Zinédine Zidane (born 1972) was the toast of France after leading that country to its only World Cup soccer championship in 1998. The midfielder, nicknamed "Zizou," scored twice in the championship match that year as the French, playing at home, defeated Brazil.
Amid the soccer euphoria, Zidane, a devout Muslim born to Algerian immigrants, was also embraced as an ethnic unifier. But Zidane left the game in disgrace in 2006. With France back in the World Cup final, Zidane, in what he said would be his final game, was ejected from the title match for a head butt during overtime. The French, without Zidane for the shootout, lost to Italy. "Zinédine Zidane has written glorious chapters in football's recent history—how sad that he should save the most shameful episode for the final page of his story," Phil McNulty wrote on the British Broadcasting Corporation's website, BBC Sport.
Zidane was the fifth child of Smail and Malika Zidane. His parents arrived in France from the Kabylie region of northern Algeria in 1953. Zidane grew up in La Castellane, a crime-ridden housing development in Marseille, a port city in the south of France. Unemployment and suicide rates are alarmingly high in La Castellane. His father had steady work as an overnight department store watchman, though the
As a youth, Zidane played soccer games in Place Tartane, the public square in La Castellane. At age 14 he was a ballboy during a France-Portugal European Cup playoff game at Stade Vélodrome in Marseille. At age 13, Zidane signed with the Cannes club team at the junior level. He made the elite squad at 17; at age 19, Zidane scored his first goal at that level and the club president fulfilled his promise to him—he gave Zidane a car, a red Clio.
In the early 1990s Zidane signed with Bordeaux and his play there caught the attention of the elite Italian team Juventus of Turin. With Zidane in the fold, Juventus won five championships—including international events—in three years. In Turin, Zidane played for Marcello Lippi, who would later coach Italy to victory in the 2006 World Cup title match against Zidane's France. Back home, however, Zidane had trouble pleasing the French media, which called him le chat noir (the black cat). They accused him of playing poorly in consequential games, such as the Champions League, which features the top club teams throughout Europe.
Zidane, though, remained popular in Marseille, where he would return during his breaks from soccer. "He knows everyone at La Castellane," Philippe Jerome wrote in the London Guardian . "When he comes, we sit on a bench and talk about everything. He has remained very unassuming," longtime friend Richard Mendi told Jerome. His status also "gave a strong sense of pride to many North Africans in France [known as Maghrebs]," Jasey Dasey said on ESPNStar.com.
Cup Victory Captivated France
In his first international game, Zidane entered as a substitute and scored both goals as the French tied the Czech Republic, 2-2. "It was soon clear that Zidane, wityh his immaculate dribbling and passing skills, was the midfield general that France [was] looking for to fill the boots of the long-retired Michel Platini," Dasey said. France missed the World Cup final round in 1994, but was building for 1998, when it would host the quadrennial event for the first time in 60 years.
France breezed through the first round, defeating South Africa, Saudi Arabia, and Denmark. Zidane, however, was suspended for two games for scraping his cleats against the back of Saudi captain Fuad Amin. He missed his country's one-goal victories over Denmark and Paraguay but returned to score a penalty kick during a shootout in which France outlasted Italy to reach the semifinals. The French edged Croatia 2-1 in the semis to reach their first-ever title match, against defending champion Brazil.
Zidane, normally a playmaker, became scorer in the final. He connected in the 27th and 46th minutes, both on picturesque headers. Emmanuel Petit fed him from the left corner on the first goal, and Youri Djorkaeff set him up from the right side on the second. Petit scored a breakaway goal near the end of the game to finish off Brazil. The victory on July 12—two days before Bastille Day, the national holiday—set off bedlam in the Stade de France and the celebration spilled into the streets of Paris and other communities.
Seen as Ethnic Unifier
While France celebrated the World Cup victory, many observers took note of the multi-ethnic nature of the team at a time of racial strife. "I had never seen French people so happy with each other," Nick Fraser wrote in London's Guardian . "As I walked around the crowds, however, I noticed something else. There were many Arabs and blacks in the crowd, and many of them were carrying tricolor flags."
During the mid-1990s, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the far right president of the National Front party, known for his staunch anti-immigration stance, railed at the French squad for its inability to sing the national anthem, the Marseillaise. The team was snidely called "noir, blanc et bleu" (black, white and blue)," because many players were not strictly French. Zidane, with Algerian parents, was from a dilapidated section of Marseille; other top players such as Patrick Thierry, Marcel Desailly, and Berbard Diomede were black. Fraser said Le Pen and other political leaders had "indiscriminately fanned the flames of disgruntlement." Le Pen, however, as did French President Jacques Chirac, joined in the celebration and spoke of national unity immediately after the World Cup triumph.
