Djorkaeff wants silver in Bolton's empty cupboard

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The Accent is certainly different. The body shape could hardly be more so. But when Youri Djorkaeff expounds upon his raison d'être, it could be another Bolton cult hero talking, the comic genius that is Peter Kay of Phoenix Nights fame.

Every time Djorkaeff goes to take a corner kick at the end of the Millennium Stadium where Bolton Wanderers' followers are massed at tomorrow's Carling Cup final, the former French international's adoring public will bow to him. The feeling is mutual.

"The essence, the petrol, of my life is to give the people a feeling of happiness when they come to the ground," says the much-travelled attacking midfielder, beaming as if he had just split a thousand sides at Bolton's Albert Halls. "When they're smiling and laughing and they salute you, I play for this. That is my motivation."

Cynics may argue that Djorkaeff is driven by his handsome salary. Yet they also scoffed when Sam Allardyce signed him and other so-called mercenaries two years ago. Where, came the age-old question, would the foreign fancy dans be when Bolton were playing Middlesbrough on a freezing day in February? The answer is in Cardiff, fighting for the club's first major trophy in 46 years and a Uefa Cup berth to boot.

These are phoenix days for Bolton, a club in seemingly terminal decline when Djorkaeff was starting his career at Grenoble two decades ago. By the time he made his first move, to Strasbourg, the founder members of the Football League had slumped into the old Fourth Division.

Now they lie 11th in the Premiership and have a futuristic setting for the European football they crave. However, in the chairman's suite, where Djorkaeff holds court, the trophy cabinet is crying out for a prestigious centrepiece.

There is a ceramic platter from Ascoli to commemorate an Anglo-Italian Cup tie; a shield that was the (scant) consolation prize from the First Division play-off final of 1999, when Watford beat them; and a plaque from the New Zealand Rugby League. The collection looks even more humdrum when Djorkaeff details his record in cup combat.

"It's in my contract that I play in finals! I won the French Cup with Monaco, the Coupe des Coupes at Paris St-Germain and the Uefa Cup final with Inter Milan. Then there was the World Cup with France in 1998, and the European Championship in 2000.

"I just need the Champions' League and Inter-Continental Cup and then I've got all the cups in the world. If I get to the Champions' League with Bolton next year, then I can retire and walk on the beach."

While the idea of Real Madrid and Juventus visiting the Reebok Stadium still appears fanciful, Bolton fans want to know whether Djorkaeff is serious about the second half of the latter statement. He is one of a dozen players who are out of contract in the summer.

"It's not a good time to talk about my future and I don't want to use my few words of English to explain what I'm doing next season," he says enigmatically and with undue modesty. "At the moment I'm thinking only about beating Middlesbrough."

With such an illustrious haul of medals, will it be difficult to psych himself up for the little old League Cup? "All my cups were with big teams. This is the first time I've played with an outsider. The test is different; very exciting. It's a long time since my last final but it's still the most beautiful thing for a player to play in one. For me, this is the most exciting kind of final because it depends on a single game.

"If we had played Arsenal and lost, we would still have been in Europe. Against Middlesbrough, we must win, which I think is good. I wouldn't have wanted to be in the Uefa Cup if we'd been beaten."

Apart from his pedigree as a player - Djorkaeff won 82 caps for France - such attitudes were what attracted Allardyce as he scoured Europe for players to stave off relegation early in 2002. On the face of it, the ex-defensive bruiser from the Black Country and the flair player of Armenian ancestry from Lyon have little in common. Yet the Bolton manager has consulted his senior professional on everything from transfer targets to where the showers should be sited in a new training centre.

Djorkaeff has a low opinion of managers and coaches, but exempts Allardyce and Arsène Wenger, whom he served at Monaco. "Sam understands football, which is difficult for some managers. He is different from Wenger in his psychology and training methods, but both understand the game. Sam is very close to the players. He is also very ambitious, though his great work is with poor money.

"When we first talked and he told me how he wanted not just to keep Bolton up but to build for the future, it was maybe the first time I believed something a manager said. I hadn't played [for Kaiserslautern] in three months, but Sam said he could help me. We're both honest people and we've helped each other."

Increasingly, Allardyce is being touted for "bigger" jobs. Pressed on whether his manager has the ability to cope with a Liverpool, or a Tottenham, Djorkaeff ponders before replying. "I don't know, because you must have luck with good players performing at the right moment. I know so many great managers who arrived at a big club and did badly because the players were big names but did nothing on the field.

"But Sam has built something here, a spirit, that he could create at a big club too. Of all the players he has brought here, 90 per cent have had a good time in Bolton. I'm surprised that I'm still having a good time in my football after two years here."

The good times will really be rolling if Middlesbrough are beaten. The way Djorkaeff articulates his hopes indicate that he has absorbed some stirring pre-match exhortations in his time.

"Everyone, whether it's an experienced player like me or a younger one like Kevin Nolan, wants to leave a legacy; to add something to the story of the club. But it's not about one player, or two. It's not important if I score, or Kevin Davies scores. It's about the team mentality. If we want it more than Middlesbrough, not nine or 10 men but 11, we'll win."

Djorkaeff's grin gives way to grim resolve. The rallying call sounds more Phoenix Club than Agincourt, but the message is unmistakeable. "Everybody must write his name on the wall of the Bolton," he says. "For life."