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Mar 1, 2010

Cisse finds his place at Panathinaikos

Djibril Cisse's life includes all the ingredients for a good film script: excessive ambition, tragedy, failure, resurrection... and, most of all, a complex personality that has helped define his eccentric image. His numerous tattoos and bizarre hairstyles, too, have underlined the image of the enfant terrible of French football.

Cisse wins France recall

"I have many things to prove," Cisse told the French media in 2007. "I am a proud person, a fighter." And there are some reasons to believe him. He suffered the most serious of his injuries in 2005, after he sustained a fractured tibia and fibula of his left leg while playing for Liverpool, and later suffered the same injury in his right leg.

The fact that he defied predictions that he would end his career and is now in outstanding form with Panathinaikos can only be explained by his extraordinary physical capabilities and robust ego. At the start of his career at Auxerre, he met Guy Roux, a father figure who also became his best critic on the pitch. "He is the most important person in my career, '' he said of Roux in The Times back in 2005. ''We still speak on the phone. He is very strict, but sometimes you need that. Sometimes he says to me, 'You seem stupid' or 'What are you doing with those shoes?' but he only jokes. In fact, he loves my hair."

Cisse's father was a successful player - the captain of Ivory Coast - and Djibril, benefitting from the influence of these two paternal influences, emerged as a star at Auxerre. His great pace, power and skill soon put him on the radar of several top European clubs, and by the time he left Auxerre, he had scored 70 goals in 124 appearances. For the player, scoring is an obsession, as he has said in the past: "Goals are a drug for me. I am not going to say that it is like having sex, but it's more or less the same, isn't it?"

Liverpool signed Cisse in 2004, yet his spectacular progression stalled at Anfield. He was only able to show glimpses of his real talent and he failed to become the star everybody had expected. After 19 games, he suffered his first major injury and this hindered his development. He then struggled as he failed to find his best form out on the wing and, prior to the beginning of the 2006 World Cup in Germany, he sustained his second major injury and again had to start from scratch.

Cisse suggested that manager Rafael Benitez was forcing him out of Liverpool in July of that year, and he eventually returned to France with Marseille but, during his time there, he attracted as much criticism as praise. The intense demands of the local supporters and the presence of Kim, a young player developing at the club, made life difficult. His interest in nightlife and his connections with the world of music and fashion did little to help.

However, his statistics - 16 goals in 35 games - saw him enter Raymond Domenech's plans for the national side, even if he ultimately failed to make it into the Euro 2008 squad. Months later, Cisse returned to the Premier League, this time on loan with Sunderland, and was starting to look increasingly like a journeyman. At Sunderland, he didn't answer the questions that have plagued him: can he realise his undoubted potential or is he incapable of producing his best form at the top level?

Having moved to Panathinaikos in the summer, he is threatening to provide the answer and has scored 25 goals this season already. Until now, he has failed to win over Domenech, who has preferred the likes of Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka, Karim Benzema, Sydney Govou, Loic Remy and Louis Saha, and he admitted to being "really annoyed" at having missed out on the squad to face Spain on Wednesday.

Nonetheless, he delivered a perfect response with two goals to Panathinaikos to eliminate Roma from the Europa League and, following an injury to Saha, he is back in the France squad and will now look to book his place at the World Cup.

Beyond the end of the season, though, it is impossible to say what the future holds for Cisse. He is a traveller, telling The Times: ''I become bored very quickly and I like to change everything. Everything, that is, except my wife."

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