Name: Youri Djorkaeff
Date of Birth: 9th March, 1968
Birthplace: Lyon, France
Height: 5' 10 (179cm)
Son of a former professional and international soccer player, Jean Djorkaeff
World and Europe Champion in July 1998 and July 2000 with French Soccer Team
Player for Monaco (Fr), PSG Paris (Fr), Inter Milan (Ita) and Kaiserslautern (Ger)
Is from Armenia
Has one son
Joined Bolton Wanderers (Eng) on a free transfer in February 2002 in what was one of the club's biggest deals in history. The former World Cup and European Championship winner played a big part in helping the Trotters avoid relegation where he has remained a key figure since. Has captained Bolton on a number of occasions when Jay-Jay Okocha is on international duty.
(February 2002) Plays for Bolton Wanderers in England
(October 2004) Joined Premiership club Blackburn Rovers following the expiry of his contract with Bolton.
(February 2005) Joined New York/New Jersey Metrostars in the American Major Soccer League
Soccer: Djorkaeff comes full circle
Christopher Clarey International Herald Tribune
International Herald Tribune, France
Oct 28 2005
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 28, 2005 -- BOSTON Youri Djorkaeff likes to say that he has come full circle as he wears a No. 10 jersey in the United States: just as he did in Grenoble, France, for his first professional team more than 20 years ago.
That was the first stop in a peripatetic career with tours of duty in the French, Italian and German first divisions and most recently in the English Premier League. But Djorkaeff is certain that this is his last stop: an attack-minded place in midfield for the New York/New Jersey MetroStars with a license to create and to dole out advice to the younger team-mates, which would be everybody.
"There are lots of people who want to learn here, and for a player like me, it's quite pleasant because everyone asks my opinion and watches me and listens," Djorkaeff said in an interview before the second leg of the MetroStars playoff series with the New England Revolution, which is on Saturday in Boston.
It is more a disturbing than encouraging sign that 10 years after Major League Soccer's inception, its most internationally prominent player is a 37-year-old with intermittently creaky knees who retired from the French national team nearly four years ago.
It is also more disturbing than encouraging that 10 years after their inception, the MetroStars, despite a huge, multicultural audience to draw from, could only attract a few thousand fans to Giants Stadium for the soggy first leg of with New England last Saturday.
Soccer has broken plenty of hearts and a few leagues and fortunes on this sports-saturated side of the Atlantic, but Djorkaeff, who once was a force with Inter Milan and who won the World Cup with France in 1998, insists that the best really is yet to come.
Like many in the game here, he knows the key statistic: close to 20 million youths and adults playing on soccer teams. But since arriving in February, he has also seen what that means first-hand with his children playing at the club level in Manhattan.
"One is 12, and the other is 8, and it's quite amazing to see how many kids are playing," he said. "On Sunday, you go around the island of Manhattan, along the river banks and past the fields, and wherever there's a space, artificial turf or not, soccer is being played. Much more soccer than basketball.
"There's a great future here. It won't be in the next two or three years. You'll need a minimum of 5 years and probably 10, but the day there will be a great national league, will be the day it will take off."
You can quibble with his timetable or his cause-and-effect analysis, but it is difficult not to share some of Djorkaeff's enthusiasm. It is not just in Manhattan that the fields are full of young talent on the weekends. Despite the demise of the women's professional league
'You have to see the great players. The problem in America is that they only see what happens here.'
in 2003, it remains the sport of choice for girls and continues to drain gifted boys from other sports, too, although soccer remains second to basketball in terms of participation. Somehow, somewhere, all this passion for playing the world game is going to translate into passion for following the world game
Yet the soccer culture gap remains enormous. Most other aspiring soccer stars around the planet have grown up watching the best at work, be it Zinédine Zidane or Ronaldo or Andrei Shevchenko. When they go to their fields or black tops, they know what's worth imitating. But many young Americans have never seen the best talent on screen and certainly not in person. Any young baseball aspirant goes to bat in Little League with a mind's eye full of World Series whiffs and home runs past. But when your correspondent asked the 11- and 12-year-old members of his daughter's soccer team here if they had heard of Zidane, not one of them answered in the affirmative.
"You have to see the great players, and the problem in America is that they only see what happens here," Djorkaeff said. "You're going to have to get the players from Europe over, and then they are going to come and take a look, as they did with me and the MetroStars. It gives them something they haven't seen, something they can learn from."
The fans certainly seem more willing to pay to watch the European stars. The MetroStars biggest crowd of the season (by far) was 55,000 on May 31, when their game came immediately after England and David Beckham played Colombia in a friendly in Giants Stadium.
It was that business model that launched the North American Soccer League in the 1970s and brought in past-their-prime Franz Beckenbauer and Pele. That enterprise collapsed. This league, its more modest and fiscally conservative successor, has y leaned toward building with less expensive, local material like Landon Donovan, the striker who was a big factor in the U.S. run to the quarterfinals at the last World Cup and plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy.
The MetroStars took a chance on Djorkaeff because he had proven his adaptability, because he had the creative spark so difficult to find in hard-running U.S. soccer and because he was a bargain at a reported $180,000 a season.
That won't go far in Manhattan, but Djorkaeff had already acquired his wealth. He wanted the New York state of mind instead of a more lucrative but potentially less enriching year in Qatar's petro-league with his former France teammate Marcel Desailly.
Djorkaeff is living in Gramercy, making occasional nods to his roots by visiting the Armenian community on Staten Island, and loving it all. "For me, the soccer is the cherry on the cake," he said.
Though a year in New York was more the attraction than a year with the MetroStars in a near-empty stadium in New Jersey, he has hardly looked like a pensioner. Making the playoffs is not hard (eight of the 12 MLS teams qualify), but the MetroStars only snuck through on the final day of the regular season.
Djorkaeff, who missed the start of the season with injuries, was a big factor in the surge, which came after club president Alexei Lalas, the once-flamboyant U.S. defender, fired Bob Bradley as coach and replaced him with Mo Johnston.
This was the sort of shock therapy that a soccer mercenary like Djorkaeff could relate to. Though the circumstances were unpleasant, the urgency was welcome.
"I'd say the level here depends on the matches," he said. "What's important is to be in the top four in the conference to make the playoffs. That falsifies the results a bit. If you lose a match here or there, it's not a big deal. It's all about the end of the season, which is a bit of a shame. There can be a really great match, on a par with division one in Europe, and then the week after, there can be a low-level division two type match. The points are not that important. In Europe, if you draw at home, it's a big deal. But the urgency has been there the last few weeks."
Other stars with World Cup victories on their resumés have flopped in valedictory seasons in New York, including Germany's Lothar Mathäus and Brazil's Branco. But Djorkaeff was named the team's most valuable player, and that was before he set up the only goal of the rainy playoff evening against New England in the first leg last week.
Even at his advanced soccer age, Djorkaeff remains a flashy, skilful player. While he outmaneuvers younger, men and does his minor bit to repair Franco-American relations,Zidane and Lilian Thuram have just succeeded in the bigger challenge of keeping France afloat: abandoning retirement and qualifying les Bleus for next year's World Cup in Germany.
"I think it was courageous on Zidane's and Thuram's part to come back," Djorkaeff said. "I didn't think they'd do it, but it's to their credit, because they were really the ones who qualified the team. It made the difference mentally for the players. But don't ask me if it gave me any ideas. I've done my time at that level."
This time, this stop, is about coming full circle.
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