Thursday, 26 June 2014

Despite Messi, Zidane's still modern football's greatest

Wonder strike: Hampden Park
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Lionel Messi is beyond realistic criticism. He’s a great player. Period.

He was the first to score 5 in a single Champions League game, breached the Brazil defence for a hat-trick - in Brazil, broke Gerd Muller's 40-year record scoring 91 in a single calendar year and claimed a fourth FIFA ballon d'or in the process.

I've had the good fortune of watching him play live. He scored in both games; from the spot in a routine home league win over Almeria and that mesmerising strike thumped into Manchester United's net at Wembley in the Champions League Final.

Show me the medals. Zizou's got the lot.
Messi's magnificent, with speed, strength, intelligence, quick feet, pace and power - but still I remember Zinedine Zidane as the greatest player I've ever seen.

Because for all Messi's brilliance and I grant you, he still has most of his career ahead of him, he's got a way to go to match the majesty and drama of football's most decorated Frenchman.

I saw Zidane play five games: twice for Real Madrid and three times for his country. In three of those games and without any recourse to superlatives or exaggeration, Zizou produced iconic moments to be remembered for decades as the fans in the stadia held their collective breaths.
Not even Giggs could stop it.
Take Lisbon's Stadium of Light for starters; England's opening game of EURO 2004. Boosted by 75% of the crowd in the best atmosphere I've yet experienced, England were in control as Lampard's first half header should've sufficed for victory.

The crowd had bayed Thierry Henry out of contention and Boy Wonder Rooney was up for it. Then he got subbed and the energy changed in the cauldron.

Step upto the plate, Zinedine Zidane who's superficial calm masked a volcanic temperament. He flashed the ball into the net from a brilliant free-kick, then struck a penalty to turn the game on its head in injury time. I watched the silvery ball's trajectory flash into the net - trouble was, so did hapless David James.

Then there's That Hampden Strike. Roberto Carlos hooked the ball high into the sky in a final attempt to keep possession amid a high challenge from a Bayer defender. Watching it speed downwards like a squash player ready with his racket, Zizou struck it left footed with expert precision, curling, speeding into the top corner. Keeper no chance. It'll never be forgotten.

Then there's the World Cup Final in Berlin. What he did as the curtain fell on his brilliant career is viewed as such a stain. But there was more to his performance in that 90 minutes than that.

His nonchalant penalty with almost demob happy laissez-faire, struck the crossbar and over the line to give France the lead. Let's not forget, he joined Sir Geoff Hurst in scoring three goals in the World Cup Final.

Messi's ecstatic celebration at Wembley
No one could predict what happened later - and when it did, most in the Olympic Stadium wouldn't see it.

Startling. Off the ball. An exchange of words. In cricket, sledging. The headbutt into the chest of Marco Materazzi. I admit the first I saw of it was when Italy keeper Gigi Buffon remonstrated with the French strikers near to him seconds later.

As he traipsed off, round shouldered down into the dressing rooms sweeping past the Trophy, with it France's edge in the impending penalty shootout was lost too.

Shameful end; but not altogether incongruous with his whole career. And still, it makes not a jot to how I perceive him. In fact, it adds dimension and context to his greatest moments. And while Messi's brilliance lights up a match in milliseconds, Zidane's range of personalities makes him modern football's greatest. My best since Maradona.

Messi is a product of a generation of team players. The best of the bunch for sure.

So would I change my view? Not now. Messi couldn't produce a World Cup like Maradona's blistering one-man show in 1986 (and to a lesser extent in 1990), couldn't marry it with his stratospheric club career. He's not surpassed Zidane or Maradona.

But Zidane the loner, Zidane the volcano, Zidane, decorated from top to bottom for both club and country trumps the Argentine for greatness - so far.

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  1. Replies
    1. Nice to see someone with a longer memory than a millisecond. Zidane against Brazil in 2006 was an amazing performance. he out played them on his own. Some great YouTube composites of that match.

