Champions League Feature Profiles

Zidane, a Portrait revisited

“Magic is sometimes very close to nothing at all. Nothing at all. When I retire I’ll miss the green of the field. ‘Le Carre Vert’.”

So said Zinedine Zidane a few years back, as his playing career wound down to that infamous final moment. The words appear in Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, a singular cinematic portrayal of one 2005 day at the office which seems as fine a place, at least to me, to go searching for meaning and echoes as the French superstar, recast in the unlikely role (at least to some) as an undefeated Champions League Final manager, goes for three in a row Saturday in Kiev.

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The idea of Zidane on the sideline now seems only slightly less strange than the moment 30 months ago when he was suddenly promoted from inexperienced reserve manager into the role of directing the world’s most successful club. It is no stranger, though, than having Portrait’s 17 cameras trained only on him, the biggest Galactico of all, with the rest of the Bernabeu – his teammates, Villarreal (including Diego Forlan at peak hair), the usual sellout house in Madrid – functioning as extras. And surely, in an age of specialty shots available at the asking on today’s big broadcasts, keeping a close eye on the superstar du jour is nothing new – there’s likely a Zidane-cam going this weekend, if you’re interested. But in this revisit, his command is not so much eye-opening – to me, Zidane and Dennis Bergkamp have always been the only two players (and very different ones) who I would wish to be teleported back to see again in their prime. And of the two, unlike the sometime-passenger Bergkamp, Zidane’s imperiousness rarely if ever flagged (although it would somewhat inevitably be doused in equally instinctive dollops of red mist).

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If you’re looking for something different for your pre-final party and haven’t already gone there, stop reading now and go find it (it’s on YouTube). The spoiler is that red mist, and the stray observations include the confirmation that as recently as 13 years ago, filthy-rich footballers remained capable of fouling or being fouled without turning into today’s flaming, disbelieving idiots rounding in how-dare-you fashion on the referee. Zidane himself stalks around, scratching his nose, hands on hips, the odd ‘hey!’ his only verbal, the camera going down and close to note the hole left by a stray spike in his left sock (by game’s end, there is a match on the other leg), panning up with his eyes to the Bernabeu’s uppermost lights, accompanied by the most subdued Mogwai soundtrack ever. Then he sees something and is off like a tiger bursting from the tall grass. As for the poor referee, he gets his, but sotto voce – “You should be embarrassed,” Zidane tells him under his breath after he awards Forlan a penalty.

Otherwise, Zidane offers the stoniest of looks, not even acknowledging Roberto Carlos’ “can you believe that?” look as Forlan lines up the spot kick. He’s the very model of the modern midfield general, a conservationist before his time. Much has been made of the man’s vision, including now, as he’s less the ruthless tactician and more the “manage by feel” type, it is said, and as loyal to his mates as the day is long. But that is all inferred here through the sweat, toil and handclaps. One of the more revealing quotes that appear below the action has him downplaying that part of his game:

“I remember playing in another place, at another time, when something amazing happened. Someone passed the ball to me and before even touching it, I knew exactly what was going to happen. I knew I was going to score. It was the first and last time it ever happened.”

And:

“Maybe if things are going badly you become conscious of people’s reaction. When it’s not going well you feel less involved and more likely to hear the insults, the whistles. You start to have negative thoughts sometimes you want to forget. The game, the event, is not necessarily experienced or remembered in ‘real time’. My memories of games, and events, are fragmented.”

It hasn’t been the best of domestic seasons for Zidane by multiple standards, including his own and the club he’s represented on and off since the turn of the century, and you wonder, hearing this from long ago, how much of this season has stayed with him, and fueled him. Real staggered through the year, finishing a vast 17 points off Barcelona in the La Liga table. But they found form, augmented by some luck (you make your own, right?) at Europe’s biggest, most important stage. For its polarity, it’s been remarkable. But then as now, he gives away nothing. Not for him the histrionics of his opposite this weekend, Jurgen Klopp a hyperactive, adenoidal teenager by comparison. Or the incandescent rage of Zidane the player best recalled in that infamous coupe de boule in his final game – or in the final moments of the movie, with Zidane’s predictable sending off accompanied by Mogwai in a shimmering ascendancy and acknowledged by a downcast grimace.

Economy. Elegance. Control. Vision. Power. Anger. ‘Le Carre Vert’. They’re all points on the Zidane scale, still. In this managerial guise we don’t see them all, with some kept well-holstered in a bespoke suit pocket. Perhaps Saturday, there will be a smile. But in even the most optimistic updated portrait, don’t count on it.

Post by Chris Young – @HighParkCy

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