Great And…Not Great – Zinedine Zidane

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Has any other player been so frustratingly brilliant as Zinedine Zidane? The Frenchman kept a quiet private life to his credit, but his transgressions on the pitch alternate between a rap sheet and a rhapsody. His feet could take down a 40 yard pass like a feather, yet in the blink of an eye bludgeon a Saudi player. Genius, yes. But deviant. Devlishly deviant.

Zinedine Zidane, known as “Zizou,” the French-born son of Algerian immigrants, plied his trade in France and Italy, making his name at Juventus, where his dizzying roulettes dazzled the catenaccio faithful. And his play for the French (les bleus) captivated a nation and a world.

In the World Cup final of 1998, at the Stade de France in Paris, Zidane, at the modest age of 26, carried the weight of a nation on his shoulders. France had never won the World Cup. Yet here they were, at home, in the final against the most successful national team in the history of the sport: Brazil. From the present, we view the past as preordained, prewritten, predestined. That night in Paris, Zizou made history.

France beat Brazil 3-0 with two goals from Zidane. Granted, both goals came courtesy of slack marking on setpieces, but Zizou had the composure to carefully remove the wrapping paper from the gift. How many lesser men would have skied their pointblank headers?

Still, the victory could not wash away the stains of his stomp against Saudi Arabia.

The world had its footballing genius, but he was tightly wound. Zidane´s vision and touch cloaked a hidden talent - balance. For Zizou, balance was more than equilibrium – it was aggression. His famous roulette often began as a hipcheck against opposing defenders – freezing them a split second as he slid past them.

In 2000, Zidane would lead France to European glory over Italy. While Terezeguet got the gamewinning goal, Zizou box-to-box performance earned accolades galore.

Zidane, like Pele and Maradonna, possessed the quality to make every other player on his team better – he could dominate a match without taking a single shot on goal. Madrid, in the first Galacticos era, could hardly write a big enough check to sign him, setting a world transfer record at the time.

Zidane would replay Perez with the sweetest of volleys – a moment of brilliance in an otherwise messy of a match. And Real would crown themselves king of Europe.

Due to injury, Zidane played no part in France´s disasterous first round exit from the World Cup in 2002. Zidane would return to win La Liga with Madrid in 2003, but eventually the galactico´s experiment would implode. In 2006, Zizou announced his retirement from football after the World Cup.

Things started poorly – Zidane was suspended for the last group stage match due to yellow cards, but France still qualified for the knockout rounds with a 2-0 victory over Togo. In the outrounds, a determined and rested Zidane returned to reclaim his throne. In style.

Against Spain, Zizou capitalized a 3-1 comeback by wrongfooting world class defender Carlos Puyol and  goalkeeper Casillas. Cheeky? Yes, by the boatloads.

In the quarterfinals, Zidane and France faced a familiar foe: Brazil. Still, it was the verdeamarela who left the field mesmerized by Zidane, whom Pele called a “magician” for his performance. France won 1-0, with a Henry goal assisted by Zidane. But that doesn´t tell half the story…

Have you ever stopped to ask: what if Hans Solo had never returned to shoot down Darth Vader´s ship and enable Luke to blow up the original Death Star? Or better yet, do you remember the anticipation which filled your heart and mind upon seeing the first Star Wars Prequel trailer? And then the dread, when, ten minutes into the film, you realized Jajar was not going anywere?

Dashed hopes. Broken dreams. Rarely can you point to the exact moment when a player declines, rarely is the fall so precipitous. Yet Zizou played the part of McBeth, setting the stage for a Greek drama where Achilles shoots his own heel.

France eaked by a physical Portugal side and traded blows with Italy in the final. After a 1-1 end to regulation, the two sides appeared destined for penalty kicks until a Zidane header forced a brilliant reaction save from Buffon. Could France when it? Just when your hopes raised up, a moment of insanity followed…

Italy would win on penalty kicks, with David Trezeguet hitting the post. After the match, the media feasted on Materazzi. The presshounds latched onto the tatooed Italian central defender – the tagline read “what did he say to provoke Zidane?” Provoke. Taunt. The reaction could not be Zidane´s fault, could it?

