Hall of Fame… Zinedine Zidane: He was God, the King, the Master, a man for the big occasion – however, there’ll always be a butt
A dazzling name. A dazzling player. Zinedine Zidane rolls off the tongue as smoothly as his studs rolled over the ball mid-pirouette time after time to produce that turn christened in his honour.
Everything about Zidane flowed. His elegant style, the multitudinous accolades, the abundant trophies.
Scorer in a World Cup final victory, scorer in a Champions League final victory (and what a goal), Ballon d’Or and World Player of the Year winner.
On top of the world: Zinedine Zidane (centre), heads his second goal in the 1998 World Cup final
Greatest hit: Zidane scores the famous volley for Real Madrid in the 2002 Champions League final
The artist: Zidane (right) performs the pirouette turn with which he became associated against Italy at Euro 2000
Losing his head: Zidane butts Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final
Watching brief: Zidane in the stands supporting his son Enzo in Real Madrid’s Under 19s match against PSG
There were times when the force of his play and personality alone dragged his club and country from mediocrity to magnificence.
He was called God by Thierry Henry, The Master by Pele, and The King by Michel Platini. You almost get the sense Jesus Christ would be miffed at being left out of comparisons. Mind you, for all his achievements Zidane never played on water.
But. There will always be a but with Zidane. Rather, a headbutt. One administered to the chest of Marco Materazzi in the Frenchman’s final game as a professional.
That happened to be during extra-time in the 2006 World Cup final against Italy with the scores level. Zidane always was a man for big moments on big occasions.
He was sent off, after a nudge from officials by the touchline with access to television replays, and France lost the subsequent penalty shootout.
Having pretty much single-handedly got his nation to the final, with goals in the last-16 against Spain and semi-final against Portugal, Zidane, who opened the scoring in the Berlin final with an outrageous Panenka penalty, was pictured walking past the golden trophy, head bowed, on his way to an early bath never to kick a football with meaning again.
Ignominy? Yes. But there was a kernel of empathy to his devilment. After insults about his mother and sister, Zidane snapped and reacted in a manner that chimed with his passion for the game. The mum card is a certifiable wind-up tactic. (For the record, Materazzi denies the provocation involved family members.)
Maturing Bordeaux: A young Zidane (centre) plays for the French side in the 1996 UEFA Cup final
Euro stars: Zidane challenges Karel Poborsky during Euro 96 but the Czech winger outshone the Frenchman
Five years in Turin: Zidane moved to Juventus after Euro 96 and became the world’s best midfielder
Off day: Zidane is dismissed for a stamp during a group match at France 98 against Saudi Arabia. His tournament would get better…
Rising to the occasion: Zidane heads in the opening goal of the 1998 World Cup final
Vive la France: Zidane holds the World Cup after his match-winning display in the Stade de France
Zidane, handed a £3,260 fine and required to do three days’ community service, regrets the act but will never apologise to Materazzi.
It was an exclamation mark on an extraordinary career, which was initially brought to Europe’s attention with a breakthrough season for Bordeaux in 1995-96.
According to Eric Cantona, Sir Alex Ferguson had been made aware of his countryman’s talents a few years earlier. He recommended Zidane to his manager, who instead opted to move for a different player.
When Zidane did come to Old Trafford it was with Juventus in the 1996-97 Champions League. He demonstrated what Ferguson had missed out on with a display that strangled the life out of United’s young side. I was in the stadium that night, back then a rare European treat against one of the continent’s greatest clubs.
Perhaps that sense of the unknown added to the mysticism of Zidane’s majesty in midfield. It was a special evening.
Juventus beat United home and away that season but the likes of Paul Scholes, David Beckham, even Ryan Giggs, learnt what was required and next season earned a group stage victory.
The subsequent year saw the Treble after victory over Juventus in the semi-finals. The early beatings by the Italians, with Zidane to the fore, had pushed United to a higher level.
Can’t get near him: Zidane keeps the ball from Nick Barmby (right) and Paul Scholes (left)in 2000
Golden goal: Zidane slots home the winning penalty in the Euro 2000 semi-final against Portugal and France went on to win the tournament against Italy
Real star: Zidane became the most expensive player in the world when he signed for Madrid in 2001
King of Europe: Zidane with the Champions League trophy after winning the 2002 final with his wonder goal
Down and out: A half-fit Zidane and France had a shocking 2002 World Cup, exiting after the group stage
Leaving him on the floor: Zidane skips away from Roy Keane during an epic Real-Manchester United tie
Zidane himself reached the Champions League finals in 1997 and 1998, losing both to Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid respectively.
But that latter summer he found solace with a remarkable triumph for his country. Unexpectedly, France won the World Cup in the Stade de France, defeating Brazil 3-0 thanks to a brace from Zidane, who twice used his head to positive effect.
One million people celebrated the victory on the Champs-Elysees with a huge image of the man-of-the-match projected onto the Arc de Triomphe along with the words ‘Merci Zizou’.
Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year awards followed.
Two years later he was player of the tournament at France’s victorious European Championship, having scored a delicious free-kick against Spain in the quarters, and a golden goal winner in the semis against Portugal. Big moments, big occasions, big player.