GMF’s favourite footballing greats: Zinedine Zidane

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The ball was knocked high into the Glasgow air and seemed to take an age to come down but, obviously, it did and so followed the greatest goal to grace a Champions League final.


Zinedine Zidane had waited on the edge of the area as Roberto Carlos was covered by the Bayer Leverkusen right-back, but the Brazilian managed to hook the ball skywards.


‘Zizou’ watched it calmly and set himself to meet it as it fell with no Bayer defenders bothering to pick him up.


They would regret their inactivity as the French legend lifted his left leg, brought it around almost at shoulder height and crashed the ball past the helpless Hans-Jorg Butt in to the Germans’ goal.


This was a goal of unparalleled control and skill and it was poetic justice that such a beautiful strike should decide the final of the most prestigious club cup in European football.


The ball slammed into the net just inside the near post and also made sure that Zidane would become my all-time footballing hero, he was the best player in the world at the time in my view and he had just demonstrated why on one of the biggest stages this sport can supply.


It was typically him, the technique, the power, the accuracy – his control over the football was mesmeric and my younger self would often question whether it was real, as I could not comprehend how a person could do such things with such regularity.


We are such emotive being in our earlier years and as cynicism sets in over the passing years, seeing that goal again brings me back to a time of wonderment and unconcealed joy.


As with all of the greatest players in time, there were no intellectual or analytical obligations when watching Zidane; he made playing the game look so simple and so elegant.


Constantly he amazed my teenage mind; first with Bordeaux, arguably his best years with Juventus and finally his spell at Real Madrid which married years of experience at the highest level with the undoubted class left behind in an ageing body.


For much of his career Zizou had the skill and physical attributes to take on defenders a few ta a time, but he rarely did. There was no need for it, when he could quite easily control a game with pin-point passing and the odd drag-back.


As first touches go, there were none more caressing and effortless as the one belonging to France’s talisman.


I am reminded of a moment during the Euro 2000 semi-finals against Portugal and along ball was lofted towards him and, after contorting his body, he took the weight out of it with his chest, killed the ball with the outside of his foot and turned inside his marker simultaneously, before curling a wicked cross into the box that should have been converted.


It was athletic, majestic and sublimely skilful all at once; it just about summed up everything about him that set him apart from his peers at the time.


Zidane could score goals with either foot and could pick out passes many others could not – there are few more enjoyable ways to pass some spare time than watching some show reels of his best moments online.


It was not just superlative performances that set him apart, Zidane has the medals to prove his quality – two Serie A titles, a La Liga title, a Champions League, a European Championship and a World Cup winner.


He ended his career in typically unique fashion by being red-carded in his second World Cup final.


Many believe he has soured his legacy in some way by head butting Marco Materazzi, but the achievements of his career cannot be overshadowed by a moment like that.


It was just like Zizou to do something like that; being born in a racially diverse and poor city and an Algerian heritage, he often faced adversity and on the pitch we would continually be surprising unwitting defenders, doing the unexpected.


It was mixture of talent and personality that made Zidane such a compelling footballer and personality.


The pleasure watching him brought to one young boy cannot, and has not, been matched by any other person who has walked onto a football field.

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