Cheap Seats: Bashing the bashers
namely, my age -- French-bashing isn't cool. Why? Because back in 1985, we fell in love with Monique Junot, the grease monkey French exchange student in "Better Off Dead."
Likewise, we won't be predictable and start bashing an aging magician like Youri Djorkaeff. Il est la vrai chose. The real thing. He's always seemed a little small, especially when he was in the Premier League, but he plays much bigger than his size, with a nice mix of creative center midfielder and tough-nosed tackler. Playing alongside
Zidane for France, Djorkaeff was like a billionaire's version of Ronnie Ekelund playing alongside Landon Donovan on San Jose's championship teams.
The cynics will say that, as a soon-to-be 37-year-old, Djorkaeff is here for a paid vacation, a severance package. The nightmarish memory of the Lothar Matthaus disaster is still relatively fresh, especially in New York. Whether that's the case is still to be determined. So will he work?
One thing is certain: Youri Djorkaeff is exactly the type of experienced player coach Bob Bradley needs to help him guide the MetroStars youth movement. He will be expected to help the likes of 18-year-old Eddie Gaven and 17-year-old Michael Bradley. It's no coincidence that after last season's semi-debacle, Bradley has gone and gotten some proven veteran leadership, like Jeff Agoos and now, Djorkaeff.
Of course, the corollary question surrounding Djorkaeff's arrival is: What happens to New York's current number 10, Amado Guevara? With Guevara, Gaven and Djorkaeff, Bradley's got himself quite a predicament in that central attacking midfielder role, doesn't he? It's like it's 2 a.m. and three hot girls are still in the mix. It's an enviable problem, to be sure, but one that will have to be fixed. Bradley's only going home with two of them, and one of those two is going to be Djorkaeff, obviously. The other is equally a no-brainer. Only a fool would dispose of Gaven. And Bob Bradley's no fool; after all, he coached at Princeton, which, admittedly is no Brown, but it's no slouch either.
Truth is, there are probably ... um ...11 or so teams that would gladly take last year's MVP off the Metros' hands. Dallas could probably find a place for a clever playmaker to deliver Eddie Johnson and Cornell Glen the ball. The Landon-less San Jose Earthquakes could use someone to help fill the void. Chicago, without an established player to work opposite of Chris Armas, could certainly use an attacking midfielder.
However it plays out, it's important to put Djorkaeff's signing in historical perspective. Some critics have been hammering the league for lacking any star power, and rightly so. There are no more Valderramas. No Etcheverrys. No more Stoichkovs. Heck, not even any more Navedas. Djorkaeff is the biggest foreign name the league has signed in a while.
See, as we all know, some older foreigners like to come here and not play up to expectations. Remember Juan Berthy Suarez? Right. Neither do I. And there's a reason for that. When he came to D.C. United in 1996, he was fat and slow, and he was one of the worst signings in league history.
When a foreigner comes in and plays like he means it, though, it can be like an angel appeared. Peter Nowak was an example of this. Same with Mauricio Cienfuegos and, obviously, the aforementioned Carlos Valderrama. When "El Pibe" showed up in Tampa in 1996, we all were in awe. He was already a legend, as much for his hair as for his skills. I remember telling a reporter about the first time Carlos walked into the locker room and how we all were curious what kind of underwear he wore. (Purple jockeys.)
That's the effect a big, winning player like Djorkaeff can have. He's a World Cup winner, for heaven's sake; only two other such players have suited up in MLS (Matthaus and Brazil's Branco). Everyone wants to watch him, to be close to him, to learn from him. Everyone -- coaches, players, fans. And they should want to do these things. I think this is a great first move by the club and the league. But it's only a first move. The next move is Djorkaeff's. Is he here to play or to live la belle vie in New York City?
Greg Lalas played for the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the New England Revolution in 1996 and 1997. Send e-mail to Greg at email@example.com. Views and opinions expressed in this column are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its clubs.