Zinedine Zidane is one of the greatest soccer players in the game’s history, a true legend who achieved all there is to achieve and did it in style. But what made this French attacking midfielder special, and why has a single incident marred his legendary playing career?
Who Is Zinedine Zidane?
Zidane was born Zinedine Yazid Zidane (nicknamed Zizou) in Marseille on the 23rd of June 1972. He is of Algerian descent, with his parents emigrating to France two decades before his birth. He grew up in a rough area known for a high rate of crime and unemployment, and this upbringing, as well as his family (he had four siblings), would remain close to his heart throughout, even playing a role in the incident that would come to define the end of his career.
Zinedine Zidane is said to have been introduced to soccer around the age of 5 when he played on the streets with friends. He would move on to play for junior teams at the age of ten before steadily working his way up and quickly getting noticed.
After all, while many talented soccer players go unnoticed in the lower ranks, Zidane had precisely the skillset that football scouts are told to look for.
What Made Zinedine Zidane So Unique?
As a soccer player, Zidane possessed various talents and unique abilities combined in one particular player. These were:
Two Feet: Very few modern players can play equally well with both feet. They rely on one foot, limiting them in certain situations and making them easier to defend against, but Zidane was equally gifted with both feet.
Cometh the Hour, Cometh Zinedine Zidane: Big players don’t always show up on the biggest stages, and the thing that differentiates a great player from a legend is whether they can take their club form to European finals and World Cup finals. Zidane did just that, playing some of his best soccer when the pressure was on.
Technique: Zidane didn’t look like your average skillful, showboating soccer player. He wasn’t small and slight like Messi and Neymar, but he possessed an unrivaled technical ability that made him a great dribbler as well as the first person you’d want on the end of a volley.
Leadership: Zinedine Zidane could carry an entire team on his shoulders, and if you ask many French soccer supporters, he did just that during the 2006 World Cup when he took France to the final.
Vision: Zidane could play a pass that no one else saw. He had a unique soccer brain that allowed him to read the game in the blink of an eye, which meant he was always one move away from a killer pass or strike.
Finishing: He knew how to strike a ball and finished with the aplomb of a prolific striker.
Zinedine Zidane started professional soccer playing for AS Cannes, making his full debut just a few weeks before his 18th birthday in 1989. Over three years, he would play 61 times for Cannes, making himself known in the French division but not catching the world’s attention.
He left his mark in the AS Cannes record books by helping them to their highest league finish, but he would ultimately move onto Bordeaux. During this time, in 1996, he was said to have been offered to Premier League side Newcastle United for a fee of £1.2 million, only for Newcastle to turn him down, believing that he just wasn’t ready for the English top flight.
That would prove to be a costly mistake for Newcastle, but it was one that Juventus weren’t going to make, and they snapped him up in the same year. By that time, Zinedine Zidane had scored 28 goals in 131 appearances for Bordeaux and won his first caps for France, but it was at Juventus that he became a household name.
He instantly impacted Italy, helping Juve to a Serie A title, before repeating that success the following year. In 1998 Zinedine Zidane won the Ballon d’Or and made sure that everyone in the world knew his name.
In 2001, he transferred to his final club, Real Madrid, for a world record fee of around €77 million, playing 155 games for Madrid and winning the La Liga, the Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup, and two Spanish Super Cups. He would also eventually make it into the all-time Real Madrid first 11, a huge honor when you consider how many great players have worn the Madrid shirt.
Newcastle made a big mistake not signing Zinedine Zidane in 1996. Still, Algeria is reported to have made an even bigger one by refusing Zidane entry to the Algeria squad because he wasn’t fast enough. However, France did let him play, and they didn’t regret it.
He played in 108 games for his national team and scored 31 goals. Zinedine Zidane also helped them secure the 1998 World Cup title and the 2000 European Championship while also taking them to the final of the 2006 World Cup.
He was one of the best players ever to wear the French shirt, if not the best, and has been voted in most all-time 11 lists, while also being bestowed with the Legion of Honour by France and the National Order of Merit Algeria.
