A Tribute to Zinedine Zidane: Defining Creativity in Soccer

Jessie PContributor IMay 19, 2011

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - FEBRUARY 07:  Zinedine Zidane poses with his award for “Laureus Lifetime Achievement Award“ in the winners studio at the 2011 Laureus World Sports Awards at the Emirates Palace on February 7, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images for Laureus)
Ian Walton/Getty Images

It is a term bandied around a lot when talking about football and how a team either is—or is not—and thus extended to entire leagues like La Liga and the Premiership.

But what exactly is creativity?

By definition, it is the ability to create something that is considered different. It is essentially a surprise, but how does that even translate to the pitch?

Let us first lay out what the purpose of the game is. It is to win by putting the ball into the net—soccer at its purest form.

Does that not mean a straight line is the easiest way to the goal and with enough pace the game is virtually won?

If you are a detractor of English football, then you will be saying that is exactly what the EPL is like, but then there's the whole "defense" and "goalkeeper" that are so bothersome as to keep you away from that easy, straight-line win.

This is where creativity comes into play—the deception, the strange passing moves, the cutting and slashing, this, by all accounts the creative aspect of football.

This is why it is called "The Beautiful Game."

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I must point out there are many categories of creative play. There are the movements of an individual player against another, there is the fulcrum type of player, there are creative tactics for both offense and defense, there is creative substitution, etc. etc.

In this article I plan to talk about the first two mostly and touch base a little on the third.

Creativity in a player for one-on-one situations is exemplified by strikers and wingers.

Ronaldo, Arjen Robben and Thierry Henry come to mind when this particular type of creativity comes up. They seek isolation where they can use pace and trickery to create a shot for them self, similar to a good shooting guard in the NBA.

Passing is secondary for these types of players, but their dribbling must be off the charts.

The moves make all the highlight reels, the step overs, twists, spins, push-offs and shots.

This individual creativity is usually what seeps into the consciousness of the viewer and turns players into superstars and heroes, but it does not always guarantee victory.

For example, Arjen Robben's dribbling and technique rank amongst the best in the world, but just how many games has he won on his own?

Ronaldo tried this in the Champions League final. He attacked from the first step using his famous step-overs and power shots and what happened? Barcelona completely destroyed Manchester United.

This type of creativity, while essential to the game and a team's success is always secondary to the idea of team creativity which requires a different type of individual—a maestro.

I am only 21 and have witnessed only the era of Zinedine Zidane, so I cannot rate other greats like Cruyff and Di Stefano, so I will be using him as an example for this part of the article.

Zizou has all the moves of those other players including his patented spin move that allows him to slice through defenders, but it is what he does with the ball after that is different.

While entirely capable of creating his own shot with his pace and skill, he uses his individual creativity to accentuate his team and deceive the other. He is always looking to create opportunities to score by passing and orchestrating.

This goes on to be applied to the whole team creating unexpected and shocking passes until the other team folds. This is no more evident than what he did against Brazil in 2006.

Though the scoreline was 1-0 and France scored off of a brilliant set-piece; it was Zidane's game.

While a player like Ronaldo would try to create his own chances if he had the ball, Zidane was a maestro. His passing led to more passing as he slashed and moved off of the ball. The French looked to be playing beautifully against the Samba stars doing the most unexpected things on offense and holding possession.

On defense they showed creative flair, too; they incorporated the old man-to-man marking schemes that had mostly faded into memory surprising the otherwise deadly Brazilian team.

While Zidane acted as a fulcrum of creativity for his team, he was hardly alone. He had Claude Makelele playing deep as a play-maker and had Thierry Henry and Frank Ribery in front.

With Zidane and Makelele as the engine, this team embodied what it means to have a creative team—a group of players dedicated to creating unexpected chances for each other thereby attaining victory by putting the ball in the net.

The most recent, and arguably finest, display of team creativity was Barcelona's display of carousel passing against Manchester United.

While Man U had about four creative players in Ronaldo, Berbatov, Rooney and Tevez, they had zero maestros. These were players that were excellent at creating their own chances and, despite Berbatov's best efforts, terrible at creating chances for each other.

Switch views to Barcelona with an entire team adept at passing, three or four bona-fide play-makers, and the deadliest front-line in recent memory.

All their moves were dedicated not only to accurate passing and possession, but to confusion. Man U looked bamboozled as to what Barca was doing and what they were going to do. Runs at the goal appeared from nowhere, shots were constantly coming in and the dagger came from a header from a player who stood a mere 5'4".

This is creative football at its finest, this was why football is called "The Beautiful Game."

This concludes my first of hopefully several articles on this subject and I invite not only criticism, but as many viewpoints as possible on this very very broad topic.

Perhaps we as a community can combine our thoughts into a deep and expansive idea of what it means to be creative not only in this game, but in sport.