As the World Cup celebration and the national holiday blended into one, the Arab presence was noteworthy on the streets of Paris. Soccer fan Rabah Khedache, whose parents emigrated from Algeria's Kabylie region, thanked Zidane "for everything he has done for out [Kabylie] people," according to Lara Marlowe in the Irish Times . "It is stunning to hear blond, blue-eyed French school children telling reporters that the shy, balding, darker-skinned Zidane is the most handsome man in France, that they would like to have him as their father," Marlowe wrote. At a garden party in the Elysée palace, in the presence of Chirac, crowds chanted "Zizou president."
Named Top Player Three Times
Zidane earned player of the year honors in 1998 from Fédération Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA, the governing body of world soccer. He earned the same honor in 2000 and 2003. France won the Euro 2000 tournament, defeating Italy in the final. In 2001 Zidane signed a four-year contract with the Real Madrid team of Spain. The transfer fee of €66 million ($86 million) was the highest ever at the time. Zidane in 2002 scored the winning goal, as Real Madrid beat Bayer Leverkusen of Germany in the title match of the Champions League, a tournament involving the top club teams in Europe. He announced his retirement in 2004, but returned to international soccer a year later.
One month before the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Zidane said the tournament would be his last and that he would stay retired. Zidane "has tended to do things his own way," Dasey wrote. "He's always unique and often surprising."
Career Ended in Disgrace
France advanced past group play in the 2006 World Cup with a victory and two draws. Zidane scored the insurance goal as the French, after falling behind early, defeated Spain 3-1 in the round of 16. His perfectly placed free kick set up Thierry Henry's goal in the 57th minute as Les Bleus defeated Brazil in the quarterfinals, 1-0. Some observers had pegged Brazil as the pre-tournament favorite. Zidane's first-half penalty kick was enough for a 1-0 triumph over Portugal in the semifinals and the French were back in the title match, paired against three-time champion Italy on Sunday, July 9, 2006, at Berlin's Olympic Stadium.
In the seventh minute of play, Zidane put France up 1-0, chipping a penalty kick off the crossbar and into the net behind Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Twelve minutes later, Marco Materazzi evened the score, heading a shot past French goalie Fabien Barthez. The teams remained even, and went into overtime.
At the 110th minute, or the 20th minute of overtime, Zidane lost his composure in "a moment of madness which cost him a second World Cup title," Jonathan Stevenson wrote on BBC Sport. Angry after an exchange with Materazzi—Matt Hughes of the Times Online reported that Materazzi had called Zidane "the son of a terrorist whore"—Zidane headbutted the Italian defender in the chest. Referee Horacio Marcelo Elizondo of Argentina ejected Zidane after the assistant referee informed him of the incident. The French played the rest of overtime without Zidane, but more important, their star was unavailable for the penalty kick shootout necessary to determine the winner. Italy won the shootout 5-3.
"It was a calamity on all levels for Zidane and France," McNulty wrote. "And whatever words or actions of provocation Materazzi may have offered Zidane, his reaction was simply inexcusable…. France lost a talisman, a leader and a man who may have won them the World Cup—and they even lost their most reliable penalty [kick] taker in the shootout." He added, "It was not meant to end like this for one of the game's legendary figures—sent from the world's biggest stage in shame and into retirement."
Won Golden Ball, Anyway
In another odd twist to the bizarre denouement in Berlin, Zidane the following day received the Golden Ball as best player in the tournament, edging Italian defender Fabio in the balloting. Most journalists covering the match had cast their votes by halftime. Ironically, Zidane did not win the award in 1998, when he led France to its World Cup victory—Ronaldo of runner-up Brazil took the prize. "The vast majority of those votes were cast by journalists before the final was over and I'm sure that is why Zidane has come out [on] top," BBC correspondent Gordon Fahrquar told BBC Radio Live Five, according to the British news agency's website. But it's going to be a bit embarrassing for FIFA…. If you'd asked the 2,012 journalists—who voted for him—after the game whether they wanted to change their vote, they probably would have."
French Coach Raymond Domenech defended Zidane, saying Italy and other opponents engaged in rough play against him. "When one has to put up with what Zidane had to and the referee doesn't do anything, one understands. You can't excuse it, but you can understand it," he said, according to BBC Sport. The incident surprised Franz Beckenbauer, who led West Germany to the 1974 World Cup championships and is president of the prominent German club team Bayern Munich. "Something must have been said to Zidane. He is actually a reserved and inoffensive person," Beckenbauer said in BBC Sport.
Zidane's wife, Véronique, a former model, is a Frenchwoman of Spanish descent. They have four children: Enzo, Luca, Theo, and Elyas. Zidane became Christian Dior's first male model ever. Zidane, who has promoted ethnic tolerance in his visits throughout Europe, visited Algeria late in 2006. In his first visit to the former French colony since 1986, Zidane spent nearly a week in Aguemoun, the village where his parents grew up.
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