Zinedine Zidane, a Kabyle from La Castellane

Zinedine Zidane may be the best soccer player ever to play for the French national team, and his record in professional league play over 18 years is virtually unmatched. A soccer superstar for many years in Europe, where his image is well-known due to his many endorsement and sponsorship deals, Zidane achieved a different sort of notoriety globally when his startling head butt of Italian team player Marco Materazzi in the 2006 FIFA World Cup final game was broadcast and re-broadcast around the world.

Although a French citizen and born in the La Castellane neighborhood of Marseille, Zidane is extremely proud of his Algerian heritage. He has been widely quoted as declaring himself to be “first, a Kabyle from La Castellane, then an Algerian from Marseille, and then a Frenchman.” Zidane’s parents emigrated to Marseille from Kabylie, a region of Algeria, a mountainous area that has through history been resistant to foreign incursions and fiercely defensive of their customs and culture. It may have been these qualities that helped the young Zidane survive difficult conditions while growing up in the La Castellane housing project, a place of overcrowding and poverty.

Zidane learned his soccer playing on pavement and concrete instead of finely manicured pitches. In his early teens he began playing regularly with Saint-Henri, the local club, where his skill and toughness soon brought him to Septemes Sports Olympiques where he signed his first contract and began his swift rise through the ranks of France‘s club leagues. In 1996, Zidane was playing for Juventus, and then in 2001 he joined top-ranked players such as David Beckham, Luis Figo and Ronaldo at Real Madrid where he played his final professional game on May 7, 2006.

Zinedine Zidane has played for France in three FIFA World Cups: 1998, 2002 and 2006. His bold playmaking was instrumental in France’s win over Italy in 1998. The 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany was to be Zidane’s swan song, and many doubted if the aging star could recapture some of his past glory. Those doubts were put to rest as France cruised through the tournament to meet archrival Italy once again in the final. Zidane’s goal in the 7th minute lifted him into a very exclusive group of soccer players, as he became only the fourth player to score goals in two different World Cup finals. Zidane’s outstanding play throughout the tournament resulted in his being awarded the coveted FIFA World Cup Golden Ball Award. Alas, Zidane’s final moments on the field are memorable for the confrontation with Materazzi alluded to earlier.

According to Zidane, Materazzi grabbed his shirt, prompting him to say to the Italian “If you want my shirt, I’ll give it to you after the game”. Materazzi’s reply, which has never been precisely determined, enraged Zidane, who wheeled on Materazzi and head-butted him to the ground. Debate over who deserves the most blame for the incident rages to this day, but FIFA ended up fining both players and did not revoke Zidane’s Golden Ball award. Zidane’s champions include French president Jacques Chirac and Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Although now retired from both professional and international play, Zidane’s lucrative sponsorship deals and the enduring repercussions from the head-butting incident should keep him in the limelight for some time to come!