The media speculated that Materazzi insulted Zidane with an ethnic slur, but the Italian cleared (?) his name with a run-of-the-mill sister insult. Despite the terrible ending, Zidane was voted player of the tournament. Zidane apologized to “the children,” but never reconciled with Materazzi.

Zidane has done charity work in Algeria and currently has a consultant (read: PR monkey in suit) position at Madrid. He has speculated as to becoming technical director, but fails to meet the job description – yelling at Perez that he´s spending too much money and then dodging various airborne objects such as chairs and/or plates.

Despite his current humble trappings, Zidane´s career left a dizzying mix of manic highs and soul crushing lows. And I count myself grateful for having seen it, breathed it, and lived it as it happened.

10 thoughts on “Great And…Not Great – Zinedine Zidane

  1. Nice little piece.

    It was manic highs and soul crushing lows that made him the player/the man he is.. I like my players flawed, its why Maradona will live in the heart longer than Pele.
    The stamp against Saudi was petulant and excusable , nowhere near as bad as the career ending tackles that that the game has to endure and particularly skilful and nippy players still have to endure as legal ‘because he got the ball first’..

    And as for John Motson ‘Zidanes career is in disgrace!’
    what a knobend.

  2. Yeah – I agree Motson’s comment was a bit over the top, but I also can’t imagine a much worse ending to such a sparkling career (aside from a horrific injury)

    As for the “he got the ball first”, it seems like the game is slowly moving away from studs up/late tackles, at least in some parts of the world. After all, someone has to protect the Del Piero’s of the world.

  3. jeez…did you have to call his transgressions on the pitch a “rap sheet” ?? good lord if you’re comparing him to a criminal than in that case, Materazzi and half of the Italian NT should be given the death penalty for their various misdeads on the pitch . I don’t care that he stomped on a Saudi or even the headbutt on that hyaena Materazzi. Come on, there have been worse incidents on the pitch and off the pitch committed by other players. He’s a legend – a once in a lifetime athlete and if he does have his flaws -so what?? He wasn’t the one going around calling people names now was he? he was never one to start fights but he also couldn’t help himself from reacting when provoked. He’s kept pretty busy since his retirement flying all over the world doing charity work in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe. By all accounts he is a humble, quiet and decent man who wears the mantle of greatness well. i agree with Luke Rowe above. I prefer my heroes with flaws. what’s the old saying? Perfect diamonds end up on royal tiaras but it’s the flawed diamonds that get the job done. As for Materazzi, I paraphrase Diego Maradona, ” he can keep sucking it”. He may have won the World Cup trophy but he’s no champion and he will never be known for his goals or anything else but his role in that notorious incident.

  4. Talia-

    I did my best to provide a balanced view of Zizou. For all his talent and modesty, I believe its fair to say that he did have temper issues. In his two World Cup appearances, he had two straight red cards and one suspension (against Togo) for accumulation of yellow cards.

    But as Luke pointed out, and in all great stories, the protagonist/hero has to have an achille’s heel or we the fans/audience get bored. I loved watching Zizou play and feel blessed to have seem it all happen live before my very own eyes.

    And while Materazzi is no angel, individuals do have to take responsibility when they allow themselves to be provoked. I doubt it was the first or last incident of trashtalking on the pitch

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  6. I agree with the other comments…What I have always liked about Zidane is that on the one hand he was a genius as a player and a lovely, nice guy but he also has a dark side and indeed a temper problem. If he was just nice and perfect and wonderful with no flaws I would be bored to death. Pele indeed bores me. And while I am not fond of Maradona as a person he does indeed fascinate me. Way more than Pele ever could. Zidane is my number one though when it comes to a fascinating personality and brilliant player combined. To me a real legend, one that makes me be interested in him needs more than just skills. I think if Zidane had ended his career in glory it would’ve been a Disney movie. Now it is something worth of best film at the Oscars. One thing’s for sure: Noone will ever forget Zidane. ;)

  7. His performances against Italy at Euro 2000 and Brazil at WC 2006 are shining examples of un-quantifiable (no goals) utter dominance. Glad you enjoyed it!

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