Zidane: I need to be more consistent for France
FIFA.com chatted to Zinedine Zidane in the lead-up to France 1998
He called Brazil “the only ones I can see as favourites”
He insisted he needed to become more consistent for France
“The next World Cup will belong to this kid,” said Carlos Alberto Parreira, affirmatively, of a 17-year-old parading its Trophy across the Rose Bowl.
Seemingly every scriptwriter agreed heading into France 1998. Ronaldo had, since the USA 1994 Final, enjoyed mind-blowing spells at PSV and Barcelona and broken the world transfer record twice. In January 1998, he conquered his second successive FIFA World Player of the Year award by a remarkable, record margin – 480 points to runner-up Roberto Carlos’s 85 – at a Disneyland Paris ceremony. At 21, he was at the peak of his phenomenal powers.
Zinedine Zidane had debuted for France at the comparably old age of 22, frustrated at UEFA EURO 1996, and been a big question mark among France supporters. At the aforementioned FIFA Gala, however, he had made the top ten for the first time, finishing joint-third alongside Dennis Bergkamp, after a magnificent start to his Juventus career.
Just before the 16th World Cup, FIFA.com caught up with the playmaker who would turn 26 during it to discuss his podium finish in the FIFA World Player of the Year running, his inconsistency for Les Bleus and the favourites for France 1998.
FIFA.com: Zinedine, the FIFA World Player of the Year Gala has just been held in Paris. How did it feel to finish as the joint-fourth best player in the world? Zinedine Zidane: For me personally it was wonderful to be selected among the top four players in the world. I was up there alongside Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos and [Dennis] Bergkamp. When FIFA informed me I was on the list I was really delighted. I was really happy. Maybe the right word for the occasion was terrific.
Did your nomination come to you as a complete surprise or more as a confirmation of what you'd achieved? A surprise for sure; to be up there with Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos and Bergkamp, all great players who show their talent and their skills all the time. But I was not surprised by the nomination in view of my 1997 season. Within the space of one year I had won three out of four possible titles. So looking back on those achievements, the FIFA honour was a fair reward. I won the Italian championship, the Super Cup and the Intercontinental Cup... not a bad year for me, for one who had not won anything before arriving at Juve. I'd like even to beat that record, I always want to win.
What are your ambitions for 1998? It's not the best team on paper that wins. With the French national team, when I look at the players we have available, I think we are capable of great things, to have a great World Cup. Certainly my main objective for the next six months will be to win the World Cup.
In this World Cup year in particular, how do you analyse your own play? My weak point, I know, is consistency: to keep on turning in good performances. I shall certainly do my best to reach and maintain my best form for the French team during the World Cup in France. I shall try to improve from match to match, just as I do now. Looking at my performance in a wider context, I can only repeat that there are no weak teams any more, and that the favourites are no longer certain to win.
You are one of the key players in the French national side. How do you see your role within the team and, with the World Cup coming up, who do you see as likely winners? Speaking of my role in the French national team, the situation is the same as the one I mentioned when talking about Juventus: I have to try to be more consistent in my performances. But the French team are strong and we could win the World Cup. Of the others, you don't have to look further than Brazil. They are very strong too and the most complete team. They are the only ones I can see as favourites. Having said that, once the competition gets going, anything can happen, but they, and France of course, are the favourites at this moment.
The referees for the World Cup will also have a big part to play in combatting unfair play. What do you think of the steps being taken in this respect? I think referees are paying more attention to this problem, which is a positive step. But there is still some way to go. For example, tackling from behind: that has got to be banned. But thanks to the steps taken so far to stop unfair play, forwards are getting a better chance to show their skills, and that's all to the good.
For you it's Italy and the World Cup in the future, and a great 1997 behind you, with the FIFA nomination topping it off. How do you feel about young players following your career at this moment? I always think about younger players. I tell them that they should think about lots of activities other than their love of playing football. I see education as a main priority. If one day some of these youngsters do get into football, they must still pursue their studies. I also tell them to be serious and to believe in themselves and their potential. Football is a profession where there's a great deal to think about. Above all it entails a lot of work – hard work – if you want to obtain results, but also it entails showing respect for everybody.