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Zidane : Man from Marseille

Zidane became the icon of a nation by winning the World Cup at France '98
If you were born in Marseille, chances are great that you will become a ganster or a fisherman. A lot tougher it is to become a star of soccer. Unless you have the talent of Zidane.

For the past two years, every Frenchman has come to know Zidane as the man who won the World Cup for France. For one has to be a soccer genius to give one's best performance in the World Cup final, and to score two magnificent goals thus deciding the outcome of the match. That event took place on July 12 1998, when France became champions of the world, led by Zidane.

Yet Zizou's previous matches in the great tournament gave no indication of what was to come in the final. In the match vs Saudi Arabia, he was even sent off the pitch, which earned him a two match suspension. He showed nothing unusual in the consecutive games against Italy and Croatia. When the best players of the World Cup were nominated before the final, his name came up 6th. Yet vs the "canarinhos", Zidane showed the world who the true kind of France '98 is. Ronaldo could not tackle the pressure, but Zizou proved he is strong both physically and mentally. That day at Stade de France he simply was the best.

Outshining Kopa and Platini
After the victory vs Brazil, noone could doubt who had secured the championship for France for the first time in their history. His great predecessors in the national squad never managed to accomplish what he did. Raymond Kopa's team claimed the bronze medal in 1958. Michel Platini's copied that result in Mexico '86. Some would argue the two mentioned did not have the advantage of playing on home ground. However, there is no rule that the hosts always win the Cup.

The ancestors of the three leaders of "Les Bleus" are all foreign. Kopa's father was Polish, Platini's father was Italian and Zidane's parents were immigrants from Algeria. Perhaps that is the reason for his strong character and battling spirit. Although African immigrants are not highly regarded most of the time in France (even though they make up a population of 6 million people), Zizou not only became an idol for them. He became a favorite of the whole country.

Zidane has yet to win the Champions League for Juventus
Trophy shortage
In Europe, there is no better way to promote oneself, than by taking part in the European cups. That was also the case for Zizou. The season of 1995/96 was a very successful one for Bordeaux. The team entered the UEFA Cup via the Intertoto Cup only to be beaten by Bayern Munich in the final. That was the first, but not last time Zizou experienced losing the deciding match.

A solid performance for the French club resulted in attention from Juventus in the summer of 1996, and eventually a transfer. It was playing for the Bianconeri that Zidane lost two consecutive European Cup finals, first to Dortmund, then to Real Madrid. It would get worse. In the spring of '99, Zidane was injured and Juventus did not make the final of the tournament.

Not long ago, Juventus was eliminated before reaching the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup. What is plain to see, is that Zidane's merits in international club championships are pale compared to Platini's. Both have won the Intercontinental Cup and the European Supercup. But Platini also won the European Cup and the Cup Winner's Cup. Zidane evades comparison with the great champion. "We play in the same position and for the same club, but there the similiarities end. I have my own style and supporters of both Juve and France have noticed that."

The road to greatness
Zidane started his international career in 1994. Although he only played in the second half of his first match, he scored two goals, which tied France with the Czech Republic. Two years later he found himself in the team which won the bronze medal at Euro '96. Many were not satisfied with the result. His critics claimed that he's unable to perform in the deciding moments. Few acknowledged that he was not in the best of form at the time, much due to a car accident few weeks before the tournament.

Zidane at a young age, sitting infront with one of his first trophies

But Zidane made up to all the critics on July 12 1998. He proved that he can be do magnificent dribbles and take excellent shots not only in league games.

In a few weeks time, he will be given another chance to prove his class, when Euro 2000 is kicked off. Needless to say, the French team will be largely dependent on their number ten.

The humble hero
Zidane has remained a humble man despite his victories. That is no simple task in the 20th century, when many stars are been created by the media. Obviously he also takes part in commercials, but he does not provide gossip like many of his collegues. His personal life is no news story. He has stayed married to Veronique, Spanish by heritage, whom he met while playing for Cannes. They have two sons, the older is named Enzo, after Zidane's great soccer idol Enzo Francescoli of Uruguay, River Plate and, of course, Marseille.

On rare occasions one can observe a smile on the face of Zizou, revealing his shyness and his humility. Not even after the glorious World Cup final did he change. "The whole team played very well, not only myself. It is true that I scored two goals but I don't feel like a hero."

To win the Champions League
After the World Cup victory, Zidane was decorated with a number of awards and titles. He won the contest for player of the year in Europe, awarded by "France Football", "Onze Mondial" and "El Pais". He was also chosed world player of the year by FIFA and "World Soccer". Reuters named him sports personality of the year and ISK best sportsman in the world.

Zidane has won numerous individual awards and titles, the most prestigious being player of the year by "France Football"
Unfortunately, his next season was less successful, when he spent many months healing his knee injury. In spite of this, he quickly regained his form and at the beginning of year 2000 he again amazed everyone with his skills. Platini could not imagine how he could perform so well already in February.

At the moment he is bound for another scudetto with Juventus, now with Carlo Ancelotti in charge. The two quickly hit it off and decided they both wanted to win the Champions League. Even the rumours of Zizou moving to Spain have stopped for the moment, although his wife apparently would like it to happen.

So far it has been revealed that Juventus have signed Fabian O'Neill for next season, the Uruguayan playing for Cagliari in Zidane's position at the moment. That could mean Zidane's departure, but it could also mean Juventus is strengthening the squad for next season, expecting to compete on several fronts.

Should Zidane bore of playing in a foreign land, he can always return to Bordeaux, where he will find his good friend Christophe Dugarry, after the latter's many foreign escapades.


This article is adapted from "Zinedine Zidane: Czlowiek z Marsylii", taken from Pilka Nozna, April 2000. The images are not original.