Football

Zinedine Zidane: The greatest footballer of all time?

Zidane retired in 2006 (©GettyImages)
Zidane retired in 2006 (©GettyImages).

When you talk about football's greatest players, former Real Madrid and France midfielder Zinedine Zidane is right up there with the best of them.

Here's an extensive look at the career of the man who led France to the country's first and so far only World Cup triumph.

Born in Marseille in 1972 to Algerian parents, Zidane began his youth career in his country of birth at the early age of ten. His talent even from his early years was undeniable so much so that when he turned 14 he signed a youth contract with Cannes in 1986.

He made his professional debut for the club three years later at the age of 17 in a Ligue 1 match against Nantes. Two years later, he scored the first goal of his professional career for Cannes which coincidentally was against Nantes. In his first full season he helped the club finish fourth in France's top league thus securing a UEFA Cup spot. It was the team's highest finish in over 40 years.

In 1992, Zidane was transferred to Bordeaux and won the UEFA Intertoto Cup in 1995 with future international teammates, Bixente Lizarazu and Christoph Dugarry.

That same year, English Premier League side Blackburn Rovers were interested in signing the French midfielder however the club's owner Jack Walker stated ''Why do we need Zidane when he have got Tim Sherwood?'' He was also part of the French squad that participated in the 1996 European Championship tournament. Zidane played well throughout and helped his country reach the semi final before being defeated by Czech Republic on penalties following a 0-0 draw.

The up and coming talent had impressed enough during his time with Bordeaux and the French national team to persuade Champions League winners and Italian giants Juventus to sign him for a fee in the region of £3m in the summer of '96.

In his first season with the Old Lady, Zidane won the Scudetto and reached the Champions League final, only to lose to Borussia Dortmund 3-1 in the final which prevented Juventus from retaining Europe's top prize. He also helped the Italian side win the Serie A title once again with 11 goals in all competitions during the 1997/98 season as his reputation was growing just before the 1998 World Cup which would be held in his homeland of France.

Despite being the host nation, France were not regarded as the favourites and many felt they would be eliminated in the latter stages by the likes of either Brazil, Italy or the Netherlands.

Les Bleus competed against Denmark, South Africa and Saudi Arabia in Group C. The host nation won all three group games however their talisman Zidane was sent off in the second match against Saudi Arabia. Without their key man France still managed to overcome the threat of Paraguay in the Round of 16 with a 1-0 win before defeating Italy 4-3 on penalties following a goalless draw in the quarter-final.

Two goals from defender Lillian Thuram against Croatia sent France to the final where they would play pre tournament favourites and holders, Brazil. It was during the final where Zidane what a terrific talent he truly was. He gave his country the lead in the 27th minute before adding a second before half time, the first World Cup goals of his career.

Fellow midfielder Emmanuel Petit added a third goal in stoppage time at the end of the game to give France a 3-0 win and with it the host nation were crowned world champions for the first time in the country's history. Due to a number of fantastic performances, Zidane was named in the 1998 World Cup all star team along with teammates Marcel Desailly, Fabien Barthez and Lillian Thuram.

Zidane was named the FIFA World Player of the Year to add to his list of honours in 1998 which cemented his place as the best player in the game. He continued to play a key role for Juventus and was an integral part of both club and country as the European Championship was co-hosted by Belgium and the Netherlands in 2000.

Zidane scored two goals during the tournament, the first in the quarter final against Spain which was a memorable free-kick before scoring a penalty against Portugal which ultimately turned out to be the golden goal in extra time to send France through to the final.

Les Bleus went on to win the tournament and become European champions for a second time thanks to another golden goal from David Trezeguet to give France a 2-1 win over Italy. Zidane was voted World Player of the Year for a second time in 2000.

In his final season at Juventus, Zidane was named the Serie Player of the Year for a second time in 2001. In the summer of that year, the Frenchman joined famed Spanish side, Real Madrid for a then transfer record of around £48m.

Zidane went some way to repaying the fee in the 2002 Champions League final when the midfielder scored a sensational match winning volley against Bayer Leverkusen to give Los Blancos an unprecedented ninth European title. The following season he helped Real win the La Liga title and in 2003 he was once again voted the World Player of the Year.

The Frenchman was still his country's key player during the European Championship in 2004. He scored three goals during the tournament including two against England in a group match.

However, Les Bleus were eliminated at the quarter final stage by eventual winners Greece. Following the tournament, Zidane announced his retirement from international football at the age of 32. The same year, the playmaker was voted by fans as the best European Footballer of the past 50 years in UEFA's Golden Jubilee Poll.

Zidane came out of international retirement in 2005 and was reinstated as captain upon his return. He announced he would retire from football immediately following the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Zidane scored the first hat-trick of his career while playing for Real Madrid against Sevilla in January 2006.

The Frenchman played his last competitive match at the Santiago Bernabeu against Villarreal in a 3-3, fittingly Zidane was able to get on the scoresheet during this game, giving the Frenchman the perfect send off to his career with the Spanish giants.

The 2006 FIFA World Cup was held in Germany and was set to be the final tournament of the legendary Frenchman's career before retirement. The '98 winners made a slow start but managed to qualify from the group with one win and two draws.

France began to build momentum and defeated Spain in the Round of 16 with Zidane scoring the third and final goal in a 3-1 victory. Les Bleus progressed to the semi final with a 1-0 win over Brazil courtesy of a goal from Thierry Henry. Zidane scored a penalty against Portugal to send his country through the World Cup final to face Italy.

France seized the initiative and were in front on seven minutes when Zidane's penalty cannoned off the inside of the crossbar before crossing the line. However The Azzurri were level 12 minutes later thanks to a Marco Materazzi header.

The score remained level into extra time before Zidane was sent off for head-butting Materazzi in the chest. France were defeated by Italy 5-3 on penalties and Zidane's career ended in the worst way possible.

The Frenchman received the Golden Ball for best player at the 2006 World Cup. He has since been hailed as "the greatest player of all time: by former Real Madrid teammates David Beckham and Roberto Carlos. Legends of the game such as Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Michel Platini have all expressed their opinions about what a talent Zidane was.

After achieving every feat within the game, the former France captain was voted as the best player in the Champions League of the past 20 years in 2011, ahead of the likes of Lionel Messi, Paolo Maldini and Raul.

Do you think Zinedine Zidane is the greatest player of all time? Have your say below.

 

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Topics:
Football
Real Madrid
Zinedine Zidane

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