Zinedine Zidane's legacy: From the headbutt in Germany to the Champions League three-peat in Kiev
The biblical account of the unexpected, face-to-face encounter between the young Israel shepherd boy, David, and the Brobdingnagian, Philistine warrior Goliath of Gath is one that has remained an all-time classic encounter. It is also one that every Tom, Dick, and Harry —Meghan included— should take their cue from in times of trials and temptations, irrespective of whether you’re a David in heart or a Goliath in stature.
The art of knowing when to engage in a battle, knowing what weapon to employ, and knowing when to retreat is a significant factor in deciding the outcome of every battle. In that fierce, but expeditiously concluded battle, the youthful David, against all odds, defeated the mighty champion of Gath, Goliath with a sling, and in the process, etched his name in the annals of time, yea eternity.
A decorated career as a player
Fast-forward to the year 2003, the month of December to be precise, when a certain Zinedine Zidane, aka ‘Zizou’ the French footballing generalissimo and maestro of Algerian descent walked up to the podium to receive the much-coveted FIFA World Player of the year in Basel.
This was not for the first time or for the second but for the third time in his long, decorated and illustrious career, which was a spectacular feat, one only rivalled by a few elite players in his generation, in any generation, even —The Messi and Ronaldo generation exempted, of course.
When France were agonizingly eliminated in the quarter-final stage at Euro 2004 by an Angelos Charisteas header, a teary-eyed, heart-broken Zinedine Zidane announced his official retirement from international football. It felt like the right time for him to take such a life-changing decision, but his fans and his national team coach, Raymond Domenech, in particular, thought otherwise.
He was persuaded to return. He was lobbied. He was coaxed. He buckled under the pressure and strangely came out of retirement just in time for the qualifying matches for the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals in Germany.
He slipped into his famed Adidas boots, his legendary Le Bleus number 10 jersey, his highly influential captain band, as he led them to the tournament, as well as, the World Cup finals proper with some breathtaking, swashbuckling, tantalizing style of football that can only be replicated in video games.
The decision to return to the fold was the right one, at least according to recent performances by the French team at that point in time. Or so it seemed. The fairy tale was going on as planned, the narrative couldn’t have been any better as the plot thickened with a vast array of mystery and suspense.
The infamous headbutt
Zinedine Zidane, the ingenious protagonist, scored an outrageous goal in the 2006 World Cup Finals — actually, a brilliantly executed Panenka penalty kick — against his former teammate at Juventus, a legend in his own right, Gigi Buffon. It was a real beauty!
He was cruising to yet another World Cup trophy, riding on the crest of the wave, when out of the blues, an unlikely antagonist, the Italian David, nay rock of a defender, Marco Materazzi, threw a spanner into the works and in the process torpedoed the whole buzz of excitement that had generated around Zinedine Zidane since his glorious return to the football pitch.
The enthusiastic applauses ceased. The prestigious accolades dried up. The paparazzi were having a field day, some too stunned to even take photographs. The footballing world shrieked in horror and in pain as he was shown a red card for a head-butt on the chest of Marco Materazzi, a signature move only rivalled by MMA fighters, or better still, the raging bulls in Pamplona.
It was not the first time Zidane had executed such atrociousness, actually, he did same against Hamburger SV's Jochen Kientz in a Champions League match in 2001. The demons he thought had been exorcised, actually returned with a few, more malicious friends on a day the whole wide world tuned in for the World Cup finals and made an absolute mockery of him. It was a sorry sight, not just for Zidane but for the numerous fans all over the globe.
With eyes looking down, pate glowing in the lights, and shoulders drooped, Zidane walked off the pitch with a body language that emanated, “I should have stayed back at home.” He was awarded the Golden Ball for the tournament, and it was probably the only trophy amongst many he had received with a very bitter and sour taste on his taste buds.
Zidane announced his retirement soon after, it was a no-brainer. From twin headers in the World Cup Finals to rocket-volleying the ball that dropped from the sky to the lethargic final walk to the tunnel in Olympiastadion, Berlin, Zinedine Zidane was remembered more for the latter than the former.
The French newspapers said it all, with headlines commenting on his inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour: “Odious”….. “What should we tell our children, for whom you have become an example forever? …. How could that happen to a man like you.”
Zinedine Zidane walked out on his playing career and vowed never to return, ever again.
The sideline role
On the first day of June 2009, Zidane walked into an advisory role in the office of Florentino Perez, president of Real Madrid. In November of the following year, he was appointed as special adviser to Madrid’s first team on the recommendation of then Real Madrid manager, Jose Mourinho. Yes, Jose Mourinho, the much-acclaimed, trumpet blowing, drum beating, Special One.
From sporting director in 2011 to assistant coach to Carlo Ancelotti in 2013 to coach of Madrid’s B team in 2014 and to being appointed head coach of Real Madrid on the 4th of January 2016, Zidane’s life was a real roller coaster, but one centered on his former club as he systematically clambered up from the bottom of the food chain to the top.
It was unfamiliar surroundings for him, uncharted waters, even, but Zidane was willing to show the world that he still got that magic wand he usually waved around on the field as a player. He was ready and willing write another fairytale, but this time around he was willing to do it from the dugout and, probably this time too, do it with a happy ending on the cards.
In his first match as head coach, Real Madrid spanked Deportivo La Coruna 5-0. In his first El Clasico against their eternal rivals, Barcelona, Madrid won 2-1. And in his first season, Madrid won the Champions League against Atletico Madrid via a gruelling penalty shootout. Everything he touched turned to gold. Also, in his first ‘full season’ as head coach, Madrid won La Liga and the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup.
The following year, Real Madrid defended their title and won the Champions League, yet again, becoming the first team ever to win the prestigious competition back-to-back. Later that year, they defeated Manchester United 2-1 to lift the 2017 UEFA Super Cup, which meant Zidane became the first manager to scoop two UEFA Super Cups since Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan in the nineties.
He also scooped the Best FIFA Men’s Coach award that same year and at the close of that year, he deservedly won his eighth trophy as a manager when Madrid defeated Gremio in the final to lift the 2017 FIFA Club World Cup.
Last week, 26th of May to be precise, Zinedine Zidane won the UEFA Champions League trophy for the third time as coach when Real Madrid trounced Liverpool 3-1, and in the process, he became the first coach ever in the history of the game to win the coveted trophy back-to-back-to-back.
Bowing out as a champion
But as the footballing world were still celebrating the unprecedented feat of this well-oiled machine of a football team, Zinedine Zidane announced his resignation.
A large section of the footballing world was thrown into shock, into utter disbelief, into mourning and whatnot at the breaking of this news. But for those who have painstakingly followed his transformative career from a brilliant player to an excellent coach, they could only smile and applaud in appreciation of a man who has finally learnt his lesson.
Zidane would rather not be beaten twice —this time by his own president; the trigger-happy hiring and firing, Florentino Perez.
At long last, the footballing world can now finally get to remember Zinedine Zidane as the man who was dressed in a black suit in Kiev, who stood in the full glare of the digital, high-resolution cameras.
The world will remember Zidane who rubbed his pate and flapped his hands screaming “Oh là là” as the bench joined in the celebration when the substitute Gareth Bale, whom he had just introduced moments before, scored a wonder of a strike — just like he, Zidane, did some years ago in this same competition, on this same stage.
Unlike Goliath, Zinedine Zidane knows when to bow out. And he surely knows when to bow out as a true champion.
Which club do you think should Zinedine Zidane sign for as a manager next? Tell us in the comments below!