The Genius of Zinedine Zidane

The man was a superstar footballer, what more can I say, and Zinedine Zidane isn’t turning out to be a bad manager either.

For anybody born in the late 80s or earlier though, Zinedine Zidane will not be as revered as a manager, as he is for his career as a player.

This is because anybody old enough to have had the privilege to see him play week in and week out, knows just how good a footballer he was.

Whilst for any youngster reading this, wondering how I can say that about his managerial record after he only recently won 3 consecutive champions league trophies, I’ll tell you why in this blog post.

The man graced the international stage, winning the World Cup and European Championship. He also won the Champions League as a player, himself scoring a spectacular winner back in the 2002 final.

Throughout his career he played for the elite clubs of Europe, and during his time at Juve and Madrid, he was regularly head and shoulders above his peers.

Zidane was a footballing genius, he was an artist. Yes, at times his appearance didn’t match his graceful football, he did go through a stage where he resembled a Monk, rather than a footballer. But as soon as he picked the ball up, we could see his class oozing through every pore – even his Monk’s bald patch.

His ball control was as good as I've seen. He had an immaculate touch, instant control, he could receive the ball anywhere on the pitch, and in any circumstances, and he wouldn't look under pressure. Zidane was a joy to watch.

Zinedine Zidane Career Statistics

Club Career (league only)

  • Cannes 1989-1992 - 61 matches 6 goals
  • Bordeaux 1992-1996 - 139 matches 28 goals
  • Juventus 1996-2001 - 151 matches 24 goals
  • Real Madrid 2001-2006 - 155 matches 37 goals

International Career

  • France 1994-2006 - 108 matches 31 goals


  • UEFA Intertoto Cup 1995


  • UEFA Super Cup 1996
  • Intercontinental Cup 1996
  • Supercoppa Italiana 1997
  • Serie A 1997, 1998
  • UEFA Intertoto Cup 1999

Real Madrid

  • Spanish Super Cup 2001, 2003
  • Champions League 2002
  • Super Cup 2002
  • La Liga 2003


  •  FIFA World Cup 1998
  • UEFA European Championship 2000

The 1998 World Cup

It was in 1998 that Zinedine Zidane really came to my attention. I had obviously heard of him before, but I hadn't yet realised how big a name he already was.

Travelling through France for the world cup, Zidane’s picture was everywhere. I can still see it now, the sight of him wearing the famous Juventus kit on big billboards. They were all over the place.

On the whole, I thought he had a pretty quiet world cup (he did manage a Red card in the group stage), up until the final that was. And come the world cup final, what would we least expect from Zidane’s football? That’s right, headers.

Here he is, in the World Cup final, the biggest stage of all, in his home nation, and he scores 2 headed goals to put France on course for their first ever world trophy.

More career highs were to follow on from this. Two years later he won Euro 2000 with France, taking the player of the tournament award as well. During that competition he scored the winning golden goal in the semi-final against Portugal, and the opening goal against Spain, in the 2-1 quarter-final win.

Unlike in 1998, he left his mark across the whole duration of the competition in 2000, rather than waiting for the final.

Real Madrid Sign Zinedine Zidane For A World Record Fee

Zinedine Zidane Joins Real Madrid From Juventus
Zidane Joins Real From Juve For A Then World Record Fee

Just a year after the success of Euro 2000, and at the ripe age of 29, Zinedine Zidane joined Real Madrid for a then world record transfer fee. Breaking the transfer record for a 29 year old shows just how keen Madrid where to sign him. They must have known at the time there would be no sell on fee.

Given the quality of the players already in that Madrid side, I thought he would have won more trophies during his time in Spain. Yes, a Champions League and a La Liga title are good achievements, but I thought that group - Zidane, Figo, Raul, Ronaldo (the Brazilian one), and Roberto Carlos - would have won more than one league title.

One of his many career highs at Madrid has to be the goal he scored against Borussia Dortmund in the 2002 Champions League final. 2002 didn't get any better for ZZ though, as France’s world cup campaign just a few weeks later was an absolute disaster.

