Football: From dole queue to Killie debut

Phil Gordon finds a French discard forging a career in Scotland
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The Independent Online
AS FREDERIC DINDELEUX passes through the lobby of Glasgow's Moat House hotel his tracksuit sets him aside from the business suits. Unlike the other guests, Dindeleux's stopover is not a one-nighter.

The Frenchman has been ensconced there for a month now and even room service starts to lose its appeal after that long. It is a feeling that is being shared no doubt by Dindeleux's compatriots, Didier Deschamps and Thierry Henry, in London after their moves to Chelsea and Arsenal.

Yet while the feted World Cup winners enjoy the five-star luxury of the West End, Dindeleux is proof that the French foreign football legion - over-paid, over-sexed and over here - is a myth.

Kilmarnock's new recruit will not be earning the pounds 40,000 a week his countrymen are picking up. The former Lille defender, who faces St Johnstone today, will do well to take home pounds 1,500 a week but then, when you have just been plucked from football's dole queue, you don't quibble too much.

For every Nicolas Anelka (or Henry or Deschamps) there are eight Frederic Dindeleux. Cut adrift by his club after they failed to gain promotion back to the French first division, Dindeleux was one of 80 unemployed players taken under their wing by the French players' union, the Union Nationale des Footballeurs Professionels, during the close season. While the celebrated trio haggled which of all the wealthy offers to accept, Dindeleux and his comrades were muttering the Gallic equivalent of "Gissa job!"

The closest Dindeleux got to living in the world inhabited by Deschamps and Henry - both of whom he has played against - was when the UNFP used the French FA's training camp at Clairefontaine, home to Aime Jacquet's side last summer, to stage their special matches for unemployed players.

"I played two games at Clairefontaine," recalls the full-back. "The scheme was a great help to me because, when you are released, you think you are suddenly on your own. But the UNFP organised a training camp and matches, which would be watched by coaches or agents, to keep you fit. It was good to know the union was looking after us, because French football is not only about the stars. It helped to prepare us physically until the chance of a club came along."

About 40 of 80 unemployed French players joined Dindeleux, many, like him, aged 25 (French clubs are obliged to retain contracted professionals until they are 24). Apart from fitness, Dindeleux also found solidarity. "Leaving Lille, where I had been for eight years - they signed me as a youth player - was a difficult period in my life, but at Clairefontaine the players all encouraged each other. Rather than making us envious of each other, every time someone got fixed up with a club it proved that people out there knew about us."

In Dindeleux's case, it was Bobby Williamson. "Frederic was actually recommended to me by an agent," the Kilmarnock manager said, "but his fitness was so good, when we took him on our pre-season trip to Germany, that the French PFA scheme must have helped him."

Like Henry, Deschamps and the rest, Dindeleux shared the notion nursed by French players of coming to Britain. "I had some offers from France, but I felt this would be the right time to find a new experience in life as well as football. Although I played with Lille in front of 40,000 people at places such as Paris St Germain or Marseille, the crowds in Britain have a passion all of their own. My first league game was at Ibrox and the fervour of 50,000 fans was amazing. Bobby offered me a two-year contract which I was glad to take, because I have a family to look after."

It is the presence of fiancee Sylvie and one-year-old daughter, Charlotte which is prompting Dindeleux's efforts to quickly replace the cramped confines of a hotel room with an apartment of their own.

While Henry will probably choose from a selection of Belgravia town houses, Dindeleux is not envious of the Arsenal star. "Everyone has his place in life and he has his and I have mine.

"I know people only see the stars and think we all get paid lots of money, but football is like any other profession now: there are plenty who lose their job, and it's not just in France."

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