During his illustrious career, the former Les Bleus idol experienced the highs and lows that the FIFA World Cup™ finals can bring. An inspirational presence in the side that won the ultimate prize in football at France 1998, he also suffered the disappointment of a first-round elimination at Korea/Japan 2002 before bowing out with a controversial red card in the Final at Germany 2006.
Looking back on those moments and more, the inimitable Zizou chatted exclusively to FIFA.com and also offered his insightful views on South Africa 2010, the first FIFA World Cup finals he has witnessed from the stands.
FIFA.com: Zinedine, you played in three FIFA World Cup finals, all of them with very different endings. What are your memories of the competition?
Zinedine Zidane: I won it 1998, lost a Final in 2006 and experienced an early exit in 2002, so that pretty much covers all the emotions you can have. But what really stands out for me is the fact that I played in three finals and, in their own way, they were all wonderful. Even with the failures I try and take something positive.
Do you still think about the Final you lost four years ago?
A little less now. The memories are fading, though it will always be there somewhere in a corner of my mind, and not because of what happened at the end but because it was so disappointing to lose. It would have been really nice to have put a second star on the France shirt.
Do you not think that Final sums up your FIFA World Cup career with Les Bleus?
I think it sums up my career: great highs and lows, just like life in general really. There are times when everything goes really well and others where the opposite’s true. There are some things I’m not proud of but I’ve accepted what’s happened to me and just got on with it.
Let’s turn to South Africa 2010 now. Who are you tipping to win?
I want to say Argentina and not just for their strike power but because they’re a team that never gives up. They are very well organised defensively and don’t concede many goals. All the same there are some other strong sides around and there could be a surprise or two.
This is a question you do know the answer to: What does it take to win the FIFA World Cup?
Lot’s of things. More than anything else you have to want to win it. You need determination. And on top of that you need a key player, someone who can make the difference all on their own.
People have been saying that defences have dominated at the start of the competition. What is your take on that?
I think they have been, and I can’t say it’s a trend I’m happy with. You want to see good football at World Cup finals. You want to see good matches. And that hasn’t really been the case so far. Why is that? We all know that teams don’t want to concede goals in the opening group games and don’t take any risks, so they defend more than they attack. Even so I think we’ll see more entertainment from the second round onwards.
Yoann Gourcuff is seen by many as your rightful successor in the France team. He has been through a lot in the last few months, hasn’t he?
I can’t tell you if he was aware of all the problems in the team because I’m not on the inside. I just hope he can rediscover his form quickly, and he might be able to do that because there’s a new coach coming in [Laurent Blanc]. He knows him well and he knows how to get the best out of him, and as far as I’m concerned Yoann is the future of the France team.
You have also been following Algeria closely. How do you feel about their performances to date?
Pleased but disappointed at the same time. Their first game [a 1-0 defeat to Slovenia] was really tight and when I watched the second one [a 0-0 draw with England] I said to myself that they could have had four or two points instead of one. They’ve still got a chance of going through, though, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed.
You always gave the impression that you were enjoying yourself out on the pitch. Is that the recipe for success in football?
On a personal level, definitely. You always need to have pleasure in what you do. I’m not playing any more but it’s always great to be able to watch a football match. Obviously sometimes I’d rather be down there on the pitch, but I have to say I’m really enjoying following this World Cup from the stands.