FREDDY DINDELEUX hasn't returned to Rugby Park in the seven years since he left Scottish football, but Kilmarnock has never left him.
The French central defender will be too preoccupied with KMSK Deinze's weekend encounter with KM Tornhout in the Belgian third division to give full attention to his old team in their Scottish Communities League Cup final appearance against Celtic on Sunday but, once that is out the way, the 38-year-old will faithfully check the internet to determine whether this current Rugby Park vintage have been any more successful than he was back in 2001, when Bobby Williamson's side's 3-0 CiS Cup final defeat by Martin O'Neill's Celtic formed the first leg of a Parkhead treble.
Dindeleux will finally retire from professional football this summer and focus his efforts on running a small tabac near his native Lille, but suffice to say the successful six-year stint he spent in Scotland since joining from his hometown club on a Bosman in 1999 will take precedence when he attempts to put it all in perspective. Garry Hay and James Fowler are the only two of his Kilmarnock contemporaries who are still currently active in Ayrshire, but Dindeleux's own son, Luke, was born here, and every now and then his Gallic accent is still invaded by that unmistakeable tartan twang.
"I had a great time at Kilmarnock and had a great relationship with the fans," Dindeleux told Herald Sport. "It probably was the best years of my career, although I also had a good time in Belgium at Zulte Waregem, where we won the Belgian Cup and had a wee run in Europe. But I always had a great feeling in Scotland and my son was born here. I haven't been back since I stopped playing, but with the shop I am very busy, I can be in there seven days a week. It would be great if they could win on Sunday and it would be great to come back to Kilmarnock one day, to see a few old faces again, and see the old club."
Ironically, considering his mixture of Gallic and Glaswegian, the biggest problem early on was communication. Dindeleux had joined Europe-bound Kilmarnock on a pre-season tour of Germany but soon Williamson had concerns about a few things getting lost in translation with the remainder of the back four. "To be honest, in the first three or four months I was struggling a little bit with the language but I was always confident in my ability that I could do a good job," he said. "Off the field I was happy straight away. Kilmarnock Football Club is a great place for football players to play because you don't have so much pressure."
The 11 years which have passed since that 2001 final seem like a lifetime. Not only were the likes of Dindeleux and his countryman Christophe Cocard earning the kind of wages which would amaze their modern equivalents, the match was settled by a second-half Henrik Larsson hat trick, with a certain Ally McCoist an unused substitute on the Kilmarnock bench. Chris Sutton was sent off on the hour mark for a bad challenge on Gary Holt and Dindeleux's own afternoon came to an end early, being withdrawn in the 78th minute after Williamson feared he would receive a second yellow card and his side would finish the match with 10 men.
"I remember the final well," Dindeleux said. "I was on a yellow card and Bobby took me off because I thought I might get a red. It was frustrating but I think the gulf was pretty big between Celtic and us. Of course, you want to stay on and try to get the win, but afterwards when you look back you think these players were pretty strong, guys like Larsson, Sutton, [Neil] Lennon and [Paul] Lambert. I also remember after just more than 30 minutes Ian Durrant had to go off injured and that also made a difference to us."
These days two of his old team-mates are in charge at Rangers and Dindeleux is incredulous over the change the years have brought. Although his time in Scotland coincided with the EBT era at Ibrox, he recalls having to negotiate his wage demands downwards in the course of his Kilmarnock career. "I was so surprised when I heard about what was happening at Rangers," Dindeleux said. "I am sure Ally and Ian will be doing all they can to help and I really hope they will survive."
As for his own current circumstances, Deinze are no better than mid-table in the third division and Dindeleux gives the impression of being happy to wind things down. He is in no desperate hurry to get into coaching, just parenting. "I still enjoy playing but I am going to stop at the end of the season," he said. "This will be my last year in football. My son is nine years old and now I have told him if he is good he can play for France. If not, then maybe he can play for Scotland."