In the shape of Zinedine Zidane and Michel Platini, France has produced two of the greatest midfield playmakers that European football has ever seen. Stars of successful Les Bleus sides, both wore the iconic No. 10 jersey and have been idolised both during their careers and into retirement.
Both former Juventus heroes, comparisons have been plentiful in recent times, something the man known as Zizou had to deal with throughout his career. And while Platini's post-playing career as a footballing administrator may have soured people's opinions of him, his ability as a player has never been in question.
Perhaps the fact that the duo had different styles and played in different eras makes it impossible to make a serious, sustained comparison between the two. Certainly, Gerard Houllier, the former France technical director and Liverpool manager felt that way. When speaking to BBC Sport he said:
France is just very fortunate to have had two such magnificent players. It is not right that comparisons should be made between the two.
First of all, the style of the two players are different, and the time in which Platini played and the time in which Zidane is playing are also completely different.
You can make general comparisons, but you can never say who was better.
Nonetheless, despite Monsieur Houllier's resistance to the idea, there has long been attempts to quantify which of France's most majestic and decisive stars best represents the pinnacle of French football.
As far as attacking midfielders go, Michel Platini's record is there to be shot at.
With Nancy, Saint-Etienne and Juventus during his 15-year club career in the '70s and '80s, Platini scored a quite wonderful 224 goals in 432 league matches. Honours included Ligue 1, the Coupe de France (twice), Serie A (twice), Coppa Italia, European Cup Winners' Cup and the 1985 European Cup.
At international level, he led France to the 1984 European Championship, scoring nine goals and being named player of the tournament in the process, while also playing a role in their third-place finishes at the 1982 and 1986 World Cups. In 72 caps appearances for his country, Platini netted 41 goals.
Personal honours were also plentiful during his career: Three times a Ballon d'Or winner, French Player of the Year (twice), World Soccer magazine's Player of the Year (twice), and three-time Serie A Capocannoniere (top scorer).
Platini, at his peak during the 1980s with Juventus, was a truly magnificent talent. An eternal cerebral threat, Platini was a magnificent passer off either foot with the most fantastic vision, capable of shaping a game to suit his will while also proving himself as a leader of men.
An elegant and stealthy mover, capable of finding space in between the lines where there appeared none, his penchant for finding space in the final third would subsequently allow him to utilise perhaps his greatest skill: finishing. Whether drifting between defenders to meet crosses, picking his spot from 15 yards or thrashing goalwards from 25, his composure and technique was often unfailing.
At a time when the greatness of a man widely acclaimed as the greatest ever, Diego Armando Maradona, was increasingly coming to the fore, Platini's talent and consistency shone like a beacon, marking him as one of the game's all-time greats.
Brazilian great Pele has this to say about the Frenchman according to MichelPlatini.org:
He didn't run a lot like Cruyff and didn't depend on his physique, but I liked how he was the brain organising things on the pitch. He was a player who used his head in the broader sense. The way he shone with France and Juventus and his capacity for taking free-kicks, made him the European footballer of the 1980s
A player blessed with both the genius of the angels and the devilment from elsewhere, Zinedine Zidane is an icon to today's 20-somethings.
A complete footballing package of subtle touches, crisp passing, individual magic and raw power, Zidane grew from his humble origins to become a reference point for both an entire nation and European football's greatest continental champions.
Club honours with Juventus and Real Madrid, whom he joined for a world record fee of £47million, include Serie A (twice), La Liga, Champions League, UEFA Super Cup (twice) and the Intercontinental Cup (twice), while 506 league games encompassed 95 goals for the attacking midfielder.
At international level, Zidane is remembered both for his best and his worst: Two goals in the 1998 World Cup final led France to success in Paris, while he was vitally important two years later as Les Tricolores claimed the European Championships, the tournament in Holland and Belgium witnessing Zidane at his most imperious.
However, in 2006, after Zidane led his side to another World Cup final, he surrendered the chance to claim glory once more, getting sent off for headbutting Italy's Marco Materazzi in his final professional match. The final live images of his career would see Zidane, head bowed, leaving the field passing the World Cup trophy without even a backwards glance after 108 international games and 31 international goals.
Like Platini, Zidane's personal honours were also plentiful and not restricted to: 1998 Ballon d'Or, FIFA World Player of the Year (thrice), UEFA Best European Player of the past 50 years (2004), Champions League Best Player of the past 20 years (2011) and twice French footballer of the year.
A fabulous elegant dribbler, capable of unlocking an opposing defence with a slide-rule pass or an outlandish touch, Zidane was world football's pre-eminent difference maker as the 20th century turned. Perhaps the best way to describe Zidane is through the words of others:
"Zidane is one of the greatest players in history, a truly magnificent player," said German great Franz Beckenbauer according to BBC Sport.
"Technically, I think he is the King of what's fundamental in the game—control and passing. I don't think anyone can match him when it comes to controlling or receiving the ball," Platini himself was reported as saying in the same article..
Who was Better?
Both French No. 10s were truly wondrous performers who, at their best, were at the very pinnacle of the world game in their respective eras.
And while they were both similar, they had key stylistic differences: Zidane's ability to ghost past players through intelligent dribbling was beyond comparison, while Platini's ability to distribute in the initial phase and then finish moves in the final was equally magnificent.
The truth with regards to the pair is that they both belong in the pantheon of greats.
As for who was better? Perhaps Gerard Houllier really did say it best to BBC Sport: "We should simply enjoy."
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