Growing up to tournaments such as World Cup ’98 and Euro 2000, when thinking of football, only one name stands out. Scoring two goals and leading his team to World Cup glory, before guiding his team to Euro success, made Zinedine Zidane a hero in my eyes, and many other football fans, of all ages, all around the globe.
Away from the national team, “Zizou” has won enough team awards as well as personal accolades to more than justify his inclusion in the topic of footballs greatest ever.
As well as two UEFA Champions League and one UEFA Cup runners-up medal, Zidane can boast two Serie A medals, one La Liga title medal, and one Champions League winner’s medal, along with eight other club honours. When it comes to individual awards, the man considered the greatest French player of all time, would need a fair bit of time to list off the collection in his trophy cabinets, which includes three FIFA World Player of the Year medals, a joint record with Ronaldo, held to this day.
However, it is not the amount of medals he has won that make him my favourite ever player. It is not that we both share French blood or similar hairstyles. It’s the fact that even when the pressure is on, the eyes of millions are watching, it doesn’t make a difference whether it’s a Ligue 1 match or a Champions League final, something spectacular could unfold right in front of you leaving you absolutely speechless. And more often than not, he does. We all remember the ’02 Champions League match, the mighty Real Madrid against Bayer Leverkusen at Hampden Park, game locked at 1-1 from the thirteenth minute, it was Zidane’s sensational volley from the edge of the penalty area, on the stroke of half-time that won the game for Los Blancos, and the hearts of many all over the continent.
Growing up in a deprived, over-crowded estate in his hometown of Marseilles, standing out from the crowd wasn’t easy to do for most. But with such sublime control, technique, and passing ability, and a mind capable of combining the three, it wasn’t long before everyone in France knew his name. At the age of fourteen, he left home to join AS Cannes, before joining Girondins de Bordeaux six years later. It was here that he started catching the eye of some of the bigger named teams around Europe, including Blackburn Rovers coach Ray Harford, who expressed an interest in signing the player in 1995, to then owner Jack Walker, who was quoted, “Why do you want to sign Zidane when we have Tim Sherwood?”
From there Zidane went on to play for Juventus and Real Madrid, becoming the world’s most expensive player in the meantime. In 2006 he announced that he would retire after the summers World Cup. His last game came in the final of this tournament, and unfortunately his last moments as one of the greatest ever footballers would be remembered not for one of triumph and glory, but as a moment of madness. After being taunted frequently throughout the game by Marco Materazzi, the captain, and on many occasions the hero, of the French national team snapped and was sent off for a head butt on the Italian defender. France then went on to lose the final.
It is not for this reason that I remember Zidane. It is for the skill, brilliance and class that he brought to the beautiful game on so many occasions, that sense of excitement and anticipation you got every time he touched the ball, the emphatic cheers that game with every trophy he won, every goal he scored, the seconds imagining in your head what magic might come next, and the confused, disillusioned expressions on opposing players faces after the magic had happened. These are the reasons we remember Zinedine Zidane.
And who knows, with three sons already among the youth ranks at the world’s most famous club, Real Madrid, we might not have heard the last of the Zidane name.
You can follow Mr Valentin on twitter @france_valentin