Olivier Dacourt had it all to succeed rather than becoming a footnote

Olivier Dacourt remains Leeds United’s fourth most expensive ever signing, when the Frenchman arrived from Lens in 2000 for £8.3million – at the time, a club record. But the midfielder is no doubt more fondly remembered at Elland Road than the three players who come ahead of him in Leeds’ record signings list: Robbie Keane, Rio Ferdinand and Robbie Fowler. 

A tough-tackling and ball-winning midfielder, Dacourt was always going to endear himself to the passionately British, and passionately Leeds faithful. Traits that perhaps weren’t appreciated during the midfielder’s first stint in England with Everton, a spell that saw him finish with 14 bookings:

“Of the cards I have had this season, maybe two yes, but the rest have been for nothing.

”It is the same for (Patrick) Vieira and (Emmanuel) Petit. This is spoiling things for me and I could miss the cup tie now which is sad. I am making one foul and it is one yellow card straight away. For other players it is different, why is that?”

Olivier Dacourt

Double figures for bookings and one red card in his debut season for Walter Smith’s side, as well as being booed by the Everton faithful in the Toffees’ final home game of the season against West Ham, was enough for Dacourt to head back home to France after less than 12 months in the English game.

Dacourt’s debut season with Leeds is a story of much fonder memories. Bought to add a bit of experience and influence to a team that possessed the youthful exuberance of Alan Smith, Lee Bowyer, Jonathan Woodgate and Paul Robinson.

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Dacourt still maintained that ‘bite’ that proved so costly to any potential success the Frenchman could’ve had at Goodison Park, and at times Leeds fans were cursing the short fuse of their former Lens midfielder.

Leeds United’s remarkable run to the Champions League semi-final very nearly didn’t happen – and probably shouldn’t have – thanks to Dacourt. A sending-off for the France international in the first game of the Whites’ clash against 1860 Munich meant that David O’Leary’s side, due to suspensions and injuries, went to Germany for the return fixture with Lee Bowyer as the only true recognised midfielder – somehow they escaped Munich with a 1-0 win.

All was forgiven, though, when Olivier Dacourt put in one of his best midfield masterclasses against La Liga champions, Deportivo La Coruna, in Leeds’ 3-0 first-leg win over the Spaniards in the Champions League quarter-final.

The BBC Sport match report from that game read:

“And Frenchman Olivier Dacourt was rampant in midfield, snapping up any remotely loose ball and unleashing a series of sweeping passes.”

Dacourt was thriving at Leeds, a club that understood his dynamic and silky football came at a ‘cost’ of a disciplinary record that wasn’t really one to show the children – 16 yellows and one red across 47 Champions League and Premier League games.

The season of 2000/01 for Leeds and Dacourt would prove to be a fairy tale that would not be repeated. A semi-final defeat to Valencia, was then followed up by failure to qualify for Europe’s elite club competition again, on the final day of the Premier League season.

Leeds’ troubles that stemmed from not qualifying for the Champions League are well documented, and it seems fitting to the story that one of the Whites’ star men from that overachieving season, followed up that campaign with an injury-ridden one – just 20 appearances across all competitions for Dacourt, in 2001/02.

And then, to add to the woes Dacourt was experiencing at Elland Road, the Frenchman fell out with David O’Leary’s replacement, Terry Venables, and was subsequently sent on loan to Serie A outfit, Roma.

“He tried to make me the bad guy. I can’t excuse him.

“I lost the ball in a game and they nearly scored. When Gary Kelly lost the ball soon after and they scored (Venables) said it was my fault.

“I said you are a liar. He said I was selfish, but I had the highest number of tackles at Everton and Leeds, so how can I be selfish?”

Dacourt speaking to The Game

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“I think he should take a long hard look at himself.

“If he wants to go to Italy – and someone is interested – I will personally drive him there.”

Terry Venables

Dacourt eventually joined the Italian side on a permanent deal, and after three years in Totti’s empire, a move to Inter Milan materialised. Sadly, during his six-year spell in Italy, Dacourt couldn’t find form or fitness, scrapping just over 100 appearances combined during the 72 months.

For Football Manager lovers, the enjoyment when Dacourt popped back up in English football with Fulham in 2009 for less than 10 games, would’ve been given the nostalgic appreciation it deserved.

“In some form of weak irony, Dacourt was signed by the Cottagers at the expense of going for then-Leeds United youngster, Fabian Delph.

“We’re not looking for 19-year-olds who may be good players some time in the future. It would nice if we had the money that Leeds think he’s worth to invest in a player who obviously in time is going to be a very good player.

“But, with respect, our important issue is to make certain we stay in the Premier League and get as high up the table as we can and that’s not a place for untried 19-year-olds. We need people with experience.

“The Arsenals, Liverpools and Manchester Uniteds of this world sign Delphs not Fulham Football Club, not at the price they are asking. We haven’t even enquired.”

Roy Hodgson

Olivier Dacourt, the footballer who had the attributes that should’ve seen him retire with more than 21 French caps, and legacy in England that deserved more than being a fairy tale of ‘what ifs?’.

Jose Mourinho missed managing Oliver Dacourt at Inter Milan by a few months, but if he had, would the former Leeds United man make it onto the list of the worst players the now-Manchester United manager has ever managed?

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