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From Ligue 1 to superstardom: Zinedine Zidane

BeSoccer by BeSoccer @besoccer_com - 0 741

Pin Zinedine Zidane during his time as a player. Goal
Zinedine Zidane during his time as a player. Goal

From Ligue 1 to superstardom: Zinedine Zidane

BeSoccer by BeSoccer @besoccer_com - 0 741

In a new series, Goal looks at some of the all-time great exports from France’s top flight. We begin with perhaps the greatest of them all...

Zinedine Zidane could never get enough. He played before school, he played on the way to school. He played at breaktime, he played after school. All evening he played, heading home only when the sun kissed goodnight to the underprivileged La Castellane suburb of Marseille.

He played so much it was inevitable that he would eventually be spotted by someone in the game. Former Cannes player Jean Varraud got lucky, spotting the immense potential in the tall, languid, raw and volatile talent, recommending Zidane to the club where he would spend the first three years of career.

Zidane moved on to Bordeaux amid relatively little fanfare, certainly in contrast to his future transfers. Observed by his new club’s coaching staff as an introvert youngster filled with self-doubt, the most remarkable of careers and an unremarkable beginning.

But it was in the wine country where Zizou matured, culminating in a 1995-96 season that would change his life forever. 

In the previous campaign, he’d shown signs that he was coming of age. Right from his beginnings in the eternal impromptu kickabouts in the square of Place de la Tartane in his native district of Marseille, Zidane had always demanded the ball, but by then he was beginning to take on more responsibility than ever.

He’d led Bordeaux to respectable seventh-place finish in Ligue 1, which left them one of four sides offered a shot at European football through the back door. The quartet who had missed out on qualification for the Champions League and UEFA Cup – the predecessor to the Europa League – were handed entry to the Intertoto Cup, a short tournament squeezed into less than 60 days that awarded its two winning semi-finalists a place in the UEFA Cup.

When Zizou kicked off that campaign just six weeks after the end of the previous season, he was still widely regarded as raw, volatile and perhaps even wayward young talent, who was yet to climb to the next step. He quickly began taking them three at time.

Ligue 1 had schooled Zidane, a relative late-bloomer for a man of such extraordinary talent, but the local tournament became almost an afterthought for a single season as he set out on a gruelling, but great, European adventure.

It kicked off on 1 July with a 6-2 hammering of humble Swedish visitors Norrkoping as just a few hundred supporters saw Zidane curl in a sumptuous finish for the first of his two goals on the night. He added three more as he inspired Bordeaux to UEFA Cup qualification with victory over German side Karlsruhe.

Then came FK Vardar of Macedonia and Russian outfit Rotor Volgograd before Zizou finally ran into the big boys, as Real Betis were shrugged aside before a famous quarter-final victory over Milan.

Paolo Maldini, Patrick Vieira, Franco Baresi, Marcel Desailly, Roberto Baggio and co. had proved too much for Zizou’s side at San Siro, running away two goal winners. But the Italians were in for a shock in the return, as Zidane masterminded a stunning 3-0 win to progress to the final four, where Czechs Slavia Prague were dumped out.

The final would bring heartache, as Bayern Munich ended the run of a Bordeaux side that were missing Zidane and top scorer Christophe Dugarry through first-leg suspensions, but the secret was out.

Zidane had come of age. He’d gone from a solid Ligue 1 performer, who was passed over by Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United, to a move to the mighty Juventus, which would prove the springboard to becoming the world’s most expensive player when he would later join Real Madrid.

Bordeaux finished fifth from bottom that season, just four points clear of relegation, but Zidane was named Ligue 1 Player of the Year. They knew his time there was up. 

France’s top flight had taken a timid and anxious teenager and made him a man, a superstar to be unleashed on the continent. The transformation took place during 51 weeks that demanded Zidane play 63 games – a year where the sun stayed out a little longer than usual for the boy from La Castellane.



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