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For all of the criticism Sam Allardyce receives for playing defensive football, the team he built during his years at Bolton was one filled with attacking flair. Jay-Jay Okocha is the most well-known name from that Bolton team, but Frenchman Youri Djorkaeff was a star of the side as well.
A veteran of France’s successful 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 campaigns, Djorkaeff was a name known around Europe from his spells with PSG, Inter Milan and an improbable run to the UEFA Cup semi-finals with German side Kaiserslautern. His reputation meant that there were high hopes placed upon his shoulders. It was a coup of major proportions for a team the size of Bolton, and paved the way for the all-star team Allardyce would assemble at the Reebok Stadium.
Djorkaeff’s arrival in North-West England came in mid-February 2002, a season in which Bolton were desperately struggling against relegation to England’s second tier. They were languishing in 17th place, just three points clear of the relegation spots and Djorkaeff’s arrival was hoped to be the spark they needed to escape falling down a division.
The Frenchman’s impact was impressive, with the midfielder finding the back of the net four times, helping The Trotters survive with four points to spare. With the riches on offer even back in 2002 for simply being in the Premier League, survival was a huge success for Bolton, and it created the circumstances which saw the arrival of some of the most beloved players.
Without staying up in 2002, it is highly unlikely that Allardyce would have been able to convince PSG’s Jay-Jay Okocha and Real Madrid’s champions league winner Iván Campo to swap their current surroundings for cold, rainy Bolton, with the Nigerian joining on a free transfer and Campo on loan. Both players represented a higher quality of player than the fans in the terraces were used to seeing, and seemingly spelt a new dawn in Bolton’s history. The new dawn came, but a season later than expected, with Bolton finishing 17th in 2002/03 thanks to the late-season heroics of Okocha.
Campo surprised everyone by signing a permanent deal with Bolton after his loan expired, and the club saw incredible growth during the following season, eventually finishing in a lofty 8th place as well as reaching the League Cup – Carling for sponsorship reasons – final. Djorkaeff was a key figure during these runs, scoring nine times during the Premier League season from just 25 starts. The French playmaker also aided the cup run with his nerveless 90th-minute penalty in the fourth round to secure a 3-2 victory over Liverpool.
Despite Djorkaeff’s influence being crucial during the successes of the previous season, with the arrivals of Gary Speed and El Hadji Diouf, “Le God” was deemed expendable, completing a free transfer move to arch-rivals Blackburn Rovers. Djorkaeff perhaps never showed his true brilliance in the Premier League – spectacular overhead kick against Charlton aside – but his impact on Bolton was profound. Beloved by the fans, admired by the staff for his professionalism, and a trendsetter for star names across Europe settling into life in the white of Bolton Wanderers.
With Bolton now attempting to battle against dropping back into the third tier of English football, their fans must be longing for the arrival of a seasoned international with the qualities Djorkaeff possessed to inspire another golden period of their history. The Frenchman was the catalyst for a new dawn in Bolton storied history, and it is, therefore, no surprise that he was viewed as “Le God” by the fans on the terraces.