Zinedine Zidane: What happened to 7 players who were backed to follow in his footsteps?

Zinedine Zidane

Whilst there will only ever be one Zidane, that hasn’t stopped promising young players being compared to the legend down the years.

There have been several players dubbed ‘the next Zidane‘ but it’s a compliment that comes with a heavy expectation. The French icon left a legacy on the footballing world that seems almost impossible to match.

The Frenchman’s trophy cabinet includes a World Cup, a Champions League and French and Spanish league titles. And the attacking midfielder’s list of individual honours is probably long enough to write a book on.

Let’s take a look at seven players who were compared to the legend, and how their careers played out.

Mourad Meghni:

Mourad Meghni

After impressive performances for France in the U-17 World Cup, Meghni was given the nickname ‘petit Zidane’, also in part due to his Algerian heritage.

The youngster moved to Italy before even making his senior debut for Cannes, switching to Bologna in the hope of playing first-team football.

But after failing to perform with any consistency he was moved on to Lazio. Despite the main honour of his career being the 2009 Coppa Italia, he remained an unused substitute.

Meghni moved to Qatar in 2011 where he switched clubs three times before eventually returning to Algeria in 2015. He played for two years at CS Constantine before retiring in 2017.

Bruno Cheyrou:

Bruno Cheyrou

When Cheyrou signed for Liverpool in 2002, Gerard Houllier was quick to compare the youngster to Zidane.

Houllier said at the time: “Bruno has the same kind of touch and style that Zidane has. There’s a lot of similarities between the two when they’re on the ball.
“The difference is that Zidane is 30-years-old and has a wealth of experience while Bruno is 24 and playing abroad for the first time.”

But after 48 underwhelming performances for the Merseyside club, Houllier was sacked, and the midfielder quickly followed him out the door.

After two loan spells in Ligue 1 and a brief spell in Turkey, the midfielder finished his career back in the French top-flight, having failed to ever live up to the high expectations that were set for him.

Anthony Le Tallec:

Anthony Le Tallec

Yet another youngster signed by Houllier after impressing at the U-17 World Cup for France, Le Tallec was also dubbed as a successor to Zidane’s throne.

Le Tallec signed for Liverpool in 2001 from Le Havre along with his cousin but the pair were immediately loaned back to the French club for two seasons.

Upon his return to England Houllier attempted to downplay the expectations: “It will be better for both him and Florent to play in the reserves this season so they can get used to English football.
“But in the future, they will both be seen as important signings. It is only a matter of time, I can promise you that.”

But the forward scored only once in his 32 appearances for The Reds, and after a string of unsuccessful loans at various French clubs, he was permanently sold to Le Mans in 2008.

Over the next decade, Le Tallec was sold another six times, failing to perform consistently for any of the clubs. He eventually retired in May 2021 at the age of 36, after a largely disappointing 20-year career.

Yoann Gourcuff:

Yoann Gourcuff

The comparisons with Zidane were inevitable for Gourcuff due to their similar playing styles. The playmaker’s impressive performances for Rennes earned him a transfer to AC Milan.

Due to Kaka playing in his position, the youngster understandably struggled to earn a consistent place in the starting eleven. But public criticism from Carlo Ancelotti and Paolo Maldini over the midfielder’s attitude also didn’t help the situation.

Gourcuff returned to Bordeaux and recaptured the form that had eluded him at Milan, earning Ligue 1 Player of the Year and more comparisons to Zizou. But after a poor World Cup campaign in 2010, his attitude once again came under scrutiny.

The midfielder was sold to Lyon for €22million, but like his time at Milan, his form and fitness had once again abandoned him.

Eventually, in 2018, Gourcuff found himself at Dijon, but due to injuries, he would only make eight appearances for the club before leaving just a year later.

In October 2020, Gourcuff’s father confirmed that the midfielder had retired from playing.

Samir Nasri:

Samir Nasri

Moving onto a name that the majority of football fans will recognise, Nasri was also compared to Zidane in his youth.

Following the pattern of impressing for France’s U-17’s, the team’s manager Philippe Bergeroo said: “His fluency in possession reminds me of Zidane.”
Former Marseille coach Albert Emon also compared the youngster to the French legend saying: “Nasri has the same ability to read the game as Zizou.”

Nasri however, didn’t want the weight of the expectations that came with the comparisons, explaining: “I think people were too quick to make the comparison. I was 17 and just starting out when I heard people calling me the future Zidane. I was shocked but I quickly detached myself from all that.”

Nasri showed throughout his career that he was undoubtedly a very talented player, spells at Arsenal and Manchester City left the midfielder with a respectable trophy cabinet. But overall it’s probably fair to say that Nasri failed to live up to the extreme expectations that were set for him early in his career.

Nasri would eventually end his career at Anderlecht in 2019, but his final campaign was ruined by injuries and the midfielder was released at the end of the season. In September 2021 Nasri confirmed he had retired following his release by Anderlecht.

Adel Taarabt:

Adel Taarabt

Taarabt signed for Tottenham on loan at the age of just 17 after he was promised first-team football by the north London club. After just two appearances for Spurs, the deal was made permanent.

Harry Redknapp spoke about the youngster saying: “When he came here they called him the next Zidane. He isn’t in the same league as Zidane yet because he was a genius, but one day he could be up there because he’s got that ability.”

But after making only 15 appearances for the club over the next 3 years, Taarabt was eventually sold to QPR in 2010. The attacking midfielder made 164 appearances for the club, scoring 34 goals and registering 42 assists. Not bad numbers by any means but playing in the Championship for five years was a far cry from his early expectations.

Taarabt would eventually spend time at Fulham, AC Milan, Benfica and Genoa, but failed to match the form he had enjoyed in the Championship.

In the 2019/20 season, Taarabt surprisingly established himself as a regular starter for Benfica as a defensive midfielder. He still remains at Benfica to this day and has made 12 appearances so far in the 2021/22 campaign.

Karim Benzema:

Karim Benzema

After Benzema caught the world’s attention with a goal against Manchester United in a Champions League knockout tie, an article for Bleacher Report described him as “France’s best hope to make us forget Zinedine Zidane.”

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Whilst the forward’s style is perhaps not quite as eye-catching as the French Icon, Benzema’s trophy collection speaks for itself. Four Champions League winners medals and a stack of league titles and cups, the striker has enjoyed huge success at both Lyon and Real Madrid.

The one blemish on the forward’s international career was his exile from the national squad due to a blackmailing scandal. Benzema failed to make an appearance for Les Bleus between 2015 and 2021 but manager Didier Deschamps finally recalled the striker for Euro 2020.

Despite his exile, Benzema has still managed to achieve fifth place on France’s all-time top scorer’s list.

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