Like a knight of old, Luca Zidane has not been afraid to pick up the gauntlet and accept a daunting challenge: emerging from the glorious shadow cast by his illustrious father Zinedine and making his own name in the football world.
While his oldest brother Enzo has decided to take his mother’s name, Fernandez, as a means of setting himself apart, Luca – the youngest of Zidane’s four sons – has chosen a different path by opting to become a goalkeeper, one that will take him to the FIFA U-17 World Cup Chile 2015 with France next month.
“I always liked going in goal when I played with my brothers and my father when I was young,” he told FIFA.com in a voice that sounded very familiar. “More than anything else, I didn’t want people to compare me to my father.”
There is no shame in being likened from an early age to a living legend who won everything there was to win in his career, and who remains one of the best-loved and most respected figures in the footballing world. Aside from a flair for the game and a remarkable physical resemblance, Luca has inherited his father’s desire to excel at the highest level and a strong character, from which stems his fierce determination to make his own way.
Panenka penalties and Neuer admiration
The youngster has made a promising start in his quest for glory and is even further ahead than the great Zinedine was at the same stage of his career, having already won a clutch of trophies with Real Madrid’s youth teams and lifted the UEFA European U-17 title with France in May this year.
His most important contribution to Les Bleuets’ win was his heroic performance in the semi-final penalty shoot-out win over Belgium.
“It was quite an experience for me,” he recalled. “I did my best to help the team, as simple as that, and I kept out three penalties.”
Those saves were not his only contribution in that shoot-out, with the young keeper also stepping up to the spot to attempt an audacious Panenka-style penalty, a piece of skill that is usually the preserve of skilled midfielders and forwards. But while his father’s effort in the Final of the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ deceived the great Gianluigi Buffon in clipping the underside of the crossbar and going in, Luca’s cheeky effort clipped the top of the bar and went over.
Before long, images of the miss were circulating online, with the inevitable comparisons being made between son and father, just the kind of thing Luca has been anxious to avoid all his life. Recalling his unfortunate spot-kick and the flurry of media interest it caused, the teenage Zidane said: “I didn’t think about it. It just came naturally. When I started my run-up, I could see the keeper moving to one side, which is when I decided to kick it that way.
“I didn’t speak about it that much with my father. He just congratulated me on the win. He respected my decision to give it a try, and if I have to take penalties again, I’d do it again without any problem. Maybe I wouldn’t take them like that because it all depends on the situation, but I’m not going to fret or worry about it.”
The sight of a goalkeeper stepping up to take one of the first five penalties in a shoot-out is not a common one, though as Luca explained, he always likes to be involved in the game, another trait he picked up in the family garden and which has stayed with him.
He said: “It was my decision. I asked the coach and he put me down as one of the takers, as if I were just another player.
“Speaking as a goalkeeper, it’s very important to be good with your feet, if not the most important thing. It’s something that I’ve worked on since I was young and I’m going to carry on using my feet a lot.”
As he explained, the young Zidane takes inspiration in this respect from another keeper who stands out both for his glovework and his distribution skills: “I didn’t really have many role models when I was growing up, but I really admire Manuel Neuer. He’s one of the best keepers around at the moment, though he’s more of a benchmark for me than an actual role model.”
And as he went on to say, the ambitious custodian also hopes to do what Neuer does and stand out for his ability to venture well off his line and play an active part in building up play: “That’s what I want, to set myself apart by playing that way.”
Former France keeper Fabien Barthez will no doubt be happy to hear that, having lamented in a recent interview with FIFA.com that “goalkeeping has not evolved enough” and that “most keepers still lack depth in their game”. Luca has met his father’s one-time team-mate and had this to say about his comments: “I haven’t had the chance to speak to him about that, but I know he liked to play that way, just like I do. He just told me to keep at it, to work hard and to keep the momentum going.
“I have a lot of character on the pitch. I think I’ve got things in common with Fabien because I’m an extrovert and I take risks, but above all I try to help the others on the field of play. That’s just the way I am.”
Given his lineage and the support of players who helped France enjoy their footballing zenith, Zidane has what it takes to succeed when he and his team-mates take on the world in Chile in October.
Rounding off our chat in quietly confident fashion, in a manner reminiscent of his fabled father, the up-and-coming Bleuets international said: “We’ve got our feet on the ground, but we’re feeling confident. Though we’ll be heading to the World Cup as just another team, we have faith in ourselves.”