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The Top 10 Greatest Footballers of all time No. 5 – Zinedine Zidane

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Football has seen many great players over the years, many of which were, and continue, to be household names around the globe. The game has changed drastically, but the talent of the players has not, and many of the players who are commonly regarded as some of the best of all time plied their trade well-before the game turned into the mega-business it now is. Every sport has their all-time legends and contemporary stars, and none more so than football, and comparing players of different generations is an impossible task. 

Here at The Sports Lowdown, we attempt to do just that. In our top 1o countdown, our specialist team of football writers will formulate a list of the greatest players of all time in reverse order, commencing at 8am on Monday and finishing at 6pm that same day. 

Pele? Maradona? Messi? Zidane? Keep a watchful eye on proceedings at The Sports Lowdown to find out who we have picked as our top 10 players of all time, and as usual we would love to hear your views, so any comments would be greatly appreciated! 


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Number 5 – Zinedine Zidane 

Zinedine Zidane. Despite an aggression issue that has overshadowed parts of his illustrious career, the Frenchman has had an outstanding career in the sport, which includes numerous domestic titles, the Champions League, the European Championships, the World Cup and multiple personal accolades. Zidane, without doubt, deserves a place on our list, and here is why.

Marseille born Zinedine Yazid Zidane has become one of the world’s greatest midfielders. The former Real Madrid and Juventus star could control the tempo of a game with ease, bringing an excitement of creativity and vision to the game with the addition of an elegance on the ball that he adapted as his own.

Zidane began his professional career at Ligue 1 side Cannes. Arriving at the club at 14 years old, his first coach Jean Varraud encouraged the youngster to channel his anger after training ground incidents involving him after spats surrounding internal conflicts of being of Algerian-French descent, creating a clash of cultures during the time. On the field, the midfielder made his senior debut two years later against Nantes, before scoring his first goal two years later against the same side in a 2-1 victory. Having slightly tamed his aggression, Zidane helped his side qualify for the UEFA Cup after their fourth placed finish; their highest since regaining promotion to Ligue 1 in the early 1940’s.

From there, Zidane made the switch to Bordeaux. In a four year spell with the club, the midfielder won the 1995 Intertoto Cup after beating Karlsruher SC, but domestic titles was something that would come later in his career. Playing amongst the likes of Bixente Lizarazu and Christophe Dugarry, he was linked with a couple of moves to the Premier League during his time with the Ligue 1 club. Blackburn Rovers manager Kenny Dalglish expressed interest in the midfielder, but Rovers chairman and owner Jack Walker famously said; “Why do you want to buy Zidane when we have Tim Sherwood?” Bordeaux also offered Zidane to Newcastle United for a fee reportedly worth £1.2 million, but the club believed that he wasn’t good enough to play in England’s top flight – later that year, Zidane won the Ligue 1 Player of the Year award.

During his time at Bordeaux, Zidane won his first French cap. Having made 20 appearances for France at Under 21 level, the midfielder made his debut as a substitute in a friendly against the Czech Republic. When he entered the field, France were 2-0 down, but two goals from Zidane; first skipping past a couple of defenders before smashing into the top corner from 25 yards before heading the equaliser from a corner, earning his nation a draw and a dream debut to his international career – a stark contrast to his final France appearance.

His first international tournament, Euro 1996, Zidane became part of the France side that reached the semi-finals. The midfielder successfully converted his penalty in the shootouts in both the quarter-final and semi-final, but France lost to the Czech Republic in the semi’s.


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After impressive performances for both Bordeaux and France, Serie A giants Juventus signed the midfielder. The Italian club had just won the Champions League prior to Zidane’s arrival at the Stadio Delle Alpi, but Zidane was part of the side that won both the UEFA Super Cup and the Intertoto Cup. The following season, Zidane was part of the side that won the Serie A title, before coming as runner-up in the Champions League final after a 3-1 defeat to Borussia Dortmund. But the following season, the midfielder netted seven goals in Serie A as the Old Lady retained the Scudetto, before making their third consecutive Champions League final appearance, in which they lost 1-0 to Real Madrid.

It was at this time that Zidane’s biggest international success came alive; the 1998 World Cup. France, the host nation, won their group comfortably, winning all three games. That said, Zidane was sent off in the second game for a stamp on Saudi Arabia’s Fuad Anwar, resulting in the midfielder becoming the first French player to be dismissed at a World Cup. He returned as France had progressed to the quarter-final stage, where they successfully overcame Italy in a penalty shootout before winning against Croatia in the semi-final. As France and Zidane entered the final against favourites Brazil, no one could have predicted the outcome. Zidane scored twice in the game, heading in from an Emmanuel Petit and Youri Djorkaeff corner respectively, before Petit finished the contest with a third goal late on to crown France as the World Cup winners. Zidane was named man of the match after an incredible performance, and won both the FIFA World Player of the Year award and the Ballon d’Or after, and was now one of the world’s greatest midfielders. Zidane had become a national hero, and was awarded the Légion d’honneur. 

