DENIS CHAUMIER is editor-in-chief of France Football
During the build-up to the World Cup last June, Zinedine Zidane was hailed all over France as the Messiah who would lead Aimé Jacquet's squad to the pinnacle of world football. Without him, everyone said, no hope.
For the Blues and Zidane, the long road that led to paradise started at the Stade Vélodrome in Marseilles, the town where the young Yazid (his first name) was born almost twenty-six years ago. As chance would have it, it was here in his home town that the World Cup finals began for France, with the match against South Africa. Zidane spoke from the heart: " To come back to this stadium and play for France in front of a crowd of sixty thousand, that was a great honour. I shall always be proud of being French, but I can't stop myself thinking about the huge poster of me that was put up on the Corniche de Marseilles. It gave me the shivers. It reminded of the years when I was a boy, watching every match that Olympique Marseilles played, standing there below the huge billboards. Now I am up there on the billboard myself, and when I think about it, my heart starts to pound." A statement which demonstrates the sensitivity of this player and shows how aware he is of every nuance and the wisdom with which he views it all.
Family and football
Since those days when he was a youngster in la Castelane, one of the northern suburbs of Marseilles, where life is not always easy, the two things that have been important to him are his family and the game of football. The son of an originally Kabyle family, he truly adores his father Smail. This man, who raised Zinedine along with three brothers and a sister, was venerated as the "guiding light of his life", almost as a mystic figure. The French number 10 constantly remembers his father for the efforts he made, his honesty and the steadiness of his look, as well as all the football he played as a boy, games full of spontaneity and fun, enjoyed in the company of the other lads of his age who were members of the local team, La Foresta.
Picture: Don Balón
Everything he has achieved as a man and as a player are based on these two pillars. From the time he left home at thirteen and a half to join the training camp belonging to AS Cannes until the moment he won his second Italian championship with Juventus in Turin in May 1998, Zidane has never stopped improving step by step, nor lost the magic of his football, nor the strength of his convictions. So, when he was awarded the Golden Ball by France Football as French player of the Year 1998, he thought first about his family: about his wife Véronique and their two children Enzo and Luca; about his father of course, his mother Malika, his grandfather Pepe, his brothers and his sister. They all travelled to Paris for the presentation ceremony, along with fifteen or more of his boyhood friends, whom he honoured by having them at his side during this festive occasion. Zinedine Zidane is not a man who keeps things all to himself; he shares them with those who are close to him. He spreads the glory around and acts just the same at a ceremony as he does on the field. His expression is always the same.
After his World Cup performance, he is now definitely to be ranked among the footballing greats.
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Humble and shy
He has developed the talent, now a rare one, of never playing for himself but always for the team. If he tries something individual it is in order to develop a move that will be of advantage to his side. He is not one to overdo things, even if his brilliance and technical skills make it sometimes look like the contrary, and he has the talent of making complicated moves appear simple.
His extraordinary humility has no doubt prevented him from blossoming out earlier into the career that is now his. Off the field he is not a real leader, but on it he definitely is; without doubt the most skilled player, whether he is playing for the French national side or for Juventus whom he has inspired all year.
It is not certain that he has always been aware of his full range of talent, but he now knows for sure what he is worth - this has happened since he joined the great Italian club, where, no one could deny, he has made enormous progress. He will always be an introvert, shy, even if he is becoming more relaxed and open, but he is beginning to understand that he is one of the great players of the modern age. That his unusual talent has been fully recognised this year is only right and proper.