Zinedine Zidane once revealed how as a kid he was sad because he was too poor to buy football shoes. But then he saw a man with no feet and realised how rich he was.
Many quotes are often wrongly attributed to athletes. But I’d like to believe that this one is true. Simply because it sounds tragic and romantic at the same time. Like a poem.
And every football fan knows, on the turf, there was no greater poet than Zizou.
His childhood friends called him Yazid or Yaz. They remember him as a shy kid but extremely eager to perform. An extremity existed in him since childhood. He grew up in La Castellane, France. An area filled with immigrants. A place rooted in his heart. He never forgot that. It was a tough childhood. Probably the reason behind his sudden bursts of anger.
Off the pitch, Zidane is a very simple man. He is married to the woman he fell in love with when he was 17, he came to training in a Fiat Punto when others drove Ferraris and Lambos. Football, family, friends. Those are his priorities. They always have been.
Anything against any of those and you will witness the other extreme. The angry side. He once punched an opponent for mocking where he came from. But as he grew up, he learnt to channel that anger into football.
It resulted in the creation of the greatest midfielder of the game. His feet landed as lightly as feathers falling, no matter from how high up. The famous La Roulette pirouette turn was as smooth and delicate as a ballerina on her toes. Sometimes you would want the world to stop and just let Zidane dance and watch him in awe. He was inspiring. He was beautiful.
Zidane won it all as a player. Just to name a few, he won his country the World Cup in 1998, which also fetched him the Ballon d’Or and FIFA Player of the Year (which he also won in 2000 and 2003). He won the Euro two years later. And he scored a wonder goal to secure the Champions League for Real Madrid in 2002.
But that anger never left him. It was a part of him. Again like a poem, romantic and tragic. His two sides are perhaps reflected in how he shares the record for the highest goals in World Cup finals and also for the most number of red cards in World Cup matches. But his beauty never faded.
He has always faced challenges in his life. It’s a pity that so many remember him for that infamous headbutt. He had dragged France to the final. He even scored in the final with an outrageously nonchalant penalty. Everyone watching was part of the Zidane show.
But in a moment of anger, he committed a foul that would become part of his legacy. There are very few sights more heartbreaking than Zidane walking past the World Cup trophy. It was his last professional match.
His next challenge arrived when he was made the manager of the Real Madrid B team and was ridiculed for not having proper qualifications as a coach. Within 2 years in 2016, he became Real Madrid’s manager.
A locker room filled with egos and superstars. A group of individuals he turned into a team. Only Zidane could have pulled it off. The respect he commands. Since then, he has done nothing but prove that the artistry was not just in his feet but in his head as well.
In less than two years, he won 5 trophies. The first and the fifth being the Champions League trophies, making him the first manager to win it back to back. And between those two, he also won the FIFA Club World Cup, the UEFA Super Cup and the La Liga trophy.
You don’t see him charging up the line or shouting like a maniac. He keeps his demeanour. He reserves his anger. But he never stops being beautiful. The jersey has been replaced by a jacket and a tie. The shorts have given way to well fitted trousers. And the football studs have been substituted by shiny leather shoes.
But the head remains the same. One of a poet. The same that tragically hit a player in the chest and the same that romantically belongs to football.
That pirouette turn, that mid-air ball control and the step overs, they are all part of his magical story. When he stopped playing football, he took a cluster of superstars and turned them into a unit and won every trophy there is to win. He belongs to a neighbourhood termed as a ghetto. Where music was necessary to divert attention from the stress of life. But he chose football.
Of course, people would say that he was gifted. But if you saw him play, you wouldn’t say he was gifted. Yazid himself was a gift. One we should be grateful for.
There is no better tribute than the one paid to him on a huge screen at the square in Champs-Elysees, after he won his country the World Cup in 1998.
Right below his huge photo were etched the words – “Merci, Zizou.”