Zidane always maintained a passion for his heritage and the country of his parents’ birth, so it’s fair to assume that he would have shown up to play for Algeria if he had been allowed. But you have to wonder just how successful he would have been on the world stage playing for Algeria.
He played for France is probably better for all of us and the history of soccer.
The Materazzi Incident
Zinedine Zidane had one weakness throughout his playing career: his family. Whenever someone insulted his family or his heritage, he was quick to anger. This was noticed while he was playing for Cannes, with the coaches saying that while he had the talent, he also needed to control his rage when spectators and fellow players mocked his family or his race.
He was suspended early on for punching a player who mocked his origins, and in later years, he would be pulled up for a headbutt. This anger would eventually subside, but players would try to use his family against him throughout his career, inciting him to anger, and this worked in the World Cup final when France met Italy.
World Cup Moment
It was Zidane’s last ever match, and as he had carried France to the final, it should have been a match that saw him leave on a high. But when Italian defender Marco Materazzi provoked him, Zidane attacked.
According to reports from the time, Materazzi had been pulling Zinedine Zidane’s shirt, leading the Frenchman to offer the Italian his shirt after the game. To this, Materazzi is said to have quipped, “I would prefer your sister.”
What followed was a moment that would spoil France’s World Cup and leave a red mark next to Zizou’s name. Zidane lowered his head and charged at Materazzi, headbutting him in the chest and sending him sprawling to the ground. He was immediately red-carded, leaving France with ten men.
Fortunately, this occurred in extra time and is unlikely to have had much of an impact on the outcome, but it did mean that Zinedine Zidane wasn’t there to take a penalty during a shootout that Italy won 5-3. This was vital considering Zidane was the leading penalty taker and had scored a spot-kick to open the scoring in regular time (the game finished 1-1, with Materazzi getting the equalizer).
The image of Zidane with his head down, charging at the Italian, endured following the World Cup, taking up more front and back pages than the images of Italy holding the cup. But within a few months, people quickly forgot and focused more on the positive highlights of Zidane’s career.
Zinedine Zidane Legacy
Zinedine Zidane’s soccer brain was put to good use when he retired as a player and moved into management. First, he spent two years managing the Real Madrid B team, getting accustomed to some of their talented youngsters, including Zidane’s son Luca, who plays as a goalkeeper. Then, in 2016 he moved onto the senior side and quickly made an impact.
By the end of the 2017/2018 season, he had won countless individual awards (including Manager of the Month, Manager of the Year, Best Coach, and French Manager of the Year). In addition, he had led Los Blancos to an impressive three Champions League titles in a row and 1 La Liga title, 2 UEFA Super Cup titles, and two FIFA Club World Cup titles.
In other words, he became a record-breaking, highly decorated, legendary manager in just three short years. And this is only the beginning, as we can now look forward to his managerial career as much as we made his playing career.
Zinedine Zidane Facts
Teams Played For: Cannes Bordeaux, Juventus, Real Madrid, France National Team
Team Coached: Real Madrid (Two Times)
Net Worth: Estimated $125 million (US) His current coaching salary is $14 million each year.
How Old Is His Sons: Enzo is 26, Luca is 23, Theo is 19, Elyaz is 16
Date Of Birth: 23 June 1972 (Born in Marseille)
- 1998: Ballon d’Or Winner
- 2000: Ballon d’Or Runner Up
- 1998, 2000, 2003: FIFA Player of the Year
- 2000: UEFA European Championship Player of the Tournament
- 2001, 2002, 2003: UEFA Team Of The Year
- 2002: UEFA Club Footballer Of The Year
- 1998: World Cup Winner
- 2006: World Cup Runners-Up
- 2000: European Championships Winner
- 2001-02: Champions League Winner
As A Manager:
- 2016-17, 2019-20: La Liga Winners
- 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18: Champions League Winners
- 2016, 2017L FIFA Club World Cup Winners
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Rhett is an Australian-born, globe trotter who is a UEFA ‘A’ Licence Soccer Coach. With his family, he has traveled and coached soccer in more than 30 countries, while attending World Cups, European Championships, and some of the biggest local derbies in the world!