Zinedine Zidane, the legend who drove France to win the World Cup | Sunday Observer

Zinedine Zidane, the legend who drove France to win the World Cup

11 December, 2022
Zinedine Zidane with the 1998 World Cup
Zinedine Zidane with the 1998 World Cup

Zinedine Zidane is a true legend who attained all there was to accomplish and did it in style as an attacking midfielder. Zidane popularly known as “Zizou,” was a playmaker renowned for his elegance, vision, and technique. He received many individual accolades, including the “Ballon d’Or” in 1998, the “FIFA World Player of the Year” in 1998, 2000 and 2003, andthe “Golden Ball” as the Player of the Tournament in 2006 FIFA World Cup. He later became one of the most successful coaches in the world which led him to be named the “Best FIFA Men’s Coach” in 2017.

Zidane possessed an unrivalled technical ability that made him a great dribbler; he could carry an entire team on his shoulders as the leader; he had a unique soccer vision that allowed him to read the game in the blink of an eye; most modern players rely on one foot, limiting them in certain situations, but he was equally gifted with both feet; he always showed up on the biggest stages, and guided his club and country, playing some of his best soccer when the pressure was on; he knew how to strike a ball and finish with the aplomb of a prolific striker.

The fourth-most capped player in French history with thirty-one goals from 108 appearances, Zidane won the 1998 FIFA World Cup, scoring twice in the final, to be named to the All-Star team. This triumph instantaneously made him a national hero in France, and he received the Legion of Honour in 1998.

He won UEFA Euro 2000 and was named Player of the Tournament. In 2004, he was named in the FIFA 100, a list of the world’s greatest living players compiled by Pele, and in the same year was named the “Best European Footballer of the Past 50 Years” in the UEFA Golden Jubilee Poll.

He was the ambassador for Qatar’s successful bid to stage the 2022 World Cup, the first Arab country to host the tournament. After FIFA announced that Qatar had won the bid, Zidane stated that he was incredibly pleased.

Zidane spoke of the message he was trying to convey in the campaign: “I was saying that football belonged to the whole world. I’m proud to have made my contribution to a new country getting the World Cup. Qatar and the entire Middle East deserve this event and that makes me happy. It’s a victory for the Arab world.”

Zidane has supported two Summer Olympic bids for Paris. The 2012 Summer Olympics was narrowly won by London but Paris was successful with the bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics. Paris will also be hosting the 2024 Summer Paralympics.

After retiring as a player, Zidane moved into management. First, he spent two years managing Real Madrid Castilla. Then, moved onto the Real Madrid first team and had two stints, 2016-17 and 2019-21, winning countless individual awards including Manager of the Month, Manager of the Year and Best Coach. Zidane led Los Blancos to an impressive three Champions League titles in a row, two UEFA Super Cup and two FIFA Club World Cup titles.

Birth and Growth

Zinedine Yazid Zidane was born on June 23, 1972, in La Castellane, Marseille, in Southern France. He is the youngest of five siblings. Zidane is a Muslim of Algerian Kabyle descent. His parents, Smail and Malika, emigrated to Paris in 1953 before the Algerian War. The family, in the mid-1960s moved to the northern Marseille suburb of La Castellane in the 16th arrondissement of Marseille.

His father worked at a department store, often on the night shift, while his mother was a homemaker. The family lived a comfortable life by the standards of the neighbourhood, which was notorious throughout Marseille for its high crime and unemployment rates. Zidane credits his strict upbringing and his father as the “guiding light” in his career.

It was in Castellane, Zidane had his earliest introduction to footballat the age of five. At ten, Zidane got his first player’s licence joining the junior team of Castellane by the name of US Saint-Henri. After a year Zidane joined SO Septemes-les-Vallons and stayed until 14. AS Cannes then spotted Zidane. As a 14-year watching the 1986 World Cup, the performance of Diego Maradona left an indelible mark on him, with Zidane stating Maradona “was on another level.”

Zidane made his professional debut with Cannes in 1989. He scored his first goal for the club in 1991. On the pitch, Zidane displayed extraordinary technique on the ball, offering glimpses of the talent that would take him to the top of the world game. In his first full season, the club qualified for the UEFA Cup, the club’s highest finish.

