So Zizou bowed out and his epitaph will read, "He was the greatest soccer player of his time except....... ". There should be no second guessing at all, he is still the greatest soccer player this generation has seen and we should count ourselves fortunate to see him at his best. He did what no other player did for France, win them them the World Cup and came close to winning them another. Platini, as great as he was could not manage it. Zidane was also at the vanguard of what we see as a transformational moment in French soccer with it's now taken for granted mutli-ethnic hue. His play in the 1998 final when he dismantled the Brazilians by his two stunning headers is what I remember him by. The PK that he took in this final against Italy where he beat a lunging Buffon with a delicately placed chip was as good as the goal by Esteban Cambiasso after the concerto by the Argentinians against the Serb- Montenegro team.
Zidane is a low key and private person. I do not know much about his personal life and I am sure a lot of us are equally clueless. I would like to think that he let his game define him unlike many of his other peers who seem to revel in the limelight off the field too. His retirement from soccer when he was worn out and injured, responding to Domenech's call for this World Cup, and then laeading the Les Bleus to the brink of success is by itself the story of this World Cup. We can count these type of extraordinary accomplishments in any field on our fingers.
Zizou was human and he showed that in the match against Italy. Yes, given his experience, maturity, and his level of play, it was a mindless foul. Yes, it was a foul that probably cost France the game. But can you say that Zizou gave it his all everytime he played for France. All 90 minutes and more. Absolutely. When I think of the players who were supposed to have made this World Cup theirs, Ronaldinho, Kaka, David Beckham, Juan Roman Riquelme, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Steven Gerrard, they are the ones that people should be shaking their heads at and wondering if they were wrong all along. For Ronaldinho, this World Cup was his coming out party, where he would finally vindicate all those comparisons to Pele and Maradona. Certainly, Beckham, whose World Cup career is over must be wondering about the legacy he has left behind. On the world's greatest stage he has always managed to come up short.
For a long time we felt that Maradona had tarnished his image fatally by mainlining cocaine and taking ephedrine which got him booted out of the 1994 US World Cup. But here we are still debating as to who was the greatest, Pele or Maradona? His two goals against England in the 1986 World Cup is still what we remember Maradona by. He is his country's most loved ambassador and the host of one of it's most popular TV talk shows. He was a fixture in this World Cup cheering on the Albiceleste, like Platini, like Beckenbauer, for their countries, and I am sure in the World Cups to come, we will also see Zizou proudly coming forth in support of the Les Bleus. He will not go gentle into that good night.