It is hard to view Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane’s playing career as anything other than outstanding. Arguably the finest midfielder of his generation, he would feature in many all-time best elevens.
But Saturday’s Champions League final against his former club Juventus is a reminder that the Frenchman hasn’t quite had it all his own way.
When Juve signed Zidane from French club Bordeaux in 1996 they had just been crowned champions of Europe. The midfielder was the man they hoped would help ensure more Champions League success.
Italian rivals AC Milan had just won Europe’s top trophy three times in close succession and, in an era when Serie A was Europe’s undisputed top league, Juventus wanted, perhaps needed, to follow suit and dominate the continent.
But it never happened – Juve lost two finals during the Zidane era, and his solitary Champions League success would come with Real in 2002.
In 1997, Juve lost 3-1 to Borussia Dortmund in the final, with the Frenchman largely ineffective, marked out of the game by Scottish midfielder Paul Lambert.
The following year Juve were back in the final for the third season in a row, only to lose 1-0 to Real, Predrag Mijatovic’s goal providing the Spanish club’s first European title in 32 years.
“Moments like that are tough and sad, but they’re part and parcel of any footballer’s career and you’ve got to accept them. I’m just happy I got to win the competition later with Real Madrid. All careers leave you with both good and bad memories,” Zidane said recently.
The pain was soon eased for Zidane, who that summer won the World Cup in his homeland with France, but his final three years at Juve were a let-down in terms of trophies.
Zidane had been part of two title-winning teams in his opening two years at the club, but his last three years brought only the obscure UEFA Intertoto Cup.
When he made his then world record 75 million euro transfer to Real in 2001, Juve fans were saddened but there was no outrage.
Indeed, the transfer fee helped the club bring in three players who would deliver a renewed period of domestic dominance – goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, French defender Lilian Thuram from Parma and, most importantly, Czech midfielder Pavel Nedved from Lazio.
Nedved achieved a rapport with the Juve fans that Zidane never quite managed to reach – although his team-mates from that era never fail to speak with fondness of his time in Turin.
“He was always in sync with everybody because he wanted to help each one of his teammates despite his stunning technique,” says former Juve forward Alessandro Del Piero.
“I didn’t expect him to become a manager but it could have been predicted given that he was always able to read the game. That’s why he always takes the best decisions as a manager and that’s why he has won everything so far,” he said.
Zidane, who lived quietly in the countryside during his time in Italy, remains liked and respected among the Juve faithful. But on Saturday they will be hoping Massimo Allegri’s team can deliver the very same trophy the Frenchman failed to secure.
Feature image: Reuters.