Barney Corkhill's A Tribute To... series returns for another tribute to a legend.
Today's tribute is to a modern day legend who has surpassed established legends such as Michel Platini. His skills, grace, and pure class captivated audiences for years.
I speak, of course, of the French legend—Zinedine Zidane.
Zinedine Yazid Zidane, born 23 June, 1972 spent his early years in Marseille as the son of Algerian immigrants. At ten years old, he joined his first youth club, US Saint Henri. A few years later and he was spotted by a scout from French club AS Cannes.
Zidane liked the idea of playing for a professional club, so went for a six week trial period. Cannes liked what they saw, and the six weeks soon became four years.
Soon after signing his first professional contract, Zidane made his Cannes debut, aged just 17. He was by no means a first team regular, but his skill was evident even from that early age.
Despite making his debut in 1988, it wasn't until 1991 that Zidane scored his first ever professional goal. The team president was so delighted with his young starlet that he bought him a car.
From this moment on, he started playing much more regularly. In his first two seasons at Cannes, he only played two games. During the next two seasons, however, he was involved in 63 games, scoring six times.
His potential was starting to show through. He wasn't the fastest player, but he just had natural class. He was the type of player who would just get better with age.
Another French club, Girondins Bordeaux, saw the potential in the young Zidane and, in 1992, signed him from Cannes.
Zidane had climbed the first rung on the way to the top of the ladder, and the top of the footballing world.
It was while at Bordeaux that Zidane was approached by both Algeria and France, both of whom he was eligible to play for. It was rumoured that the Algerian coach actually turned Zidane down because he was too slow.
Whatever the true story, Zidane opted for France, and made his debut in 1994, coming on as a sub against Czech Republic, and scoring two goals in 16 minutes.
Zidane had arrived on the world scene.
Consistent performances from him at Bordeaux ensured he was always in and around the French squad, but he was second choice to Eric Cantona. However, Cantona's suspension for his infamous karate kick gave Zidane his chance.
The coach at the time, Aime Jacquet, wanted to build his team around a play-maker. Now that first choice Cantona was out of the equation, Zidane stepped in, and a new French hero was born.
Back at club level, Zidane was fast becoming the brightest star at Bordeaux. Bigger clubs were getting interested.
He helped them to success in the Intertoto Cup in 1995, before guiding them to the final of the 1996 UEFA Cup, only to lose to Bayern Munich.
Also in that Bordeaux team were Christophe Dugarry, whom Zidane was forming a strong partnership with in midfield, for both club and country, and Bixente Lizarazu, who was also part of the France side.
1996 was an eventful year for Zidane. Not only did he reach the UEFA Cup final, but he was voted French Player of the Year for his efforts. His talents hadn't gone unnoticed, and soon big clubs were knocking at Bordeaux's door.
Juventus were the team who won his signature, and Zidane moved from France to Italy later that year. 1996 was also the year of Zidane's first major tournament with France.
His inclusion created a lot of debate. People thought he wasn't the one to replace Eric Cantona, but Zidane, along with the rest of the youthful French squad, proved them all wrong, reaching the semifinals, only going out to Czech Republic on penalties.
1996 just kept on getting better for Zidane. He helped his new team, Champions League holders Juventus, to the European Super Cup and Intercontinental Cup before the year was out.
The 1996-97 season saw Zidane grow even more experienced, and become even more skilled. His tireless and astute midfield play took Juventus to a second successive European Cup final, which they lost.
He also helped them to the Serie A title, and the Italian Super Cup. Zidane was fast becoming one of the most well known, and talented players in the world.
While '96 and '97 were good years for Zizou, none could come close to what was to happen in 1998. Much hype surrounded the World Cup, which was to be held in France.
Zidane showed good form leading up the tournament, helping Juventus to yet another European Cup final, again losing, and another Serie A title.
Then came the World Cup. France weren't expected to do too well. The French public were thinking more of world humiliation than world domination.
