The term ‘greatest player of a generation’ is never something to be taken lightly. In the current football climate, with your Lionel Messi’s and Cristiano Ronaldo’s, it’s often easy to lose touch of perspective, and begin to over exaggerate a players true quality. Luckily, such an example stands as a glowing reference as to what exactly defines a player as the greatest of his generation. That example is Zinedine Zidane.
YouTube will do its best to define this player with a series of trick moves, nutmegs and outstanding shots from impossible angles – but this isn’t Zidane. His magnificence lived through his exceptional ability to control the game, and like any true great, manipulate it to his every beck and call.
Where his companions at Juventus and Madrid were heralded as the fastest, strongest and most technically skilled players in the world, one would demand a greater breadth of attributes to define this great man’s talent.
At 6 foot and 1 inch, the Mareseillas and his athletic build were anything but a hushed commodity in the centre of the park. Often found with a tranquil body posture and immovable expression, the Galactico oozed control in every sense of the word. As midfielders and defenders tracked and followed his every move, the great playmaker would meander across the pitch, faintly deciphering the game before them.
If you were to show a young student of the game a clip of the past great, the first notable characteristic would be his movement. It simply wasn’t regular or comparable to any other footballer.
While every player is taught from the youngest age to follow the play and not get caught following the ball, Zinedine was different. The Frenchmen would gaze at the ball with a desire that played host to the eloquent respect he showed it. He glided throughout games on a different mind set, a different set of laws.
If football at its most basic level, is a sport revolving around 22 men chasing a football, then Zidane was never one to follow the crowd. His brilliance could almost be defined in his astute ability to remain utterly focused upon the ball in contention, while remaining completely disconnected from the actual run of play.
As once described as the ‘Magician’ by none other than the great Pele, Zidane truly was the master of his team’s fortune. Playmaker and chief architect for the most extensively assembled sides in the history of football; he embodied everything that was required of the position.
The eloquent touches, selfless passing and moments of individual endeavour were just some of the qualities that defined the true trequistera. Zinedine Zidane would never run past a defender, but seamlessly glide through them.
To suggest he merely ‘pulled the strings’ would perhaps undermine or oversimplify the man’s gift. Where Xavi or Cesc Fabregas are ever present in every pass, play or goal by their respective sides, Zidane would rather move in and out of focus of the games attention, while still dictating the play.
This worked particularly well during his time at Madrid alongside the great Galacticos. He didn’t have the expensive haircut, extensive commercial tv deals or throbbing ego. If the man had ever possessed some degree of vanity, it would be for his undeniable hunger for perfection, and the love he held for football. In a side filled to the brim with Hollywood faces and extravagant show ponies, Zidane was given the freedom and space to intimidate play from behind the scenes as Beckham et al stole the spotlight.
Where Raul played the role of local lad turned hero as team captain, and Ronaldo characterized all that was right about the modern superstar footballer, Zidane epitomized the necessity and example of true footballing perfection, which fed the Galactico flame.
The true mark of any great player is not measured by the length of his trophy cabinet, the size of his merchandising deals, or the fans he has accumulated, but the mark he leaves upon the game when he’s gone.
Whether it be his time at Los Blancos or Les Bleus, Zidane will be forever remembered as an eloquent genius who showed the world an artistic side to the sport of football, during its most physical hour. Whatever people may think of the man, let him be remembered as a true ambassador of the beautiful game.
You can follow Stefan on Twitter at @SBienkowski.