In support of Youri Djorkaeff
July 2, 2006

As Youri Djorkaeff's face graced the screen of thousands of televisions around the world tuned in to the France-Brazil World Cup quarterfinal, those TVs watched by Metro fans were met with stares of shock. Here was Djorkaeff, who took a leave of absence to supposedly take care of a family situation, watching his friends and former teammates in a country where he is not supposed to be. Minutes later, Red Bull New York issued a statement saying that "at no point did Youri state that part of his trip was to attend the World Cup game between France and Brazil in Frankfurt, Germany or that he had any ill-feeling towards the organization." And the calls for Djorkaeff's head from even his former admirers have been loud since.

But let's step back a minute. Should Djorkaeff be condemned? The answer is no; any reaction at this point, when we have very little facts to go on, is premature at best. Most importantly, we have not heard from Youri himself; we owe him to at least listen to his side of the story.

When the news of his leave was first broached, it hinted at an illness in his family, a report which has now been confirmed by Youri's brother; their mother is ill. We don't know what Djorkaeff told the club; all we club is saying is that he left for "personal reasons". But there is no reason why Youri couldn't be with his mother Friday, jet to Frankfurt Saturday, and come back after the match. We know nothing about the severity of the illness, and cannot draw any conclusions from what we do know.

Moreover, it is quite possible that Youri has been pushed out. Red Bull has been very clear in de-Metrofying the Red Donkeys, and in Youri they have a 38-year-old with a large contract who was part of the previous regime and is not necessarily happy with this one.

And it is Youri's unhappiness with the regime that is a crux at the problem. When Bob Bradley convinced Youri to come to Metro, Youri agreed to come to what he assumed was a professional organization and not a three-ring circus that Red Bull is running. In his one full season with Metro, he was the team's, if not the league's, best player, and pure class off the field as well. Last offseason, Mo Johnston's hiring on a full-time basis played a huge role in Djorkaeff staying with the club. Now Bradley is gone, Johnston is gone; there is no coach, no GM, and no direction on and off the field. He did not sign up for this; he does not need this. Can you blame Youri for turning his back on the Donkeys? Hell, many fans have done the same.

When Youri spoke about playing for Metro, he made always three points: he wanted to play in New York, he wanted to win, and he wanted to enjoy playing soccer. The first point is still true, of course, but it should be clear that the second is not, and the third apparently isn't either. Before the season started, he told reporters that he will retire when his passion is gone. And it looks like that day has come.

If he does chose to retire (and of course, he would not be the first professional athlete to do so in mid-season), could he have done it in a swifter way? Perhaps. But perhaps Youri doesn't know what he wants to do yet. Perhaps he took the sojourn to take a rest from the circus, to try to rediscover his passion for the sport. Perhaps he will come back rejuvenated. Or not. We don't know. We won't know until we hear from Youri. We owe him as much.

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