INTERVIEW Frenchman fulfils lifelong ambition by swopping pitch for stage, reports Stewart Fisher

Frank Leboeuf was never one to let his central defensive duties curb his creative, expansive side and such aspects of his character have only been given freer expression now that he has reinvented himself as a respected pundit on ESPN football discussion show ESPNsoccernet Press Pass.

Not to mention following Vinny Jones and Eric Cantona as an aspiring LA-based actor who has appeared in four feature films and co-written and performed in his own stage production.

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It is the kind of life as a globe- trotting media star which Ally McCoist might have been feted for had he not traded in his Question of Sport gig for the messy business of being manager of Rangers but for the Frenchman it is no mere vanity project.

Leboeuf won the legion d’honneur after that ’98 World Cup win, in which he came in for the suspended Laurent Blanc to mark an out-of-sorts Ronaldo out of the final, and speaking to him you suspect an Oscar is next on his to-do list. Frankly, you might say, he does give a damn.

“To be an actor was always my real passion when I was a kid,” Leboeuf told Herald Sport. “But I couldn’t because I was raised in a small village [Bouches-du-Rhone] that didn’t even have a room where you could learn the process of acting, let alone a theatre. Football was easier, my father was a crazy football fan and coach of Stade Rennais when I was younger so I gave it a shot but I always kept in mind once I finished my career that I would learn how to become a good actor.

“It is a big ambition of mine, probably the last big one of my life,” he added. “But I am very humble - that is why I went to LA, where no-one knew me, to learn my trade. Going on stage is nowhere near as nerve-racking than playing because sport brings you the uncertainty of life.

“Even with theatre you know your lines, and where exactly you go at what particular time.”

On this particular morning, Leboeuf is holding court on all manner of issues which are currently obsessing the football world.

Top of the agenda is the subject of Fernando Torres, and those quotes circulating in the Spanish media that Chelsea’s older players are “too slow”. It prompts an extended monologue on the subject of fame and whether players in general accrue star status too early.

“Nowadays we make someone a star because he plays brilliantly for six months,” he said. “We have an example in France with Yoann Gourcuff, who suddenly was the new Zidane, then suddenly the guy disappears. Some people do reality shows, we make them stars and they are on the front pages of tabloid newspapers all over the world but they have done nothing. They were selling fish and chips a couple of months ago, sing some bull**** and have sex on TV or something and everyone thinks they are fantastic. I did 17 years on the field. Why did I bother.”

Leboef has been to Scotland only once, a romantic break with his former wife on Loch Lomond. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a few points to make about our national game.

The interview occurs to a backdrop of the Rangers chairman refusing to rule out administration and Celtic sneaking into a tough Europa League group including his father’s old club due to Sion’s transfer irregularities, while this Sunday will provide the latest glimpse into the state of the Old Firm nation.

Leboeuf hopes his two contemporaries, Neil Lennon and Ally McCoist, can keep themselves in check but sees plenty worth preserving in the passion which surrounds the game.

“I think it went too far last season but if you don’t have animosity between clubs, you don’t have any history,” he said. “I saw that in the MLS where there was no history between the respective clubs. You have to look to the stand with the fear of losing. The players are the gladiators of the modern times and that is the beauty of the game in England or Scotland.”

Leboeuf witnessed the new obscene wealth bankrolling the world game as one of the trailblazers as foreign players in the Qatari league during stints at Al-Sadd and Al Wakrah, but throws his weight behind the Financial Fair Play plans of his fellow Frenchman and Uefa President Michel Platini. Even if he does have rather a big job of work ahead of him.

“If you say there is too much money in football these days people just say ‘ah, you are only saying that because you were in the wrong age’,” he said. “But it is very hard and I feel very sorry for Scottish football fans at the moment. Rangers and Cetic are big clubs but they created such a big gap between them and the others that there was a loss of interest in that league.

“They definitely aren’t the teams they used to be -- results in Europe show that, but it is all a matter of money, that is why I also say no team from France will ever win the Champions League, either.”

Typically, the aspiring French film star has an anecdote or two to illustrate the subject. “I went with my girlfriend and my son to the Eiffel Tower restaurant and it was €1200 for dinner for five but I talked to the owner and he said he was hosting Michel Platini’s birthday the next day and the whole restaurant was booked out. Fifa had paid for all 200 people.”

The first time he met Monsieur Platini was on the Concorde with the French B team, and fellow guest Muammar Gaddafi. “Michel was already politically involved and I asked him for an autograph for my son,” Leboeuf recalls. “He said ‘if you had asked me for that two years ago when I was national team coach I would have put you in the first XI straight away’.

“I told him later on that I couldn’t believe that I became champion of the world when my heroes such as Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens and Michel Platini didn’t manage it. Maybe that is why I didn’t get invited to his party.”

  • Frank Leboeuf is part of the team of football analysts on ESPNsoccernet Press Pass, which takes a look at football with a smart global perspective weeknights at 11:30pm beginning September 19, plus Sundays, on ESPN. For details visit: espn.co.uk/tv