Zinedine Zidane: The Big Game Player Who Won it All for France

Zinedine Zidane is number 6 in 90min’s top 50 Greatest Footballers of All Time Series

?The night of July 12 1998, crowds chanted ‘Zidane President’ at the top of their lungs in the centre of Paris, while a picture of Zinedine Zidane was projected onto the famous Arc de Triomphe – above it were the words ‘Merci Zizou.’

It was a night no French national will ever forget.

France came into the 1998 FIFA World Cup looking to win the competition for the very first time. France was the chosen nation to host the competition – for only the second time in their history. Les Bleus cruised towards the final, where they were met by Brazil, who were looking to defend their crown.

Indeed, Brazil had won the World Cup four years prior, and had high hopes of retaining their status as the world’s best footballing nation.

Unfortunately for them, they weren’t able to. France produced a scintillating display to run out 3-0 winners; a display made possible by one man: 

Zinedine Zidane. 

Two goals and an overall man of the match performance in the final was enough to help his nation secure their first ever World Cup crown. Of course, it was a hugely impressive and domineering performance in the final, but over the course of his career, it became perfectly clear that Zidane was the talisman – the one who stepped up and delivered even when his side looked down and out.

Zizou began his career at Cannes and he quickly made a name for himself, showing off his phenomenal talent. But the young Frenchman did show signs of sensitivity – reacting and lashing out when provoked. 

Interest in Zidane grew and he was snapped up by Bordeaux for the 1992/93 season. During his time at the club, he continued to raise his game, achieving success along the way. He also made his debut for the national team – and it didn’t take him long to make his mark.

Just 17 minutes, in fact.

He went on to grab another to make it 2-2 against the Czech Republic, who had raced into a 2-0 lead in a friendly match. 

Zidane’s statistics weren’t exactly phenomenal, he wasn’t a prolific goalscorer, nor did he consistently provide assist after assist. But he dictated games, producing moments of magic that other players could only ever dream of. His ability to raise his leg to 90 degrees in the air in order to pluck an overhit pass out of the sky was sublime, but while others stopped to appreciate the excellence of what they had just seen, he had already assessed his next options. 

His stunning performances saw him named Ligue 1 Player of the Year in 1996. Of course, he had already made a name for himself on the international scene, featuring for France at Euro ’96. However, it was during his time at ?Juventus where Zizou came to be regarded as one of the world’s very best footballers.

The midfielder actually made a fairly slow start to life in Turin, operating in a deep-lying midfield role. But he soon moved further up the field and settled, with his masterful displays in the centre of the park helping Juventus win the Intercontinental Cup, Super Cup, and ?Serie A in his first season. He was named Serie A Foreign Footballer of the Year, before helping guide the Italian giants towards another league title the following season. 

Zidane was consistently showing his mesmerising talent, and opposition players were simply unable to cope with his silky touches and lightning quick feet. 

He was making the unthinkable look exceedingly easy. 

But he somehow raised his game to new heights as he led France to World Cup glory in the summer of 1998. This competition epitomised everything about Zidane. 

The midfielder was sent off in France’s second group game against Saudi Arabia, meaning he missed their clashes against Denmark, as well as the round of 16 tussle with Paraguay. But why was he sent off in the first place? Well, he stamped on Saudi Arabia’s Fuad Anwar. Fortunately, this did not hinder France, and he returned to help them edge past a world class Italian side in the quarter-finals. 

Les Bleus went on to defeat Croatia in the semi-final, before Zidane produced that masterclass in the final. It was a truly breathtaking display from him, but it was what fans – and the footballing world – had become accustomed to. Zidane was the poster boy of the new French side. 

He was rewarded for his performances as he won the Ballon d’Or later that year. It was nothing less than he deserved.

As a result of their success at the 1998 World Cup, France – and Zidane – went into Euro 2000 full of confidence. And sure enough, Les Bleus came away as European champions.

Yet more success for the national team, and once again, Zidane was at the heart of it. The midfielder had forged a reputation as a player with a ferocious strike, while he was also quite the set-piece expert. He stepped up during the tournament to fire in a stunning free kick against Spain, before scoring the all-important golden goal against Portugal in the semi-final from the penalty spot. 

Typically, he was named Player of the Tournament. 

In 2001, Zidane joined ?Real Madrid for a then-record fee. In his first season, he was finally able to get his hands on the ?Champions League, scoring one of the most iconic goals in the final. 

Yes, that one. 

The technique. The patience. The connection. And….it was with his ‘weaker foot’. 

As the ball looped up in the air, Zidane waited and set himself before unleashing a ferocious strike into the top corner – a goal that made Real Madrid champions of Europe. 

Los Blancos went on to win ?La Liga the following season, with Zidane, yep you guessed it, being named FIFA World Player of the Year – for a third time. He went on to achieve further success with the Spanish giants, establishing himself as a legend of the club. At international level, while he did retire after Euro 2004, he came back to captain his country at the 2006 World Cup. 

Of course, another Player of the Tournament award came his way, but unfortunately, his performances at the tournament were overshadowed by his decision to headbutt Marco Materazzi in the final. France went on to lose to Italy, leading to some supporters asking how he could do such a thing. 

But this shouldn’t take anything away from Zidane’s impact on the ‘new France’ – he was the poster boy, guiding them to success. This was part of what made Zidane the player he was, his emotion and passion dictating how he played. There are simply no two ways about it, he is one of the truly greatest players of all time. 

In the words of Alfredo di Stefano, Zidane really did play as though he had silk gloves on each foot. 

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90min’s ‘Top 50 Greatest Footballers of All Time’ can be found here.

Number 50: Luka Modric

Number 49: John Charles

Number 48: Hugo Sanchez

Number 47: Jairzinho

Number 46: Omar Sivori

Number 45: Paolo Rossi

Number 44: Paul Breitner

Number 43: George Weah

Number 42: Kaka

Number 41: Lev Yashin

Number 40: Gunnar Nordahl

Number 39: Kevin Keegan

Number 38: Hristo Stoichkov

Number 37: Gianluigi Buffon

Number 36: Johan Neeskens

Number 35: Xavi Hernandez

Number 34: Luis Suarez

Number 33: Karl-Heinz Rummenigge

Number 32: Andres Iniesta

Number 31: Rivelino

Number 30: Bobby Moore

Number 29: Socrates

Number 28: Sandor Kocsis

Number 27: Lothar Matthaus

Number 26: Ronaldinho

Number 25: Ruud Gullit

Number 24: Bobby Charlton

Number 23: Giuseppe Meazza

Number 22: Raymond Kopa

Number 21: Romario

Number 20: Eusebio

Number 19: Marco van Basten

Number 18: George Best

Number 17: Zico

Number 16: Franco Baresi

Number 15: Cristiano Ronaldo

Number 14: Ferenc Puskas

Number 13: Paolo Maldini

Number 12: Gerd Müller

Number 11: Mané Garrincha

Number 10: Alfredo Di Stefano

Number 9: Roberto Baggio

Number 8: Michel Platini

Number 7: ?Ronaldo


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