

The Fratton faithful will gladly testify to his class on the field of play.

Rocha also oozes it in abundance off it.

Softly spoken with immaculate English and an immensely likeable demeanour, he doesn’t give many interviews.

The former Benfica man has never relied on glib words or slick PR to enter the hearts of Blues followers.

Instead, he has preferred to concentrate on football matters – in the process establishing himself as a massive favourite.

Now he’s back, and at 8.09pm on Tuesday night how the fans showed their appreciation.

Rarely could a player have climbed off the bench, warmed up in front of the South Stand and attracted such a euphoric reception.

Then again, this was Ricardo Rocha.

We can all remember his Herculean performance in that FA Cup semi-final win over Spurs in 2010.

Similarly, that moment when an errant kick saw the ball strike a Southampton supporter last season is entrenched in folklore.

Yet it has been Rocha’s appearances as a whole rather than individual moments which have prompted his supreme popularity.

A cultured performer, a thinking man’s defender, and wonderful to watch in full flow.

Rocha has perfected the wonderful art of ghosting in front of a striker to intercept a pass.

With sublime intelligence and impeccable timing, it has become the former Portuguese international’s trademark.

Swooping silently akin to the magpie stealing the family silver in the dead of night, he barely gets caught.

It’s a gift certainly not witnessed in League One by Pompey fans this season.

Brute force and strength wins the nod at this level.

It certainly got approval from Appleton when identifying the make-up of his side.

He perceived Rocha as not being physical enough for League One, in addition to lacking aerial power.

There were concerns over his age and whether he could still manage the regular Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday timetable.

Finally, Appleton had long held worries over Rocha’s fitness and a habit of dropping back deeper and deeper from the 70th minute of matches.

And so Pompey fans bid a fond farewell to one of their longest-serving players.

That was until the 35th minute on Tuesday when he replaced the struggling Gabor Gyepes against Leyton Orient.

His return had been instigated by current caretaker boss Guy Whittingham, who had been first-team coach for a large chunk of Rocha’s previous stay.

The veteran had texted the stand-in manager, wishing him the best within hours of his appointment.

Barely a week later and Rocha was back for a third Fratton Park spell.

After trials at Ipswich and Leeds, he was home.

Not that the spirit of Rocha had ever left, of course.

The coffee machine purchased through club fines for one of his four sending-offs has remained at the training ground.

His photograph still hangs above it to remind all of the identity of the donor.

Whittingham had joked he thought Rocha was only interested in returning to reclaim the property which was rightfully his.

Thankfully, all the former Spurs man is craving is football.

And Whittingham was only too delighted to oblige.

Off the field as well, Rocha is seen as a player to make a telling influence on the youngsters.

Certainly an easy-going and low maintenance character, he has a genuine calming presence.

When Steve Cotterill took Pompey to South Carolina, USA, for pre-season two summers ago, Rocha matched up as Tal Ben Haim’s room-mate. Anyone else spending two weeks in the same Holiday Inn room as the irritating Israeli would have cheerfully strangled him.

Hermann Hreidarsson would not have lasted a day before grasping neck.

As it was, Rocha ensured no blood was spilt.

Now the classy defender is at Fratton Park once again.

Having left in the summer of 2010, having departed in the summer of 2012, he’s back.

Initially for a month, granted, but he has returned all the same.

The truth is, he should never have been allowed to leave in the first place.