Not a huge fan of this piece to be honest. It was done for my A levels, so it’s supposed to sound generic and clichéd, but it may be of interest to some.

November 18th, 2009. After 120 exhausting minutes, Irish players lie scattered across the turf, distraught, bemoaning their luck. Thierry Henry’s handball costs Ireland their place in the World Cup; the incident opens up the same tiresome can of worms over the need for replay technology and the rise of gamesmanship in the sport, each of which gets tiresome unsatisfactory answers. One question remains unanswered: how has it come to this?

France’s stuttering qualifying form for Euro 2008 was seen as a blip and they entered Euro 2008 among the favourites. Instead, they ended up bottom of their group and this form has carried into their qualifying for South Africa. It appears France were punching above their weight, dragged to the final by one rare talent: a Monsieur Zinedine Zidane from Marseille.

La Castellane is seen as one of the worst districts of Marseille, a city already considered one of the toughest and underprivileged in France. The population consists of immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean looking to make a life for themselves like Algerian warehouseman Ismail Zidane and his wife Malika. It was here their son, Yazid, was born. He was a “gentle little boy” according to his father and would have nightmares when Ismail was away, working nights. Yazid didn’t excel in school and instead spent most of his free time playing football on the dusty streets with his friends, mimicking his idols Enzo Francescoli and Michel Platini.

The gentle little boy grew into a self-conscious, nervous but nevertheless humble teenager, far from the composed maestro that pulled the strings in some of the best sides of the 90’s and early millennium. Despite this, his friends were always certain that Zidane would make it. His childhood friend Doudou said they thought “if one of us would succeed it would be him. He was always very sure of winning.” Plus his talent was clear to those who mattered too, as he was picked up at age 14 by AS Cannes scout Jean Varraud while playing for his local side. The start of his career at Cannes was spent cleaning the training ground for attacking a player who mocked his humble beginnings. But he stayed at the club for four years, making his debut at seventeen and helped his side into the UEFA Cup, however Cannes failed to improve and were relegated in his final season for the club.

Luckily, his talent had caught the eye of bigger and better clubs, moving on to Girondins de Bordeaux for €7million in time for the 1992-93 season despite interest from his boyhood team Marseille. After some initial trouble adapting, Zidane flourished at Bordeaux – helping them to consistently challenge for the league and taking them to the 1996 UEFA Cup final against Bayern Munich, earning comparisons to Michel Platini.

His dazzling form grabbed the attention of France manager Aime Jacquet and he was called up for some friendlies shortly after the 1994 World Cup, which France hadn’t qualified for. He made his debut as a substitute in a game against the Czech Republic, making an immediate impression by scoring two goals to turn a two goal deficit into a respectable draw. A year later, he made his real breakthrough during fellow Marseille boy Eric Cantona’s ban for attacking a fan, making the playmaker position his own and helping France to the semi-final at Euro 96.

By the time the next international competition rolled around, Zidane had established himself as France’s star player and among the best players in the world. In the summer of 1996, he moved to Italian giants Juventus for a bargain £3.2million and it was in Turin that he would prove himself as an all-time great. He was the key component in Marcello Lippi’s all-conquering side of the 90’s which boasted the likes of Didier Deschamps, Ciro Ferrara and Alessandro Del Piero. He took Serie A by storm, leading Juve to the Scudetto and (unsuccessful) Champions League final in both of his first two seasons at the club.

With Zidane at his majestic best for Juve, there would be few better times to perform for his country than at the 1998 World Cup. France walked the group stage, but Zidane was sent off in the second game against Saudi Arabia for stamping on an opponent, leaving him with a two match ban. He returned for France’s wins over Italy and Croatia but was fairly uninspiring. What came next no one expected; Brazil were big favourites as holders but pre-match build-up was full of speculation over Ronaldo’s fitness after rumours of him having a fit before the game. Ronaldo didn’t look himself, messing up two golden opportunities he usually would have buried and Brazil’s playmakers Leonardo and Rivaldo were marked out of the game by Christian Karembeu and Didier Deschamps. Dunga had no such luck with Zidane, his dribbling and passing ran rough-shod over a poor Brazil side and he got two goals to his name; powerfully heading home a corner then scoring another near identical goal. Zidane went on to star in France’s victory at Euro 2000, making them the first team since West Germany in 1974 to hold both the World and European titles.

The glory of France’s World Cup win faded quickly for Zidane as his next season with Juventus was poor. Injuries took their toll and the Turin side finished 6th, Lippi fled to Inter and Carlo Ancelotti replaced him. They improved on the previous finish but failed to reach the heights of before, particularly in Europe. Zidane expressed his discontent at Juve’s stagnation and Real Madrid took full advantage while their Galactico project was in its infancy. Zidane followed Luis Figo for a world record fee of £47 million in 2001 and, like at Juventus, he hit the ground running. He won the Champions League in his first season for Real Madrid and scoring the winning goal in the final against Bayer Leverkusen; a stunning volley widely considered as one of the greatest the competition has produced. In his second, Madrid won La Liga, but, like at Juventus again, the success would be short-lived. Their transfer policy of marketability over footballing ability unbalanced the team and Zidane won no more trophies at Madrid.

Zidane’s international career would follow the same ups and down of his club career. Such was his importance to the team, he went to the 2002 World Cup injured; after missing the first two group games he was rushed back for the last, but couldn’t help as France embarrassingly crashed out without scoring a goal. At Euro 2004, France topped their group and Zidane scored three, including a brace against England, but they too fell victim to Greece’s defensive organisation. The 2006 World Cup was Zidane’s chance to bow out on a high, having already announced his intention to retire after the World Cup. Like in 2002, France struggled to get past the group stage and Zidane was suspended for the group decider against Togo meaning Zidane’s last ever game could have been a disappointing 1-1 draw with South Korea. Luckily, France won 2-0 and Zidane had another chance to display his talent, and he seized it. Zidane dominated each of the games: scoring and setting up Patrick Vieira against Spain, setting up Henry against Brazil and scoring a penalty against Portugal, sending them through to the final against Italy.

The final is famous more for Zidane’s actions than for the fairly poor quality game, both for his genius and his temper. Ever the entertainer, in the 7th minute Zidane ran up to strike a penalty and pulled off a deft chip that very few have the technique or cheek to pull off. Rather than simply looking to score like most players would do, he claims he wanted to do “something special” for the big occasion; the sort of simple thing that pushes him into the pantheon of greats. Marco Materazzi’s goal drew the Italians level and into extra-time; as penalties drew near, Materazzi was seen pulling on Zidane’s shirt and, after a short exchange, Zidane head butted Materazzi, leading to his sending off and calling time on his career. The event was one of a long line of incidents that have plagued him; Zidane runs a thin line between incredible calmness and blind fury, getting sent off a total of 14 times in his career.

Much speculation has been made over what was said, ranging from racism to insulting his mother, and it’s unlikely the truth will ever come out. The incident drew mixed reactions: some saw it as unacceptable, while others empathised with him. Zidane himself refused to apologise to Materazzi, only to those watching. In La Castellane, the confrontation has left Zidane with more respect; his anger showed that he wasn’t a perfect being that those in the spotlight are sometimes made out to be, but instead a person just like them.

2 thoughts on “Zizou

  1. Can you write a piece on DFL Supercup?It was a great game.Very Open.BvB missed a lot of chances.Shinji Kagawa was excellent but perhaps they neede Barrios to bury those chances.

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