When Zinedine Zidane signed for Real Madrid for a world record $70m in 2001, there were few dreams left to be fulfilled. In a glorious career, the elegant playmaker had claimed trophy after trophy with Juventus of Turin and France. But there was one prize that had eluded the twice winner of the FIFA World Player of the Year Award. And, under the added pressure of the famous club's centenary, Zidane rose to the challenge, scoring a stunning left-foot volley to claim the Champions League.

His arrival at the Santiago Bernabeu had been greeted with much excitement. Zizou, wearing the number five shirt, would be the diamond in a star-studded team. And, sure enough, his sparkling displays and breathtaking goals brought a smile to many a Madrid face. The Spanish public, used to watching the best players around, were left searching for a new vocabulary to describe the Frenchman?s ingenious moves. Alfredo Di Stéfano, the club?s greatest player of all time, called him the 'maestro'.

Sadly for Zidane, France and for a watching world, the overload of games dealt him a heavy blow just a few days prior to the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™. His insistence on playing in every game led to injury in a friendly against Korea shortly before the start of the tournament. It meant he missed the first two games against, where France unexpectedly lost 1-0 to Senegal, and drew 0-0 drew with Uruguay.

Not fully recovered but given the emergency facing the French, Zizou decided to risk it all and play practically on one leg to seek qualification against Denmark. But there was little he could do and, despite his stirring efforts, Les Bleus lost 2-0. It was a humiliating departure for the world champions as they went out in the first phase without netting a single goal.

From ballboy to star
Zinedine Zidane learned to play football in the working class suburbs of Marseilles. The son of Algerian immigrants, he was spotted by a scout when he was 14 and signed for Cannes while still at school. Hard to think that he was thought of as the least gifted of his brothers...

At barely 17, Zizou made his debut for Cannes in the French first division. By the 1990-91 season, he had established his place in the team. But there was little he could do to save his side from relegation at the end of the following season, so he packed his bags and sought pastures new with Girondins de Bordeaux.

By signing Zidane, Girondins became a strong contender for the French league title. His first major success came at the end of the 1995-96 season when Girondins lost in the final of the UEFA Cup to the mighty Bayern Munich. By that stage, Zidane was already being compared with the legendary Michel Platini, who he had first seen as a ballboy in the 1984 European Championships and who would later recommend him to Juventus.

There, his game reached superlative heights and he won the Italian league twice (1997-1998) and the Intercontinental Cup in Japan in 1996.

The national team, love at first sight
His stunning emergence onto the international scene was a foretaste of the great achievements which were to follow. Debuting in a match that France were losing 2-0 to the Czech Republic, he saved the day with two goals which would help the French to a draw and avoid an embarrassing defeat.

However, it was in the 1995-96 European Championship season that his brilliance finally shone through. The national coach, Aimé Jacquet, placed his complete trust in Zidane as he possessed the two qualities that he most admired in a footballer: excellent ball control and extraordinary commitment.

In 1998, Zidane earned himself the opportunity of lifting the most prestigious trophy of his playing career in front of his home crowd: the FIFA World Cup. Like all great players, he showed his true brilliance in the final, scoring his first two goals of the tournament against Brazil to become a national hero.

In the summer of 2000, France added the title of European champions to their trophy cabinet and, for the second time in three seasons, trainers across the globe named Zidane as the best footballer in the world.

Today, the French genius shares a changing room filled with stars at Real Madrid, including his team-mate and shortlist rival, Ronaldo. "I'm proud to be competing with him," Zizou stated with his customary humility. Yet, despite the good relationship between them, this time Zidane aims to win in the personal stakes by being the first player to win the award three times.