In the film ‘Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait’ we get to watch him for a full match. We see the French football god gently dribbling, pointing and above all endlessly scanning his environment. You don’t know where he looks, his eyes disappear invisibly in the dark shadow of his eye sockets, but he has always seen the space. When he gets the ball, he usually passes it on after two or three touches. His dribbling and feints made Zidane world-famous, but his overview and quick passes brought the Frenchman the 1998 World Championship and the European Championship two years later with Les Bleus.
PLACE DE LA TARTARE
Zidane grew up in Castellane, a poor suburb of Marseille, he was the youngest in a family of five children. In their biography about Zidane, Patrick Fort and Jean Philippe write that as a boy he sometimes fell asleep in a close embrace with the ball. He played football on the Place de la Tartare, the concrete square adjacent to the apartment where he lived.
“I was far from the only good footballer on the Place de la Tartare,” he says in his biography. “But I was the only one who never stopped.” His father Ismail had to work day and night to support his children. To save money, he cut the hair of his children’s himself.
MOST POULAR FRENCHMAN
After the 1998 World Cup, Zidane was number one in elections for the most popular Frenchman for decades. The victory of the multicultural les Bleus was seen as a symbol for a better French society in which black and white would not only play together on the field, but also be one off it.
In an interview with the Dutch daily Telegraaf in 2000, the Frenchman told about his origins. “The neighborhood where I grew up certainly didn’t have a good name. Violence and fights were frequent. I knew I had to watch out for it. Maybe that’s why I’ve always been a quiet boy. I never said anything more than bonjour or bonsoir to people I didn’t quite trust. Then very little can happen to you. I’ve never been a bad boy, although of course I had enough fun with my comrades. We stayed in our neighborhood because we felt safe there. The mutual control was enormous. All in all it was a special atmosphere. Especially because so many different cultures lived together. I was never aware of the concept of racism.”
Not winning, but the tricks were the most important thing for Zinedine Zidane while playing football on the Place de la Tartane. Every day he practiced the feint that would later get his name: The Zidane: A pirouette in which a player first stands lightly on the ball, then rotates 360 degrees on his axis and takes the ball further with the sole of the other foot.
He never made headlines, Zizou. In ‘The Football Menl’ Simon Kupfer writes that the French star player used to dive away as a fifteen year old when the trainer of Cannes, his then club threw a ball at him for a header. That Zidane would score twice in the World Cup final is a stunning story in itsel. That he did so twice with headers really seems too good to be true.