With two flashing headers against Brazil in the Final of the 1998 FIFA World Cup France™, this son of Kabyle Algerian immigrants shot to international stardom. The man they call Zizou was born and brought up in Marseilles' northern suburbs and learned his repertoire of tricks on the city's streets. The prodigiously talented youngster joined his first club in 1982 before being spotted four years later by the AS Cannes scout Jean Varraud at a regional youth training camp. With his father Smail's blessing, he left the family home to train with the red and whites, going on to make his Ligue 1 debut as a 16-year-old on 20 May 1989 against a Nantes side boasting the likes of Didier Deschamps and Marcel Desailly.
He began the next phase in his rise to international fame in the summer of 1992 by signing for Bordeaux, where he struck up close friendships with Christophe Dugarry and Bixente Lizarazu, his future colleagues in the France team. Before long the whole of Europe was paying homage to the sublime ball skills and extraordinary vision of the French wizard. A few seasons later, he helped the club to runners-up spot in the 1996 UEFA Cup, one of the highlights of which was his unforgettable 40-metre lob in the third round against Real Betis.
Zidane's outstanding form with Bordeaux led to an international debut on 17 August 1994, and he quickly showed he belonged, coming off the bench to bag two goals in a 2-2 draw with the Czech Republic. Suitably impressed, Aime Jacquet promoted him to chief playmaker the following season, a role he took to with ease.
Zidane's next move took him to Juventus, where he teamed up with Didier Deschamps. Although a car accident briefly halted his dizzying progress and prevented him from finding his best form at the 1996 UEFA European Championship, he soon regained full fitness and helped the Signora Vecchia to two Italian league titles, the UEFA Super Cup and the Intercontinental/Toyota Cup.
The UEFA Champions League eluded his grasp in 1997 and 1998, however; rare blemishes in an otherwise successful spell with the Turin powerhouse. "Juventus helped me develop in areas where I once struggled, particularly the physical side of things," he explains. "They made me work and develop my tactical appreciation of the game as well as a winning mentality. We had to win week in week out and that motivated you, made you want to go further and faster, to do things better, all the time."
A tale of two headers
With his brace of FIFA World Cup-winning headers against Brazil in July 1998, Zidane duly took his place in the pantheon of world football. It marked the dawn of his golden age, a glorious period that would last eight years and bring another major international title with victory at Euro 2000. At club level, he left Juventus to become one of Real Madrid's galacticos, yet despite the confirmation of his superstar status, the man lost nothing of his humility. "I've never changed," he said. "You really have to stay the same. You are what you are, that's the way I see it, and having seen how difficult life can be, I'm even more proud of what I have achieved. It motivates me even more to fight poverty, and I'm not alone in the football world. Several of my team-mates are doing the same thing."
In 2002 Zidane finally picked up the Champions League winners medal he had yearned for, sealing victory against Bayer Leverkusen with a superbly executed volley. In all he made 200 appearances for the Madrid giants and scored 35 league goals. More importantly he won the hearts of the Madrid faithful, who bade him an emotional farewell at the Bernabeu by unfurling a giant number 5 jersey and a banner bearing the words "Thank you for the magic".
Meanwhile, the success he had enjoyed with France came to a juddering halt with two unexpected setbacks: a disastrous first-round exit at Korea/Japan 2002 followed by a surprise quarter-final defeat at the hands of Greece at EURO 2004. A disillusioned Zidane announced his international retirement in August 2004 only to reverse his decision a year later to embark on "one last adventure in Germany". It was a gamble that very nearly paid off.
Les Bleus struggled to find their rhythm in the group phase in Germany, eventually squeezing into the second round for a potentially hazardous meeting with an in-form Spain side. Predictions in the Spanish press that this would be Zidane's last game spurred the French, and Zizou in particular, into action. The veteran playmaker turned in a matchwinning performance capped by a fine goal as France ran out 3-1 winners. But that was merely the prelude to a virtuoso display in the quarter-final against Brazil as Zidane rolled back the years. In one of the games of his life he glided across the pitch and left the Brazilians chasing shadows, drawing gasps of admiration from the watching crowd and millions of fans around the world.
To cap it all, it was his beautifully flighted free-kick that allowed Thierry Henry to volley home the winner, the last assist of his professional career. But Zidane had not quite finished yet, stepping up to the spot in the semi-final against Portugal to guide his side into the Final.
The last game of his career began well enough when he coolly chipped home another penalty to give France an early lead. Italy keeper Gianluigi Buffon had his revenge, though, when he tipped over Zidane's bullet header as the game drew to a close, and within a few minutes Zizou's dream of going out on the highest of notes ended with his red card. His glorious career may have come to a sad close, but his sublime skills, showcased in that vintage performance against Brazil, will live on long in the memory.