Upon his return to Juventus, he became an extremely sought after player, and despite not winning anymore silverware, the midfielder won numerous personal accolades, including the Serie A Foreign Player of the Year. Despite his growing reputation and success, his aggression remained an issue, notably when Juventus were knocked out of the Champions League in the group stages after Zidane was dismissed for a headbutt on Hamburg’s Jochen Kientz.

But his reputation with the French national team grew and grew. France, and Zidane, headed in to Euro 2000 full of confidence after their World Cup success. Zidane scored twice in the tournament; a free-kick against Spain in the quarter-final and the golden goal in the semi-final against Portugal. France headed into the final against Italy confident of becoming the first team to hold both the World Cup and European Championship at the same time since West Germany in 1974. A 2-1 victory secured this with goals from Sylvain Wiltord and David Trezeguet, making France the world’s strongest and most successful football nation, with Zidane winning the Player of the Tournament.


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Given his growing reputation with both Juventus and the French national side, Spanish giants Real Madrid decided to splash the cash on the World Cup winner in 2001. The cash in question was a world record €75 million, and clearly this was money well spent as Zidane teamed up with the new ‘Galàcticos’, featuring the likes of Luis Figo, Ronaldo and David Beckham, making Los Blancos one of the world’s greatest domestic sides.

In his first season, Real Madrid made their way to the 2002 Champions League final against Bayer Leverkusen. After an early goal from Raúl, Leverkusen equalised through Lúcio, but it was Zidane that won the game with an historic left footed volley on the stroke of half time, winning Los Blancos the Champions League, in addition to the midfielder being named man of the match.

The following year, Zidane and Co won La Liga, in addition to the midfielder winning the personal accolade of the World Player of the Year for the third consecutive time, and his fourth in his illustrious career.

During his time at Madrid, Zidane also won the Supercopa de España, the UEFA Super Cup and the Intercontinental Cup, in addition to multiple personal accolades, including being named as the Best European Footballer of the Last 50 Years in a poll commemorating UEFA’s 50th anniversary.

Back with France, his nation suffered a huge disappointment in the 2002 World Cup. With Zidane injured for the opening two group games, he was unable to help the side overcome their poor start and were eliminated in the group stages without winning a game.

In Euro 2004, the French progressed past the group stages after recording wins against England, where Zidane scored two late goals to win 2-1, and Switzerland, but lost to eventual winners Greece in the quarter-final.

Despite no silverware in his final season at the Bernabeu, Zidane achieved a personal goal by scoring his first professional hattrick in a 4-2 victory over Sevilla, before ending the season with an impressive nine goals and ten assists, falling second behing both Ronaldo and Beckham respectively.

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Zidane announced his retirement from football at the end of the 2005/06 season, ending his illustrious club career of over 500 appearances. His retirement would be completed after the 2006 World Cup, a competition France thrived in.

Prior to the World Cup, Zidane earned his 100th French cap in a 1-0 friendly win over Mexico. Into the World Cup, France progressed to the knockout stages with ease. Zidane got on the scoresheet in the second round win against Spain, before setting up Thierry Henry’s winner in the 1-0 quarter-final win over Brazil. Zidane scored the games only goal from the penalty spot against Portugal in the semi-final, sending France to the final to face Italy.

The World Cup final, which was also Zidane’s final professional match, began brightly for the French and the midfielder in particular as he converted, in controversial circumstances, a seventh minute penalty, his 31st international goal, but Italian defender Marco Materazzi equalised from an Andrea Pirlo corner. The game, somehow given the bar being hit and numerous penalty appeals waved away, went into extra time, and Zidane thought he’d won the game but his header was spectacularly tipped over by Gianluigi Buffon.

Then, the turning point in the game, and Zidane’s career. As the end of extra time approached, the midfielder headbutted Materazzi in an off the ball incident, leaving the referee no choice but to dismiss the Frenchman, thus ending his career by walking down the touchline past the World Cup. Italy defeated France in the penalty shootout, but despite his dismissal, Zidane was named as the Best Player of the Tournament, in addition to becoming just the fourth player to score in two separate World Cup finals.


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Aggression aside, Zidane was without doubt one of the world greatest players. Widely regarded as the best midfielder of all time, Zidane’s energy, work rate and eye for goal, coupled with his grace, skill, elegance, technique and vision  made him the complete midfielder, and his achievements individually, and as a team, remain unparalleled by most players past and present.   The Frenchman therefore fully deserves a place on The Sports Lowdown’s list of the 10 Greatest Footballers of all time.



Thank you for reading this article: I hope it has been an informative and enjoyable read, and any comments would be greatly appreciated.

@TheSportLowdown  @LWOSdale89

Cannes france Juventus la liga Real Madrid serie a World Cup Zinedine Zidane

About Dale Ventham

Dale Ventham is an editor at The Sports Lowdown. He writes on the lower leagues of English football and Speedway in particular.

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