Monday, 30 April 2012

Z is for… Zinedine Zidane

One of the most graceful players ever to step on to a pitch, Zidane marvelled football crowds for many years. His grace and skill on the ball, along with his effortless style, were memorably captured in a documentary that bears his name. His resume is also as impressive as almost anyone else in football: a World Cup, a European Championship, a Champions League, 3 league titles, 3 times World Player of the Year, and numerous other trophies and individual awards. Let’s take a moment to look at the career of one of the greats.

The early years

Zidane playing for AS Cannes
Zidane’s professional career began at AS Cannes, making his debut at the age of 17 against Nantes. Despite this early promise it took him two years to establish himself in the first team, but when this happened he helped Cannes to their highest finish in over 40 years, taking the club into Europe for the first (and only) time in their history. 

At the age of 20 he moved to Bordeaux, quickly settling into a position in the heart of their team. Within two years he had picked up the Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year award and had made his debut for the French national team, scoring two goals as a substitute on his International debut. After winning the Ligue 1 Player of the Year award in his 4th season with Bordeaux, European champions Juventus signed Zidane for £3.2 million.

Stepping into the limelight

Zidane with the World Cup
Zidane starred for Juventus straight away, being named Serie A Foreign Footballer of the Year in his first season for the club. Heading into the 1998 World Cup Zidane had cemented his place in the heart of the French midfield as their playmaker, with the nation’s hopes riding on his shoulders. France won all their group games, before Zidane saw red in their first knock-out game against Saudi Arabia. Returning for the quarter finals, Zidane helped France squeeze past Italy, before producing a fine performance to help the home nation get past Croatia 2-1 in the semi-final and into their first World Cup final.

Heading into the World Cup final much of the world’s attention was focused on two players; Zidane and Brazil’s star striker, Ronaldo. However Ronaldo was strangely off-key in the match, while Zidane shone in the middle of the pitch with perhaps the finest performance of his career to date, scoring the first 2 goals on the way to a 3-0 victory. Zidane became a national hero in France, a status he reaffirmed after he led them to their second major tournament at Euro 2000, being voted the player of the tournament as France beat Italy with a golden goal in the final.

The Real Madrid years

A magnificent strike to win the Champions League
In 2001 Real Madrid signed Zidane for a world record fee of £53 million. He was undoubtedly the star of the Galacticos, leading the team to Champions League glory in 2002 with a stunning winner in the final. He won 5 trophies in 5 years at Madrid, and his influence is still felt at the club, with many fans believing him to be the greatest player in the club’s illustrious history.

Before the 2006 World Cup Zidane had signaled that he was going to retire after the tournament. France had a slow start to the World Cup, although as the tournament progressed so did their superstar, with Zidane proving himself as the outstanding player in Germany. Zidane was man of the match in France's games against Spain & Brazil, and scored the only goal of the game in the semi-final against Portugal. Before the final he was awarded the Golden Ball as player of the tournament, and went on to score the first goal in the final, his third on the biggest stage of all. His career unfortunately ended in disgrace, as he was sent off in the 110th minute of the final for headbutting Marco Materazzi, after which Italy went on to beat France on penalties.

Zidane was a unique footballer, who approached the game in a different manner to any other player in history. He always seemed to have more time than the opposition, and rarely made a poor decision on the pitch, his temper excluded. Whilst his statistics may not rank up there with some other greats, his influence on the game can’t be underestimated, and his ability to perform at his best on the biggest stages is almost unparalleled. I’d rank him in the second tier of greatest ever footballers, just behind Messi, Pele & Maradona.


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