By Chris Murphy
Wrapped inside AS Monaco FC's crucial UEFA Champions League Group C match with PSV Eindhoven on Tuesday is an intriguing individual contest between two of Europe's most highly rated young midfield players.
Monaco left winger Jérôme Rothen and PSV's 19-year-old attacking midfield player Arjen Robben are earning rave reviews right now, and have both established themselves as squad members for their respective national teams, France and the Netherlands.
Rothen, 25, has been sensational for Monaco since arriving for €4.6m from ES Troyes Aube Champagne in 2000. He has been a key figure in the principality side's rise to the top of their Champions League section, above both RC Deportivo La Coruña and PSV after four games.
Victory on Tuesday will secure Monaco's passage into next year's knockout stages and cap an excellent 2003 for Rothen. In March he made his international debut in the 6-0 UEFA EURO 2004™ qualifying win against Malta and a few months later was part of France's FIFA Confederations Cup-winning squad.
Earlier this month he scored his first Champions League goal in the Ligue 1 leaders' record-breaking 8-3 rout of Deportivo, and he has also contributed four assists in this season's European campaign.
Rothen has been cited as one of several 'next generation' French stars poised to leave their native country with England the likely destination. Arsenal FC and Liverpool FC have registered their interest in signing him and Italian giants Juventus FC, Internazionale FC and AC Milan are also reported to have been watching him.
Playing in England appeals to me," he admitted. "I appreciate the approach to football they have and the atmosphere at games. There is a passion there that forces you to push yourself to the best of your ability."
Like Rothen, PSV youngster Robben has been linked with a move to England, in particular Premiership champions Manchester United FC. However, he is unlikely to be rushed. He signed from FC Groningen in the summer of 2001 on the condition he could stay with the Oosterpark outfit on loan for a further season.
"It's was too early to leave Groningen at that time," Robben recalled. "I was 16 and made a lot of progress at Groningen and I though the best chance to carry on with my development was by staying there."
Robben's PSV debut came on the opening day of last season in the 2-0 win at SC Excelsior, and his 12 goals in 33 Eredivisie games helped the club win the title. This season he has maintained that progress, scoring against AEK Athens FC on Matchday 4 after becoming a fixture in Dick Advocaat's Dutch squad.
Little wonder he is in no hurry to move on, despite the rumours. "
Why should I leave PSV?" he said. "The club is treating me very well and giving me the time to progress slowly which I might not be offered with other clubs. PSV have enabled me to finish high school which was important to me as I could be badly injured tomorrow and my career would be over."
For both players, whether they depart for pastures new is a matter for the future. On Tuesday they have the chance to show everyone who still does not know why their skills are so coveted in the first place.
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