YOURI Djorkaeff didn’t rate English football before he turned up to play for Bolton Wanderers.

The Frenchman had lifted European trophies with Paris St Germain and Inter Milan, and ruled the footballing world with his country, but his opinion of the Premier League left a lot to be desired before Sam Allardyce talked him into a ground-breaking deal in February 2002.

Djorkaeff was a key component of Aimé Jacquet’s brilliant French side that lifted the World Cup on home soil in 1998 but he had seen a move to Germany turn sour and at the age of 33 knew he had to be playing regularly to stay in contention if he was to help defend the trophy that summer in Korea and Japan.

Little did he know, however, that the marriage of convenience would become one of the most enjoyable times of his trophy-laden career.

Bolton were third from bottom in the Premier League table and had just been walloped 4-0 at home by Manchester United.

The squad had not changed significantly from the one which had beaten Preston North End to secure promotion the previous May.

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So what inspired one of Europe’s most recognisable talents to leave Bundesliga to battle for points alongside Mike Whitlow, Anthony Barness, Jermain Johnson and Nicky Southall?

“Bolton needed me and I needed Bolton, not just as a player but in my life,” he told the club’s Here We Go Again podcast.

“Big Sam came to Germany, we had dinner and he told me what he was expecting from someone like me. Very honestly, he described the environment, the stadium, the people, the team and I knew before I signed what to expect. This honesty was good because when I arrived it was exactly as he had been telling me.

“I was a real sporting challenge. How can I impact on those 12 remaining games, on the club, on the players around me, against my adversary? It was a real challenge for me.

“I believed in myself. I was excited and curious about moving to England because I always had an image of the football there. French and English people are cousins – sometimes you hate them, sometimes you like them.

“So with all the prejudice about English football I thought the best thing to do was to move to Bolton and to see myself, and I was not disappointed.

“Bolton was opposite to where I’d lived all my life, in big cities, big clubs, big stadia, but the heart of the people in Bolton was so big. All the things that can sometimes bore you, or make you unhappy, they completely disappeared.

“The first day when I went to the Reebok Stadium I felt it was like home. I was surrounded by my people.”

Djorkaeff had concerns over the cultural differences in English football but found the experience way more enjoyable than he could have expected.

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“In Italy, nobody applauds you if you control the ball well,” he explained.

“If you do a long ball from a deep area people boo you – but in England they cheer.

“It is total, pure football. Sometimes it’s brutal, sometimes it’s nice, sometimes it’s ugly, sometimes it’s beautiful – but I think you are born for this kind of football. And as a player if you don’t experience it once in your life then you will miss something.

“I was thinking totally different from the outside. People gave me back a million times what I was expecting.

“I was not crazy for the Premier League – I was for Italy or for Spain but for me, we’d play friendly games against Manchester United and Liverpool but it was just pre-season.

“It was not the big goal for big players to play there. Nowadays it’s different – for top players you have to play for Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, not any more for Inter or Milan, some clubs in Spain too.”

Though Djorkaeff’s original mission was to ensure Bolton stayed in the Premier League, he took pleasure from the fact Allardyce’s team evolved in the following two seasons.

“We started to believe we could beat the Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United. That sort of belief made the club grow up,” he said.

“We brought some great players and Bolton was on the map. They were people who invested in the club, really cared, and I remember having a discussion with Phil Gartside and Sam Allardyce about the future of the club, how we can be better on health, the food, training ground, how to travel, it was something very important as a player.”

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Wanderers’ ‘Foreign Legion’ began to turn heads. Allardyce recruited players from all over the footballing globe to push Bolton on from Premier League strugglers to a team knocking on the door of the European positions.

Djorkaeff picked out Ivan Campo as the player who had the biggest impact.

“Ivan is my bother too – if you know Ivan, he’d arrived in Bolton after difficult at his previous club,” he said, referring to Real Madrid.

“And for him, it was more a human challenge. He arrived and we connected because we had played against each other in a big club and the first minute we were friends.

“I know how hard sometimes it was for him. I know how much work and love he brought to the fans and to the players too.

“I think Ivan was someone who was very special in my life in football and I was proud to play with him.”

Djorkaeff scored seven goals in 2002/03, including a stunning strike against Charlton Athletic, and then got into double figures during 2003/04, scoring twice against Leeds United and Everton in the final few weeks as Bolton secured an eighth-placed finish.

There were some disappointments, though – Djorkaeff regrets “not turning up” for the Carling Cup final defeat to Middlesbrough and feels the game lost credence because the final was not played at Wembley.

“Why were we playing in Cardiff? It was a final but the atmosphere was far from what we were expecting. You didn’t have the feeling that it was a final,” he said. “The final should be at Wembley.”

He also revealed how the club reneged on a verbal offer of an extra year, which led to his departure in the summer of 2004 and a brief spell playing for Blackburn Rovers.

"When I left for the holidays, we had an agreement for the next season," he said. "During my break, they broke this arrangement.

"I didn't understand why and the explanation didn't justify this.

"I was always fair with the club. I didn't need to sign a piece of paper. If I shake hands, this is my way in my life.

"They told me I would have a position but we needed to renegotiate the contract.

"I said 'if you want to make some movement, don't worry, just let me know, because I'm leaving'.

"In this club, I'm not here to make an adjustment to be half of what I am.

"I signed, I came here and if I have to leave I will. I'm not here to play two games, one game.

"This is not the way I'm thinking.

“I was ready to move back to France and had an offer from Monaco. Blackburn called me and my family, three kids, were in school in Manchester and I was happy to live there.

“It was not the time to retire and I had already played at Monaco.

“I asked for a three month contract with Blackburn because I had been in contact with New York a year before and said ‘OK, give me a chance and if I like it at Blackburn, I can stay.’ “When I arrived the atmosphere was great, there were great players, but I got injured after two games and I never had the chance to show to the club my right football.”

Djorkaeff finished his career with two seasons in MLS for New York and lived in the US for 15 years after that.

Now the CEO of the FIFA Foundation and living in Zurich, Djorkaeff says he would love to return to play in front of the Wanderers fans once again in an exhibition match.

“The time I spent in Bolton will remain with me for the rest of my life,” he added.

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