Trecker: Valderrama, Nowak, Djorkaeff
not unlike Djorkaeff -- had to play with Michel Platini at a time when some believed Tigana´s game might have been even more expansive had he been the solo star. But learning to play within a system and to complement those with whom you play was a quality that Tigana, and later Djorkaeff, possessed.
Similarly, Djorkaeff fooled some people again when he moved to the tough, fast-paced English Premier League, signing with Bolton Wanderers. Could a small, sometimes fragile-looking midfielder survive in the hectic English game? Not only did Djorkaeff survive, he excelled again. By then he had proven himself pretty firmly with club success in such varied environments as France, the German Bundesliga and the EPL.
The next challenge will be quite different. Released by Blackburn Rovers after a short stay this season, Djorkaeff comes to a new country, a new league and a new team at a time when you suspect he will be attempting to prove that while the legs may be aging, the head is still very much firmly on soccer shoulders.
Think back to the early Valderrama days in Tampa Bay. Roy Lassiter was always a very good forward; with Valderrama feeding him passes that almost nobody else would have ever thought about, Lassiter turned into a scoring machine.
Think about the Chicago teams that Nowak ran from central midfield. Like Valderrama, Nowak had the ability to anticipate, to make plays for his forwards. Yet when Nowak was signed by Chicago, there were surely some who worried about adding "a middle-aged European" instead of signing a potentially outstanding youngster from Central or South America.
Even Hristo Stoitchkov fooled some people when he came to MLS after being given the "washed up" label by the Europeans.
The fact is that MLS isn't Europe. The rosters here are younger with far more players learning to be professionals in the top division. The game here is a bit slower because of the hot, humid conditions and other factors.
Some -- especially those in haughty European circles -- see those as negatives, but what they might fail to understand is that there is a benefit for an older player to extend his career in MLS. Because there is no relegation, clubs can rebuild without the fear of being dumped off the gravy train. There is a bit more room for patience in contrast to today's European game, where clubs need to win now and keep on winning.
Hopefully, Djorkaeff is not going to be viewed as a MetroStars' savior, or as a player who will score every other match and terrorize defenses. That's quite unrealistic and hardly the role that veteran players ought to be asked to play in MLS.
If he can come to the MetroStars and stabilize the team in midfield and set an example for others, he will be worth the gamble on his age.
Jerry Trecker covered soccer around the world for 47 years before retiring from The Hartford (Ct.) Courant in June, 2004. He is a regular contributor to MLSnet.com.