The Zidane Headbutt

Little did Zidane know at the time, but 2006 wouldn’t be much of a better world cup for him either. This was the moment that was the low point (and end) of Zidane’s career – the world cup final headbutt.

Whatever the protocol used to send him off (video evidence, not permitted at the time, is thought to be the reason), it was obviously a red card.

The great Frenchman had got himself sent off in the world cup final. He wasn’t there for the penalty shoot out to decide the tournament, and the penalty he would have taken could have led to France winning the world cup.

Zidane Headbutt Statue
There is even a statue to commemorate the Zinedine Zidane Headbutt

But no one in France seemed to give a dam, it was remarkable.

How many people could get a red card in a world cup final for stupidly head-butting an opponent, potentially costing his team the world cup, and get away with it?

In France, surely only Zinedine Zidane could.

And the best (or worst) thing about the head-butt, was he did it in the player’s chest. Whatever it was that Marco Materazzi said, surely if he was worth head-butting, he was worth head-butting properly?

Zidane should have been making sure they were both leaving the pitch, not just himself (I’m not advocating violence, just if you’re going to do it in a world cup final, do it properly. No regrets).

14 years on, and Zidane must look back on that event in embarrassment. He was goaded by Italian dirty tricks, and he fell for it. He must know that now.

Materazzi did a number on the Frenchman, and now the Italian defender has got a world cup winners medal, when Zidane could have had two. So who is laughing now?

Zinedine Zidane subsequently retired from all football shortly afterwards. Some might say it was a sad way to leave football, but in true sporting genius fashion, he went out at the top, and most definitely in spectacular style.

My Experiences Watching Zinedine Zidane Play

I did have the pleasure of watching Zidane play in the flesh on three occasions. I say pleasure, but for differing reasons, I could argue none of them were pleasurable experiences.

Real Madrid V Barcelona – La Liga, 19th April 2003

I was on a weekend break to Madrid with my better half, when out of curiosity I checked to see if Real were at home that weekend.

By sheer coincidence, Real happened to be at home to Barcelona. Now I know that sounds like a little white lie, but it is actually true. Who would be stupid enough to travel to the capital of Madrid in the hope of getting a ticket for El Clasico?

Anyway, when in Rome, as the saying goes… so off to the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium I went with my very understanding girlfriend. I managed to get two tickets outside the ground in the most bizarre of circumstances.

For a start off, they were season tickets with pictures of the owners on. Neither of the pictures looked anything like me and my girlfriend, not even remotely. One male and one female, that’s where any similarity ended.

We didn’t speak Spanish, and he didn’t speak English. We came to an arrangement in which I believed we were to leave the season tickets in our hotel reception.

Although to this day, I’m still convinced we were at cross purposes as too which hotel this was, so god knows what hotel he went to looking for his season tickets (neither of the pictures on the season tickets were off him either).

Due to our translation issues, I also tried to give the man one hundred euros too much, which he kindly gave me back, there and then. This I also found very bizarre, as I was happy (well prepared) to pay him the money.

Anyway, he stood and watched as we got into the ground, and I have never seen him again. His season tickets were left with the hotel reception, and they could still be there as far as I know.

Bernabeu Stadium In Madrid

Madrid's Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, where I first seen Zinedine Zidane play in the flesh

What About The Match Itself?

Anyway, enough of that..... what about the match itself? Well, it was a bit of a stinker, nothing exceptional from the great man. I actually had to check the history books to see if he had played in the match. So nothing remarkable there.

The story of getting into the ground is far more interesting than the match itself was. For the record it finished 1-1, with a goal from Brazilian (also known as fat) Ronaldo, and an equaliser for Barca, from former Madrid man, Luis Enrique.

The most interesting memory I have from the actual match (apart from getting into the ground), was watching a man sitting near us chain smoking cigars, while the man sitting next to him continually wafted a match programme in his (the smoker’s) face to deflect the smoke. How they didn’t come to blows, I’ll never know.

Real Madrid V Osasuna – La Liga, 11th April 2004

The second occasion I seen Zidane was equally bizarre but for different reasons. On this occasion I was in Madrid with a cousin for a beer and football weekend, and we were taking in Real against Osasuna - assuming we could drag ourselves away from the pub.

