WHAT started out as a 12-game rescue mission turned into a two-year love affair for Youri Djorkaeff at Bolton Wanderers.

The French forward had been courted by Manchester United and Liverpool - a club he had adored since the 70s - when he was seeking a move from German Bundesliga club Kaiserslautern.

But with one eye on the 2002 World Cup, Djorkaeff needed the game-time that he was not guaranteed at Old Trafford or Anfield in order to fit into France's plans for the tournament.

One meeting with Sam Allardyce, and his mind was made up.

“I had some difficulty with my coach at Kaiserslautern and I had dinner with Sam Allardyce in Germany and we talked about anything and everything," said Djorkaeff.

"He told me about the situation at the club and how they were near relegation. I saw this tough guy and his passion for this club and their fans and it got to me.

“I thought like a chevalier: let’s conquer England, let’s cross Le Manche.

"When I had been playing, my attitude to England was the same as all French people; it was hate-like-hate-like. But I was crazy about Liverpool and remember cheering them on when they were playing St Étienne in 1977 in the European Cup.

"All these guys with their crazy hair and those red shirts. I bought lots of Liverpool shirts and hats all the time – not wearing them, just collecting. I was fascinated by the clubs and the fans."

In an interview with The Guardian newspaper, Djorkaeff added: “I was talking to Liverpool, Manchester United and Bolton all at the same time. I spoke to Gérard Houllier, who was a great friend, but he said I cannot promise you to be playing all the time.

"We were approaching the 2002 World Cup and I spoke to Roger Lemerre, the French national coach, who told me I needed to be playing to be considered. It was the same with Sir Alex. So, I thought: ‘I’ll go to Bolton for the last 12 games.’

"I didn’t know what to expect but I was in love with England, in love with its awful weather, the people, the fans.”

Djorkaeff had been tasked with steering Bolton to safety and he not only rose to the challenge but enjoyed his time at Bolton so much that he stayed for a further two years before ending his career with New York Red Bulls after a blink-and-you-might-miss-it spell at Blackburn Rovers.

Now 52, he is the CEO of the Fifa Foundation and is focusing on the Football for Schools Programme - a joint venture between Fifa, Unesco and the World Food Programme with the aim of providing children in Fifa’s 211 member associations with 11 million footballs.