Zidane, Zinedine (b. 1972)

views updated



French soccer (football) player.

Few athletes have had such an impact on their country as Zinedine Zidane. Both his skill on the soccer (football) field and his personality off the field have made him a national hero in France, one of the most recognizable people in the world. Zidane's greatness is even more remarkable considering his difficult background. He has embodied the increasingly significant contributions to soccer of players with direct or indirect origins to former European colonies: people of color who have enriched a game that has become truly global in its appeal.

Zinedine Zidane was born on 23 June 1972 in the concrete cité (housing project) of Castellane, in the grim northern quartiers of the Mediterranean port of Marseille, France. Zinedine was the son of Smail and Malika Zidane, immigrants from the Berber Kabyle region of Algeria. Arriving in France in 1953, they struggled to provide for five children. Zinedine's father often worked several jobs to help make ends meet. His older brother Nordine also showed great talent in soccer and was offered the chance to leave Castellane and play for various teams around France. Much to Nordine's dismay, though, his father forbade him to pursue his soccer career elsewhere.

When a similar chance came to Zinedine later on, the boys' father let his young son move eighty-five miles east to the Riviera resort of Cannes to begin his career as a soccer player. Although small in stature, Zidane's almost magic creativity and prodigious skill with the ball as a midfielder soon set him apart from other players. Playing for AS Cannes from the age of seventeen, Zidane drew more and more attention, and he was selected to play for the French Youth National Team. Zidane transferred to Bordeaux, a perennial contender in the French first division, in 1991. There, as his reputation soared, he played his first games with the French national team.

From his first game wearing the national jersey, Zidane showed his skill by scoring two late goals to tie a strong Romanian team. He also led Bordeaux all the way to the UEFA Cup final. His success in this tournament led to his expensive transfer in 1996 to Italian soccer giant Juventus in Turin. There, despite the great pressure inherent in playing for such a well-known side, Zidane passed the test with flying colors. He performed so well that he was even compared to Michael Platini, a former French star who also played for the Italian club. Moreover, Zidane became a starter for the French national team, cementing his legacy in the 1998 World Cup.

Heading into the World Cup in France, much of the host nation's hope for victory was riding on Zidane, their star playmaker. Even before the start of the tournament, great attention was paid to the racial complexion of France's team, due to its large number of minority players. During a time when racist feelings were being stoked by Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, France's amazing World Cup victory led by Zidane underscored the importance of diversity in France's recent history. France advanced past the preliminary round of the World Cup, finishing first in its group. When Zidane could not play in the first round match against Paraguay because of cards accumulated in previous games, France struggled to score, although the team won in extra time.

Led by Zidane, France advanced to the final of the World Cup to play defending champion Brazil. It was in this famous match that Zidane, the famous number 10, would forge his great legacy as one of the best players in the world. He became a French national hero by scoring the first two of three goals against Brazil in the July final in the sparkling new Stade de France in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis, which has a very high percentage of minority residents. Zidane's face appeared on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris as the whole country, except perhaps the National Front, celebrated the win.

In 2001 Zidane further cemented his greatness by transferring to Real Madrid and its so-called Dream Team. While playing for the Spanish powerhouse, Zidane also led France to wins at both Euro 2000 and the Confederations Cup. Zidane's role on the French team became so important that the media began to say that the national team has had "Zidane dépendence." This theory was further supported by France's failure at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan. Right before the start of the World Cup, Zidane injured his thigh during a friendly match. Without a healthy Zidane, France was eliminated from the preliminary round without scoring a goal. And when the national French team struggled in crucial qualifying matches for the 2006 World Cup, Zidane came out of retirement for international matches to leadles bleues to qualification.

In national opinion polls, Zinedine Zidane, recipient of the French légion d'honneur, emerged as by far the most popular person in France. In a time of increasing racism, Zidane's great international success has played a major role in affirming the important contributions of immigrant groups in France, as well as in other European countries.

See alsoFootball (Soccer); Le Pen, Jean-Marie.


Dauncey, Hugh, and Geoff Hare. France and the 1998 World Cup: The National Impact of a World Sporting Event. London and Portland, Oreg., 1999.

Labrunie, É tienne. Zidane: maître du jeu. N.p., 2005.

Philippe, Jean. Zidane: Le Roi modeste. Paris, 2002.

Christopher Merriman