Zidane was transferred to Girondins de Bordeaux in the 1992-93 season, winning the 1995 Intertoto Cup and finishing runner-up in the 1995-96 UEFA Cup during his four years with the club. In 1996, Zidane received the award for Ligue 1 Player of the Year.

After a series of standout performances for both Bordeaux and France, Zidane moved to Italian team Juventus in 1996, where he won several trophies including the 1996 Intercontinental Cup as well as the 1996-97 and 1997-98 Serie A titles. He was chosen Serie A Foreign Footballer of the Year in both seasons. Zidane’s growing status in the sport saw him chosen in a European XI to face a World XI in 1997.

In Europe, Juventus made their third consecutive UEFA Champions League final appearance. In 2001, Zidane joined Real Madrid for a world record fee at the time of €77.5 million and signed a four-year contract. In Spain, Zidane won several trophies, including a La Liga title and the UEFA Champions League.

In his first season, Zidane scored a famous match-winning goal, a volley hit with his left foot from the edge of the 18-yard box, in Madrid’s 2-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen in the 2002 UEFA Champions League Final. The goal has been cited as one of the greatest in Champions League history. The magnitude of the strike saw Zidane produce one of his most emotional goal celebrations as he ran towards the touchline with mouth wide open, screaming in delight.

Zidane helped Real Madrid to win the 2002-03 La Liga. In 2004, fans voted him as the “Best European Footballer of the Previous 50 Years” in UEFA’s 50th Anniversary Golden Jubilee Poll.In Zidane’s final season of club football, he enjoyed success on a personal note by scoring his first hat-trick, against Sevilla, in a 4-2 win in 2006. In 2006, Zidane, played his farewell match and the 80,000 fans inside the Santiago Bernabeu held up a banner reading, “Thanks for the magic.”

Zidane won a bronze medal at the 1993 Mediterranean Games as a member of the French under-21 team. He earned his first cap with France against the Czech Republic in 1994, which ended in a 2–2 draw after Zidane scored twice to help France erase a 2–0 deficit. In 1995, Zidane took over the playmaker position.In the Euro 1996, Zidane scored in the penalty shootout in both the quarter-final and semi-final.

At 17, Zidane met his future wife, Veronique Fernandez of Spanish descent while playing for Cannes in the 1988–89 season. Married in 1994, they have four sons: Enzo (1995), Luca (1998), Theo (2002), and Elyaz (2005). Both France and Algeria consider Zidane a citizen.

1998 FIFA World Cup

The 1998 FIFA World Cup was the first Zidane participated and was held in his home country, France. The French team won all three games in the group stage, beating South Africa, Saudi Arabia, and Paraguay and defeated Italy 4-3 on penalties after a goalless draw in the quarter-finals, with Zidane netting the first spot kick in the shoot-out. France then defeated Croatia 2-1 in the semi-final.

Zidane played a pivotal role in the team’s accomplishments, yet he had not scored a goal at the World Cup. France played against defending champions and favourites Brazil in the 1998 FIFA World Cup Final. France dominated Brazil from the kick-off, with Zidane scoring two goals. A third goal deep in stoppage time sealed a 3-0 win for France. Zidane was named the FIFA World Cup Final Man of the Match.

Two years later France won Euro 2000, becoming the first team to hold both the World Cup and the European Championship since West Germany in 1974. Zidane finished with two goals, a bending free kick against Spain in the quarter-final and the golden goal in the semi-final against Portugal with a penalty and the UEFA named Zidane Player of the Tournament.

Zidane believes his peak was during Euro 2000 and the website states, “In Belgium and the Netherlands, Zidane dominated a major championship in a way no individual had managed since Diego Maradona in 1986. From the opening game against Denmark to the final against Italy, ‘Zizou’ shone brightly, casting a spell on his opponents with clever flicks, mesmerising stepovers, slaloming runs and masterful vision.”

2002 FIFA World Cup

As reigning world and European champions, France entered the 2002 World Cup in Japan/Korea as favourites but an injury prevented Zidane from playing in France’s first two matches and the French team failed. He was rushed back for the third game but could not prevent France been eliminated in the group stage.

At Euro 2004, France topped their group with wins over England and Switzerland, before losing the quarter finals to the eventual champions Greece in a surprise 1-0 loss and Zidane announced his retirement from international football.