  2. Messi is lauded massively because people have short memories. This article reminds us of how good Zidane was... and in a very very good French team too. He's like Maradona in that he emerged from a good football nation but made them a great one!

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  4. beautiful article....really very nicely written..the problem with people is tht they have too short memories..nd for me the era in which zizou played in was much more competitive than messi's era...

  5. Zidane is a great player no doubt and I would still give him the edge over Messi. But I would take Brazillian duo of Ronaldo and Rivaldo over the pair of them.

  6. pretty good read, however many seem to forget that whilst they always say essi plays in a brilliant barcelona team that zidane himself played in some pretty good teams i could pretty much name all the players he had with him at juve, real madrid and france but im sure you already while he was a great player is true but better than messi? ..messi can do everything zidane does, he has assists, he drops back as play maker not to mention the goals..zidane became a household name at juve at age of 24ish, messi is 25 now, he's been playing at world class level since he was 17, true a world cup would be great but his career can't just be determined on that alone, 2 great players but messi is gods gift..brazilian ronaldo i would say was better than zidane as well an then you have xavi and iniesta, it's always hard to say whos the best but lionel messi and r9 are the two best players i've ever seen, they were/are from a different planet

  7. Rose tinted glasses, and all that. Football evolves year on year and a lot of comparisons aren't worth debating. Right now, right here, Messi, but in particular, Barcelona, are the single best footballing side I have ever seen. And by some way.

  8. As great as Zizou was the team of 98 would have won the world cup without him, apart from those 2 goals in the WC final the rest of the team pretty much carried him. The French team were so strong they won without strikers. I agree with the article in that he had iconic moments, the freekick against David James stands out and the goal in the champions league final, the pirouettes. Also agreed in that he shone in 2006 and was the stand out player of that tourno. In my opinion Zizou did not come into the frame until the early 20's when I saw him with Juve where there were already great players in that team.
    The thing with R9 and Messi they were already being spoken about when they they were in their teens I can't recall the same for Zizou
    As great as Zizou was had it not been for the crippling injuries I think R9 would have been seen in the same light as Maradona. His mistake was going to Inter when he did as he was never the same player from the infamous 98 final. He peaked at around 21/22. He lost his blistering pace from the continous ops on his knees so at that point Zizou took the limelight and is remembered more fondly as his career has been consistently good.
    In terms of club performances Messi has outshone everyone. Agreed he has not performed on the world stage as yet but he still has time. He is the closest player I have seen to Maradona, in my lifetime Maradona is still the no.1. Can't comment on Pele,Best,Cruyff,Garrincha, Di Stefano as have not seen them play. For me Messi needs to perform on the world stage, not neccesarily to win the world cup but to be seen as the player of the tourno just as he has done in the champions league for the past 4 years. The champions league is on a higher level than the world cup but Messi is playing with a team he has grown up with. He hasn't performed for Argentina at the major tourno's as yet which needs to change if he wants to be considered in the same league as Maradona.
    Like I said Messi has time and 2014 could well be his year to join his countryman as one of the best of all time.
    For those of you who remember IMO Maradona led an average Argentina team in 86 to world cup glory and an unfashionable team like Napoli to the league title breaking the stranglehold of Juve and AC Milan. Napoli had never won the league I didn't even know who they were until Maradona joined that team and changed their destiny for the better.
    For now excluding Pele et al Maradona is the no.1 for me. Zizou just below that. R9 would have been on a higher level than Zizou had it not been for all those injuries. His speed was breath taking.
    Zizou just has the nod over Messi for me simply because he has performed better on the world stage. Like I said he is still young and this could change after 2014.
    Of course we need to take into account evolution as players are faster,fitter and have better diets than beofre and the rule changes benefit the attackers more.
    I am not sure if Messi could do what he does know in the 80's and 90's as defenders would have kicked lumps out of him.
    Just my opinion but Maradona > Zizou > Messi/R9


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