About a decade ago I had a discussion with my friend who is a Real Madrid fan.
“You are the biggest French club, I’ll give you that one!”, he said.
“Of course we are – all the best French players play for Arsenal!”, I replied and continued with well-known names: “Henry, Vieira, Pires…”
“And Zidane? You told me that you consider him to be the greatest footballer ever!”
He got me there. If there was a player that had talent to match The Invincibles, it was Yazid Zinedine Zidane. The French genius of Algerian descent was the best player in the world and one that was capable of winning things single-handily for his teams. His football had all ingredients for success – the French sophistication and street wisdom from Marseille were enriched by the spirit of Algeria. Bordeaux reached the UEFA Cup Final in 1996, Juventus won two consecutive titles in Italy in 1997 and 1998, France won back-to-back international tournaments in 1998 (World Cup) and 2000 (European Championship), Real won their ninth European title in 2002…and every time Zidane was the key player for the aforementioned successes. If there is one moment of his career that can describe Zidane, then it’s his match-winning volley against Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions’ League Final 2002. That volley might be the best ever – it had technical perfection, mathematical precision and more importance than any other volley in the history of football. (Yes, I saw Van Basten’s brilliant goal against USSR in 1988.) If there was a player that could have helped Wenger’s Arsenal to win the Champions’ League, it was Zizou. France had had great players before Zidane demonstrated his talent (Platini, Cantona, Kopa) but only Zidane managed to make France the best team in the world.
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Now, Zidane works for Real Madrid as assistant coach and sporting director.
Mesut Özil has been at Arsenal for just a month-and-half but his influence on the pitch has been remarkable already. Arsenal have had quality in the attacking midfield-area before the German arrived but now there is a world-class player capable of turning very good players into excellence. Özil, who celebrated his 25th birthday this week, has already scored three goals and created five more in just seven outings for the Gunners. In a way Zidane connected France with his Algerian heritage, Özil embodies the German discipline and preciseness enriched with Turkish creativity.
There are more parallels that might be drawn between Özil and Zidane – both of them could be described as the best No.10s of their times despite wearing other numbers on their back (another connection: Zidane wore “21” in Juventus while Özil picked “11” at Arsenal because Del Piero and Wilshere, domestic talents, had already reserved “10” for themselves). Zidane’s partnership with Figo in Real Madrid’s creative department produced plenty of eye-catching football while the same thing is expected from the partnership between Özil and Cazorla. In both cases, the supporting role of the French defensive midfielder (Makelele and Flamini respectively) is crucial. While Real Madrid were the last Zidane club after five years in Juventus, Özil had spent three years in Real Madrid before he joined Arsenal. He didn’t win the Champions’ League with Los Merengues (just like Zidane failed to do so with Juventus despite reaching two consecutive finals in 1997 and 1998) and Arsene Wenger admitted he is obsessed with the idea of winning the competition so they might be the match made in Heaven. There are some good news for the fans of the German national team: Zidane was 26 when France won the World Cup and Özil will be 26 next year. Before World Cup 1998, Zidane played at Euro 1996 when France lost to Czech Republic in the semifinals. Özil played for Germany at EURO 2012 when Die Elf lost to Italy in the semifinals.
The way Özil scored his first goal against Napoli – he picked the only possible way to score and made it look so easy – suggests that he might be our Zidane – a genius that can take his team to the top.
What do you think about this theory?