Never has there been a football player quite like Zinedine Zidane. The reserved Frenchman personified footballing class by gliding across the pitch and showed expert consistency with his passing and close control.
Yet, he was a rugged player too, often getting into tussles and displaying a combative element to his game, Zidane had all the qualities that typified the ultimate European midfielder throughout the 90s and 00s.
Zizou retired in 2006 as one of the most celebrated footballers of his generation at both club and international level.
ZIDANE – THE EARLY DAYS
Zidane was born in Marseille, France, on June 23rd, 1972. Growing up in the rough area of La Castellane, Zidane learnt quickly how to handle himself, often playing alongside older kids on the block from the age of five – this trait never left him throughout his career.
By the age of 10, Zidane was involved with organised youth football in Marseille and was first approached by local team SO Septemes-les-Vallons, where he spent two and a half years.
It wasn’t long before professional French club AS Cannes became aware of Zidane’s talent. Whilst away on an elite French training camp, Aix-en-Provence at the CREPS, an AS Cannes scout saw Zidane and decided to sign him up for the club, where he earned his first taste of professional football.
CANNES – 19 GAMES – 3 GOALS
As a teenager, Zidane played at youth level for Cannes in the regional leagues. After three years developing at the club, he was given a chance in the first team at 17.
Zidane made his professional debut for Cannes in September 1990 in a 1-0 defeat to FC Nantes. He went on to play 19 games for Cannes, scored three goals and gained invaluable experience playing in the UEFA Cup too.
However, the creativity and potential Zidane displayed in just a handful of games for Cannes caught the attention of larger French teams, which elevated Zizou’s career to the next level.
BORDEAUX – 157 GAMES – 34 GOALS
Zidane joined Ligue 1 club Bordeaux in July 1992 for around £6 million. In his first season, Zidane made 24 appearances and scored six goals for the club. But, he was largely taken off or brought on as a substitute.
Zidane truly flourished in his second season and beyond after showing promising signs in his bedding period at Bordeaux. Although he was renowned as an attacking midfielder for most of his career, Zidane played as a left or right midfielder at Bordeaux. His ability to control, pass and dribble the ball to an exceptional standard became particularly clear in the European competitions and he helped Bordeaux to reach the UEFA Cup final in 1996.
It was these performances which led Italian giants Juventus to take an interest in Zidane.
JUVENTUS – 212 GAMES – 31 GOALS
At Juventus, Zidane grew from a raw talent into a truly great continental midfielder. Within his first two seasons at the club, he had established himself as the main creator from midfield contributing to 34 of Juventus’ goals between 1996 and 1998.
The supreme midfielder was also starting to win some of the biggest prizes in football with Juventus. In his five seasons with the Serie A club, Zidane helped them to win two Serie A titles, the Italian Super Cup and the UEFA Super Cup.
But his dazzling passes and expertise in controlling the pace of matches earned Zidane some of the biggest individual accolades in world Football when he played in Italy. In 1998, Zidane was voted as FIFA’s best player while he also won the Ballon d’Or in the same year.
REAL MADRID – 227 GAMES – 49 GOALS
By 2001, Juventus were a European team in decline and they began to lose their key players as a result. This suited Real Madrid, who signed Zidane in 2001 for nearly £70 million, which was a world record fee at the time.
Zidane was part Madrid’s ‘Galacticos’, where the club aimed to bring the greatest players from around the world to play together in one team during the early 00s. The likes of David Beckham, Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Luis Figo and Sergio Ramos were also recruited by Madrid at great expense.
Zidane was one of the success stories from this era and his elegant style of play captured the hearts of the Madridistas. He went on to win both the Champions League and La Liga during his time in Madrid before retiring in July 2006 but returned more recently as manager for two spells between 2016 and 2020.
FRANCE NATIONAL TEAM – 108 GAMES – 31 GOALS
Zidane is one of the most celebrated French players in the nation’s history. He played in three World Cups, won two, and two European Championships, won one, between 1998 and 2006.
In his first World Cup in 1998, Zidane produced a man of the match performance in the final against Brazil, stunning them with his intelligent control of the game and he scored two thumping headers to lead France to a 3-0 win.
France again reached the World Cup final in 2006 with Zizou as captain. But Zidane produced one of the most outrageous moments in football history in the final against Italy. After a tense game which hung in the balance in extra time, Zidane lost his cool and headbutted Italian defender Marco Materazzi in the chest.
France went on to lose the game on penalties and the defining image of the match captured Zidane walking past the World Cup trophy after he was sent off.
STYLE OF PLAY
Not many footballers have been able to control and manipulate the football in the way Zidane could. The Frenchman was the master of perfectly weighted passes and had the first touch of a genius. He strolled around the football pitch and controlled the game at his own pace – something which very few players in history have been able to accomplish.
But Zidane was a player of extreme contrast. Under his cool footballing demeanour were the aggressive demons which cost him dear on occasion with tough tackling and confrontation a regular feature of his game. It was actually fitting he ended his career with a sending off for an outrageous headbutt, as it reminded us of the do or die environment where Zidane learnt his footballing trade – on the streets of Marseille.
It is difficult for players to emulate someone as supremely talented as Zidane. However, the likes of Andrea Prilo and Kevin De Bruyne come close as modern-day equivalents. Both have mentioned Zidane as one of their footballing idols in the past and this is evident in their playing style. Prilo had, and De Bruyne has, the ability to determine the tempo of an entire football game with their passing and control.
Despite his French roots, Zidane has influenced Spanish football more after his retirement. He has become one of the most successful managers in Real Madrid’s history, winning 11 titles in toal with the La Liga club – an average of a trophy every 19 games!