2006 FIFA World Cup

France struggled to qualify for the 2006 World Cup. At the urging of coach Raymond Domenech, Zidane came out of retirement and was immediately reinstated as team captain. Zidanemarked his return for France in a 3-0 win over the Faroe Islands in 2005 and later earned his hundredth cap for France in a 1-0 win over Mexico in 2006.

France had a slow start to the 2006 World Cup Finals and Zidane scored a goal against Spain. In the quarter-final, France held Brazil to just one shot on goal and Zidane was named Man of the Match by FIFA. France faced Portugal in the semi-final and Zidane’s penalty decided the contest and sent France to another major final.

He was to retire at the end of the 2005-06 season and the world of football knew Zidane’s second World Cup Final was to be his last match. Seven minutes into the 2006 World Cup Final, Zidane put France ahead with a Panenka-style penalty kick which struck the crossbar and bounced just over the goal line.

He became the fourth player in the FIFA World Cup history to score in two different finals, along with Pele (Brazil), Paul Breitner (Germany), and Edvaldo Neto aka Vava (Brazil), in addition to been tied for first place with Vava, Pele and Geoff Hurst (England) with three FIFA World Cup final goals apiece.

Zidane was sent off in the 110th minute of the game after head butting Marco Materazzi in the chest. Later, Italy won the penalty shootout 5-3. The day after the final, Zidane was awarded the “Golden Ball” as the Player of the Tournament. Upon his return to France, the Place de la Concorde in Paris was filled with thousands of fans waving flags and rhythmically chanting “Zizou! Zizou!.”The French President Jacques Chirac led the tributes.

As the Player of the Tournament, Zidane had given the French team hope, with the French daily newspaper Liberation stating, “For a month, France was dreaming with Zidane.”He later said, “If you look at the fourteen red cards I had in my career, twelve of them were a result of provocation. This isn’t justification, this isn’t an excuse, but my passion, temper and blood made me react.”

Zidane has had endorsements with many companies, including Adidas, Lego, France Telecom, Orange, Audi, Volvic and Christian Dior. These sponsorships earned him €8.6 million on top of his €6.4 million Real Madrid salary in 2006, totalling €15 million, which made him the sixth-highest paid footballer.


Zidane possessed an exceptional first touch, and was also known for his dribbling skills, use of feints, elegance on the ball, and creativity. He could use either foot, despite being naturally right footed. His technique and coordination enabled him to execute shots and volleys with extreme power and precision, from outside the penalty area and was a free kick and penalty kick specialist.

Zidane’s natural position was in a free role as a classic number 10 behind the strikers. He was also capable of playing as a second striker, or in a more withdrawn role in midfield, either as a central midfielder or deep-lying playmaker, due to his ability to orchestrate his team’s attacking plays from deep with his vision and passing.

Thus, he was capable of both assisting and scoring goals, despite being neither the most prolific goal scorer nor the most productive creator throughout his career. While not known for his heading ability, his height and physical strength also allowed him to be effective in the air and saw him score several crucial headers throughout his career.

Despite not being the quickest player, he possessed good agility and acceleration, as well as exceptional balance and flair on the ball. He also had excellent positional sense and outstanding spatial awareness. Although he had a reserved and humble character, he was praised for being a team player, on whom his teammates could rely.

He was able to establish himself as a consistent and decisive player, who was also an influential captain at international level throughout his career. Zidane, a UN Goodwill Ambassador since 2001, once before a game said that “everyone can do something to make the world a better place.” In 2002, ESPN described Zidane as the “greatest player in the world in the world’s biggest game.”

In a 2002 poll, Zidane was selected to the FIFA World Cup Dream Team. In 2004, he was voted “UEFA Best European Player of the Past 50 Years” and was named in the “FIFA 100 List of the World’s Greatest Living Players.” In a 2004 poll, Zidane was also voted as the “Most Popular Frenchman of All Time” and in 2014, as the “Best Player in the History of the French League.”Later, in 2016, Zidane was named “Best French Player of All Time.”

As one of the most successful coaches of his era and in the history of Real Madrid, Zidane’s tactical philosophy, particularly his tactical flexibility and his ability to unite the dressing room, have been positively compared to the ultimate professional Carlo Ancelotti’s coaching method that helped athletes.

(The author is an Associate Professor, International Scholar, winner of Presidential Awards and multiple National Accolades for Academic pursuits. He possesses a PhD, MPhil, and double MSc. His email is [email protected])