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Au revoir, Youri

Djorkaeff signs off on an accomplished 22-year career

Posted: Friday October 13, 2006 11:07AM; Updated: Friday October 13, 2006 6:19PM
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Youri Djorkaeff's two seasons in New York were the last stop in a career which included stints in France, Italy, Germany and England.
Youri Djorkaeff's two seasons in New York were the last stop in a career which included stints in France, Italy, Germany and England.
Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images
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During its 11 seasons, Major League Soccer has collected a handful of world-class players. But when you can rope a World Cup winner, your credibility skyrockets.

Frenchman Youri Djorkaeff became only the third world champion to compete in MLS when he signed up last season to play out the twilight of his career in New York. The 38-year-old is hanging up his cleats for good at the conclusion of this season, and the Red Bulls' home finale on Saturday against Kansas City could be the end of the road. If New York wins, it qualifies for the playoffs; a loss or draw sends the Bulls -- and Djorkaeff -- home.

Either way, it'll be the end of an era as Djorkaeff's legendary career comes to a close. The attacking midfielder has competed in most of the world's top leagues -- France, Italy, Germany and England. More impressively, he has 82 caps for the French national team, with both a World Cup title (1998) and a European Championship (2000) among his accomplishments.

When Djorkaeff joined New York last season (then known as the MetroStars), his impact on the league was immediate. While he may have lacked the speed he possessed in his prime, his skills were clearly not in decline -- the man nicknamed Le Serpent scored 10 goals in just 24 matches. This season he's flourished in the role of the elder statesman, a living legend for a team stocked with youth. In fact, the Red Bulls have four players who weren't even born when Djorkaeff began his career in 1984.

I spoke with Djorkaeff on Thursday, and we discussed some of the best moments of his career, his thoughts on the French national team, his Ferris Bueller moment at this past summer's World Cup and how MLS can improve.

SI.com: So you'll have your whole family here for your home finale.

Djorkaeff: Well, not my whole family -- I have a huge family. But my parents and brother will be here. This will be the first time they'll all be in one stadium since the '98 World Cup.

SI.com: How special will this game be for you?

Djorkaeff: Very special. My family will be in the stands again to see me play in an important game, which they can appreciate. If we win, we're into the playoffs. If we lose, that's it. People ask me if I'm sad that this is my last game. To be honest, I'm not sad. I did great things for 22 years in a sport I love and I've been successful. I'm really happy. It's been a long career filled with a lot of joy. I think the time is right to retire.

SI.com: I'm guessing the '98 World Cup is the greatest moment of your career.

Djorkaeff: Yeah. When you're first starting off as a soccer player, you dream about moments like that. And then one day, you're doing it -- things you've only seen on TV. For me, that moment was walking up the steps to the podium to accept the World Cup at home in Paris. I can't explain it. It was like flying up into the sky. And I've never come down.

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