We talk to the French legend about headbutts, Maradona and more
Zinedine Zidane: the best footballer of his generation. Winner of a World Cup and a European Championship with France, a Champions League medal with Real Madrid and league titles in Italy and Spain. A three-time FIFA World Player of the Year who forged an incredible career filled with sublime goals, graceful turns and deadeye passing. Yet above all else, he will remembered for one moment. That moment. In the 2006 World Cup final – his last game of football – he was sent off for headbutting opponent Marco Materazzi in the chest. The truth of what the Italy defender said to provoke the attack has never truly come to light, but does Zidane regret how it affected his legacy? We met the Algerian-born 39-year-old when he visited Dubai, and found a surprisingly humble, gentle man who spoke to us through an interpreter in soft, at times barely audible tones, his words peppered with smiles and laughter. A fierce competitor on the pitch, but a gentleman off it. Words Jamie Goodwin
Welcome to Dubai! Is this your first time here? What do you think of it? I’ve been here three times on holiday, so I know it a little. It’s close to Europe and has good weather. It is easy here. I’m looking forward to visiting a restaurant tomorrow tonight.
You were an ambassador for the 2022 Qatar World Cup bid, during which you said: ‘The Arab world is emerging.’ I was happy because this was a victory for the Middle East beyond Qatar. This is good for an area where football has never come before. When I was playing, I was asked to play in Qatar, but I declined because I wanted to end my career in Madrid, but I suggested that I could help to promote football there in the future. The project is something to be proud of. They’re going to set up the stadiums to provide the best platform to play football, but also what they will do in the future with these stadiums – such as redistributing money to emerging countries – is very honourable. The potential is huge. The FIFA objective of developing and promoting football in an area of such potential is what needs to be done. We believe that it is going to be a very exciting time and we will get some local teams creating surprises.
Were you surprised when Diego Maradona took a coaching job in Dubai? No. It is good for him that after the Argentina experience [losing 4-0 to Germany in the World Cup quarter-finals last year] he could find a new platform like that, even better here because the potential is here. It is very good for him. I’m happy for him. He has changed a lot since he became a coach, in a positive way. It is good that he can continue coaching.
Where do you rank yourself among football’s all-time greatest players? It’s very difficult to give yourself a rank, but I am just happy to have been recognised as marking my time. It feels great to have left a footprint. Every football player wants to succeed and be the best. I receive lots of messages telling me that I left a footprint in football.
Do you have any regrets about the way your career ended? No. It is just part of the way of life – my life, my path. It’s not that I am proud of what I did, or the last image I left on the pitch. But I accept it for the good and for the bad because that is life.