Long before France's beloved Zinedine burst onto the scene, Algerian football fans had their very own Zidane to admire. An inspiration to Zizou in his formative years, Djamel Zidane has more in common with the illustrious Frenchman than his surname. Also of Kabyle descent, the two-footed Algerian magician was just as comfortable on the ball as his French namesake and equally lethal in front of goal.
Born in Algiers in 1955, Djamel Zidane spent nine seasons with hometown club USM Alger, learning his trade in the youth teams before making his professional debut in the Algerian second division in 1972. As former international team-mate Nasser Guedioura recalls, the youngster made an immediate impact: "We won two Algerian Juniors Cups together and we played a part in the team's promotion to the first division in 1973/74."
Crowned the country's best young footballer, Zidane departed for Europe in 1976. After trying his luck in the French and Belgian lower divisions, the playmaker enjoyed seven successful seasons in the Belgian top flight, first with KV Kortrijk and then KSV Waterschei, picking up an award as the league's best foreign player in the process.
An ever-present for Algeria's national youth teams, Zidane was overlooked by the senior national side between 1975 and 1981 but eventually made 15 appearances for The Desert Foxes, five of them coming at the 1982 FIFA World Cup Spain™ and the 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico™.
Zidane made his debut in the green and white jersey of Algeria in a 1-0 friendly win over Albania in January 1975. It would be six long years before he played for his country again but when he finally made his return it coincided with a golden period for the country's football. After scoring his first international goal in a 2-0 defeat of Nigeria in Lagos in October 1981, he travelled to Spain the following year as The Desert Foxes made their maiden appearance in the FIFA World Cup™ finals.
Drawn in Group 2 alongside West Germany, semi-finalists in three of the last four FIFA World Cups, and Austria and Chile, Algeria were faced with a seemingly impossible task.
When they took their tournament bow against the mighty West Germans on 16 June not even their most optimistic fans gave them much hope of success. Nine minutes after the interval, however, Zidane orchestrated a lightning counter-attack, with Rabah Madjer eventually nudging the ball into the net to give the North African outsiders a surprise lead. The Algerians went on to complete a famous 2-1 win, a result that remains one of the biggest shocks in the history of the competition.
In a recent interview with FIFA.com Rachid Mekhloufi, Algeria's coach at the time, recalled his side's achievement that day: "We had a really talented team and we played simple football. Unfortunately, we let that historic victory over West Germany go to our heads. It was as if the players had already achieved their goal, which was a real shame as they had the potential to go much further."
Zidane once again experienced the joys of the game's greatest tournament four years later in Mexico, producing a virtuoso display in his side's opening match against Northern Ireland in Guadalajara. His link-up play on the right flank drove the Irish defence to distraction during the opening 45 minutes. And when the sides came back out for the second half Zidane continued to pose a threat with his pace and deadly accurate left-footed crosses. He capped his performance by scoring the only FIFA World Cup goal of his career with a fine strike on the hour mark.
Three days later he would cause perennial favourites Brazil all manner of problems with his overlapping runs. The Algerian No14 even took a leaf out of the South Americans' book by embarking on a slaloming run that took him from just outside his own penalty area to the edge of the opposing box, leaving three Brazilians trailing in his wake. Despite Zidane's best efforts, the North Africans finished bottom of Group D with a solitary point to their name and they have not returned to the finals since. Their final outing against Spain was also Zidane's last international appearance.
The great man's legacy
Zidane's efforts have not gone unappreciated by his compatriots, however. In January 2006 a football academy named after the great champion was opened in El-Hachour, its goal being to give youngsters a grounding in the game and to nurture the country's stars of tomorrow.
"Our objective is to educate and train young players, to create an environment in which they can progress, and to devote all our energies to developing every aspect of the training young athletes need," explained academy director Farid Bahbouh. "Another key goal is to produce more youngsters like Zidane," added the centre's president Youssef Lahlouh.
If they can do that, then the future of Algerian football will be secure.
Clubs: USM Alger (1967-76), AS Corbeil-Essonnes (France, 1976-77), KFC Eeklo (Belgium, 1977-78), Saint-Niklase SK (Belgium, 1978-80), KV Kortrijk (Belgium, 1980-84), KSV Waterschei (Belgium, 1984-87), AC Paizay-le-Sec (France, 1987-90)
National team: 15 caps including five at Spain 1982 and Mexico 1986.