Osasuna were lambs to the slaughter. They were away to Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu, up against a team including Roberto Carlos, Claude Makelele, Luis Figo, Raul, (Brazilian) Ronaldo, and of course Zidane.

We were going to see Madrid take Osasuna apart. Ronaldo and co would fill their boots, and we would see a Zidane masterclass - with the great man head and shoulders above the opposition.

Wrong, Madrid stunk the place out and lost 3-0. Zidane, Figo, Raul, the lot, they were all rubbish that night. Unfortunately for us, we were there on what was just one of those nights.

We weren’t even treated to the Spanish tradition of the white hankies being raised and twirled in protest. Practically no one was left in the ground to jeer them off, this was how bad the performance was.

Anyway, the weekend was a good session if nothing else!

England V France Euro 2004 – 13th June 2004

The next and final time (as far as I can remember) I seen Zidane in the flesh was at Euro 2004, in Portugal. It was Sven’s England side, against an impressive French side, that was in part still rebuilding after the disaster of the 2002 World Cup.

Nevertheless, it was a top quality French side, a side that went on to reach the World Cup final 2 years later.

The Euro 2004 match was a real heavyweight clash though. On the French side we had the likes of Zidane, Vieira, Pires and Henry. They were up against an England team that included Ashley Cole, Paul Scholes, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney. Remember, this was the young and hungry Rooney that back in 2004, had the whole footballing nation gripped.

The match flowed from end to end, and even though France had the more silky skills, England still had enough chances to have won the match. Had David Beckham converted England’s 73rd minute penalty an made it 2-0, it would surely have been too much for even that French side to come back from.

With all the quality on show that night, I don’t really recall Zidane overly standing out for the majority of the match. How that all changed on 90 minutes, and highlighted exactly what makes a world class player, a world class player.

Enter ZZ

After a clumsy tackle by Emile Heskey (I can’t believe Heskey and Zinedine Zidane are getting mentioned in the same article) gave away a free kick just outside the England box, Zidane hit a sublime free kick to level the match at 1-1.

Then within 3 minutes, he had won the match after converting a penalty, also stupidly given away by a series of England mistakes.

Zidane did a far better job with his spot kick, than his Madrid team mate, David Beckham had.

scoring winning panalty against England 2004

Zinedine Zidane scores the penalty to beat England 2-1 at Euro 2004

Leaving the stadium in Estadio Da Luz that night, I couldn’t help feeling France had seen England coming.

French keeper, Fabien Barthez seemed to already know which way Beckham’s penalty was going to go, while Zidane seemed to know which way David James would dive when it was his chance from the spot.

The French looked well prepared, they had done their homework. While England, well, they were just England! Anyway, that’s enough moaning about England's inadequacies.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but I had just witnessed what a world class footballer does. It wasn't his best game ever for France, but when he was needed, boy did he deliver.

With 2 kicks of his right wand, Zidane had turned the match on its head, and won it for France. That’s what world class players do.

Hindsight Is A Wonderful Thing

So now you can see why I said I don’t have great memories of seeing Zidane in the flesh. Hindsight is wonderful though, and I now realise that I was lucky enough to witness a genius in the flesh, even if I didn't realise it at the time.

At least now after time I can console myself with the fact that I did see him make a major contribution, at an elite tournament.

I can also say I seen him playing in an El Clasico, even if it was anything but a classic. We’ll just forget about the Osasuna match, the session was better.

I do believe that Zinedine Zidane was one of the best players I have ever seen. Watching Spanish football on Sky Sports a few years back, seeing him play in that Real Madrid team, was great viewing.

He may go on to emulate his playing career as a manger, he already has the Champions League wins in the bag. And who knows, with the quality of the current French squad, if he is to become the national team manager, he could yet add international trophies to his managerial honours list.

He may go on to emulate his playing career as a manger, he already has the Champions League wins in the bag. And who knows, with the quality of the current French squad, if he is to become the national team manager, he could yet add international trophies to his managerial honours list.

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