But Zinedine Zidane, Didier Deschamps, Laurent Blanc and co, worked their magic. After battling their way into the final, they came up against Ronaldo's Brazil.
It was a battle of the two modern day greats—Ronaldo and Zidane. Unfortunately, Ronaldo was violently sick the night before the game, and many people think that was the main factor behind the events of the day.
Zidane opened the scoring, with a relatively rare header. France, who before the tournament were barely dreaming of success, were now 1-0 up in the final. Ronaldo seemed far from his best. This took the wind out of Brazil's sails and blew it into the French ones.
Zidane later scored with another header, before Emmanuel Petit scored on the counter attack in the 90th minute to give France an unlikely triumph, a 3-0 win over Brazil.
For his performance in the final, and throughout the tournament, Zidane was voted as the European Player of the Year, an award soon followed by World Player of the Year.
At club level, Zidane was repeatedly putting in performances for Juventus, helping them to second in the league in 1999. It was a rare trophy-less season for "Zizou".
However, 2000 soon made up for that. Along came the European Championships, and all eyes were on Zidane's France. As World Cup holders, they came into this tournament with expectation weighing them down.
However, some more fantastic performances, and some timely goals, helped France to the final, where they played Italy. The French, the newest footballing superpower, triumphed, becoming the first team to hold both the World Cup and European Championships since West Germany in 1974.
Zidane's performances made him a contender for his second World Player of the Year crown. It was a crown he accepted, becoming only the second player to have been named World Footballer of the Year twice, the first being Ronaldo.
In 2001, Zidane became a target for Real Madrid. The assembly of the "Galacticos" was in full swing, and Zidane would be the main attraction. It would take a lot of money to get him, however. And it did.
Real Madrid forked out a reported £47.5 million for Zidane, a transfer fee which, to this day, remains a record.
He was one of the few players in history who was actually worth that much.
The next season, in a Champions League final, Zidane hit one of the best goals the competition has ever seen, a spectacular volley which turned out to be the winning goal. He went on to win the Intercontinental Cup and the European Super Cup that same year.
However, the World Cup didn't go as well for him. Injury ruled him out of France's first two games, which included a humiliating loss to minnows Senegal, and despite returning for the third game, he couldn't do anything about France crashing unceremoniously out in the group-stages, without scoring a goal.
In 2003, however, Zidane tasted more success, again with Real Madrid. This time, it was La Liga and the Spanish Super Cup. Individually, Zidane was awarded the World Player of the Year accolade yet again, becoming the second person to have won it three times, again, Ronaldo beat him to it.
Due to Zidane's game not relying on pace, his age didn't seem to have much affect on his play. In fact, at times it seemed to help, rather than hinder, him.
A barren spell at Real Madrid saw the break-up of some of the "Galacticos", and an injury ravaged Zidane announced he was planning to retire from all football after the 2006 World Cup.
It was at this World Cup where one of his more infamous moments came.
Despite a slow start, and Zidane getting himself suspended, France made it through from the group stages. In the second round Zidane returned, creating and scoring a goal. It was more of the same throughout the tournament.
France found themselves in another World Cup final, this time against Italy.
Zidane, in his last ever competitive game of football, scored an early penalty, becoming only the fourth man to have scored in two different World Cup finals. Italy equalised and it went into extra-time.
In the 110th minute, while walking back after an attack, Marco Materazzi uttered something to Zidane. Zidane turned round a headbutted him in the chest, and was sent off.
It was a shame that one of the greatest players ever saw a red card as his last sight on a football field, but what a way to go out!
Overall in his illustrious career, Zidane played in 732 games, scoring 144 goals, and creating hundreds more. For France he played 108 times, scoring 31 times.
He will always be remembered as a genius on the football field, and perhaps one of the most graceful players ever. A three-time World Player of the Year, this has been a tribute to Zinedine Zidane.
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