My Football Heroes – Zinedine Zidane “Zizou”

Zinedine Zidane was born and raised in Marseille, in the underprivileged suburb of La Castellane. He is the son of Algerian parents, hence Zidane’s middle name – Yazid, by which his close friends and family still call him today. Zidane signed for AS Cannes as a teenager, however he has never forgotten his roots. He funds the local football team in La Castellane, A.J. Nouvelle Vague, Zidane was made the clubs honorary president.

Zidane joined AS Cannes after being spotted by their scout, Zidane made his first team debut aged just 17, Zidane had an exceptional raw talent at that age. Bordeaux was Zidane’s next destination in his bid to reach the top, although he failed to help the club win any silverware during his time there, he was voted Ligue 1 best player in 1996. Zidane was outstanding during his time at Bordeaux, it became inevitable that Zidane would move on to bigger things. The Frenchman joined Italian giants Juventus in 1996, Serie A was considered to be the best league in the world in those days. Zidane took time to adapt to its riggers. Once Zidane was played in a more attacking role, he developed into a truly world class player. He inspired the ‘Old lady’ to consecutive Serie A titles in 1997 and 1998. He proved the judgement of France’s greatest player before him, a former Juventus legend himself to be spot on. That man was Michel Platini – he gave an interview to the Italian press in November 1996 and said “You are going to eat your words, Zidane is a playmaker, take another look, believe in him and watch him change”.

Zidane represented his country at the World Cup for the first time in 1998. France began impressively, winning all three of their opening group games. However, in the second of those Zidane displayed the first signs of his suspect temperament when he was sent off for stamping on Saudi Arabia’s Fuad Amin, as a result Zidane was handed a two match ban. During the 1998 World Cup Zidane’s stand out game was the final, it was the first time France had reached the final of a World Cup, they faced the might of Brazil. Zidane scored twice as France would go on to win the game 3-0. Two years later at the European Championships Zidane spearheaded France’s attempt to become only the second country after West Germany to hold the World Cup and European Championships simultaneously, Zidane scored a stunning free-kick against Spain in the quarter finals to help France progress. He would then go on to score the golden goal in the semi-final against Portugal, scoring from the penalty spot. France faced Italy in the final, David Trezeguet scored the golden goal and win the tournament for France.  Zidane was named player of the tournament.

At club level his demons were still in evidence, during a Champions League game against Hamburg Zidane was sent off for a headbutt on Jochen Kientz, it was something we would see repeated more famously on an even bigger stage six years later. Zidane left Juventus to sign for Spanish giants Real Madrid, for a then world record fee of €76 million. Zidane spearheaded the Galácticos, a world renowned super team that would sweep all before it. The Real Madrid chapter of Zidane’s career began well as the club reached the Champions League final in his first season. Real Madrid faced the German side Bayer Leverkusen, Zidane scored an unforgettable goal, striking the ball on the volley from the edge of the are and into the top corner. Zidane was a Champions League winner in his first season with the Spanish giants. The only other silverware the club won during Zidane’s time there was the league title in 2003, a poor return for the huge amounts of money that were invested. Nobody blames Zidane for Real Madrid’s failure to win more trophies during that time, this is because Zidane was outstanding as an individual. With the likes of Figo, Ronaldo and Beckham struggling to gel as a team, Zidane shone through. Zidane was name world player of the year in 2003, five years after he had won the award while at Juventus.

As World and European Champions, France went into the 2002 World Cup as favourites. However Zidane suffered a thigh injury in a friendly game just five days before the France’s opening game against Senegal. Zidane missed the openning game as a result of the injury, Senegal would shock the French and win 1-0. Without their talisman France looked a shadow of their former selves. Zidane would also miss their second game, a drab goalless draw with Uruguay. The France manager was forced to play an unfit Zidane in their final group game against Denmark, a match France had to win to stand any chance of progressing. With his thigh heavily bandaged, Zidane was far from his best and France were a spent force, they lost 2-0 and went home embarrassed having failed to score in any of their three games. France weren’t a one man team, but far less of a force without Zidane.

With the aura of invincibility surrounding France a thing of the past, the European Championships in Portugal two years later provided the chance for France to silence their critics. With Zidane fully fit, their campaign began well Zidane scored twice in injury time against England in the opening game to give his country a 2-1 win. With Zidane seemingly back to his best, many were tipping France to retain their crown and facing unfancied Greece in the quarter finals strengthened that claim. However Greece would end up being the surprise winners of the tournament and beat France 1-0 in the quarter finals. After the tournament Zidane retired from international football, aged 32. France’s lack of a replacement saw Zidane reverse his decision just over a year later but he announced the 2006 World Cup in Germany would mark his retirement from all forms of the game. He captained his country, scoring an outstanding solo goal in a 3-1 win over Spain in the last 16. His penalty was also the only goal in the semi final against Portugal. Berlin’s Olympic stadium was the stage for the final against Italy. Zidane had the chance to give France the lead from the penalty spot, it was a chance he took. The perfect end to an outstanding career never happened, Marco Materazzi who had equalised for Italy to take the game to extra time was riving in agony on the pitch. To everyone’s astonishment TV replays showed Zidane had headbutted Materazzi in the chest, the incident was also seen by the fourth official, who informed the referee and had no option but to show Zidane a red card. Later it was revealed that Materazzi had insulted Zidane’s sister and France without their captain went on to lose the final on penalties.

They say all geniuses are flawed and Zidane certainly fits into that category, his skill, control and vision made playing the game look easy. He was one of a rare breed a player who fans paid to watch. Shy and introvert off the pitch, on it he let his feet do all the talking.

Merci pour les souvenirs Zizou.