Thomas loving life at the top
Few have turned rejection into success quite like Angers SCO defender Romain Thomas, who, five years after being released by Stade Brestois 29 and left unemployed, has now arrived at the very top.
"It's beautiful, because I came back from a lot, and just a few years ago I couldn't dream of these moments," he told The Ligue 1 Show on beIN Sports.
The 27-year-old defender's goal at the Stade Vélodrome in a 2-1 win over Olympique de Marseille in September proved just reward for the dedication that has taken Thomas from the depths of despair to the summit of the French game.
"You just want to be his mate, he doesn't cheat, he's loyal, he's a listener," said the Angers coach Stéphane Moulin. Team-mate Thomas Mangani describes him as "a top player and a top guy who loves his job!"
"He's so enthusiastic and happy, when you give him something to do, he puts his all into it and you can feel that," says the defender Gaël Angoula. "Look at how he celebrates, so passionate, it's outrageous!"
Thomas was released by Brest before he made a single Ligue 2 appearance, and like so many struggling players before him he stayed fit by training with the professional footballers' union.
"It was either that or nothing, I would have ended up nowhere," he said. "I think I grew up a lot in that time. I realised it's not anyone else's fault or responsibility. If you don't achieve, you have to take a look at yourself!”
But soon things started looking up. Thomas started turning out for Carquefou in the amateur leagues, and even helped the tiny club earn promotion to the third tier.
"Honestly, I will never forget my time with Carquefou, it was the turning point in my career," he insisted.
And it was at Carquefou where Moulin noticed the 1.93m tall defender. The Breton-born star quickly became an unmovable part of the Angers team that won promotion to Ligue 1 last season.
"He was not signed to be in the starting XI at first, he knew that, everything was crystal clear but we then quickly realised that he has a thirst to learn, to listen and to progress that he puts everything else aside," said Moulin.
Few Ligue 1 players are as conscientious and hard-working as Angers' dedicated stopper.
"When I watch games, I take notes of team line-ups and the players' general movements to help me the day that I face them," he says.
Denis Renaud, who until recently was in charge of Ligue 2 side Paris FC but previously coached Thomas at Carquefou, added: "He's somebody who has got the world of football worked out, has forged his own career and pays attention to the smallest of details, whether that is on or off the pitch, and that is why he is where he is now."
'Looking to improve'
He may well be part of Ligue 1's second-meanest defence coming into the weekend, but the Angers man won't be resting on his laurels.
"I am still looking to improve on a few things, notably the simplicity and efficiency of my actions, I want consistency," he admitted, but having been to hell and back to reach the heights he now knows, Thomas could barely be happier.
"Now that I am firmly a part of Angers' top-flight plans, I want to give my all and show my worth. Because after all it is amazing to be here. So I will go for it, and hopefully get my reward but yes, it's amazing to do what you are passionate about - to go and run on a football pitch every day, you can't complain, you simply can't!"
Thomas and Angers will hope to end 2015 on a high note when they face AS Saint-Etienne at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on Sunday afternoon.