Zizou Return does no Favors for France
Zinedine Zidane is the best soccer player of his generation. The best the world has seen since one Diego Armando Maradona. He’s won every major trophy available and no one in their right mind can second-guess his accomplishments or legacy.
A little over a year after retiring from international soccer, Zidane announced yesterday that he is doing an about face and will return to Les Blues to help jumpstart their sputtering World Cup qualification campaign. France is currently fourth in their group, just three points behind Group 4 leaders Ireland, though they have a game in hand.
Zidane bowed to the pressure of the consistent calls for his return. Even future UEFA President Franz Beckenbauer recently said that a World Cup without France would be a ‘disaster.’ France Head Coach Raymond Domenech has left the door open from the start of qualification.
Mr. Zidane, if you are reading this blog, please rethink your decision. For you are making a mistake that is doing a disservice to your country.
Note that I didn’t say damaging your own reputation. Zidane can still dominate at the highest level. He was one of the stars of Euro2004 and Real Madrid will go deep into this year’s Champions league, with the French maestro directing the attack. That much is certain.
The sooner the French wean themselves off of their dependence on yesteryear’s stars, the better off they will be in the long run. Their quarterfinal round elimination from Euro2004 at the feet of the eventual champions Greece, was an honorable swansong for a number of players from the team that once simultaneously held the World Cup and European Championship trophy.
Zidane, Lillian Thuram and Claude Makelele passed the torch to new generation of talented Frenchmen, who are led by today’s superstars namely Thierry Henry and Patrick Viera. The Luic Guily’s, Jerome Rothen’s and William Gallases of the world need a chance to sink or swim on their own because it is these players that must live up to the lofty expectations of French soccer.
France’s embarrassing exit from World Cup 2002 was partially blamed on the fact that they were automatic qualifiers as defending champs. With no grueling qualification campaign to endure, France never had the chance to forge a collective identity. When they went down a goal to Senegal in the opening match, they did not know to whom they needed to look for a lift. Most would say, “that’s easy. It’s Zidane. Or Viera. Or Henry.” But until a team is tested in a game that matters, they cannot be certain of the answer.
Zidane and Makalele are returning to Les Blues. Thuram is close to doing the same thing. They will add loads of talent and hundreds of caps to a quality team that is finding its way. But their presence means that France will continue to reach into the past in order to win tomorrow’s games. That in itself is a mistake and Zidane, as great a player as he is, is leading the charge.