My Perfect 10: Zinedine Zidane

Playmakers Week continues with FourFourTwo editor David Hall's memories of a Frenchman who certainly left the game with a bang...

As playmakers go, Zinedine Zidane must surely be one of the most graceful. Throughout his career he managed to make even the most ugly, awkward movements somehow look elegant. Even his flooring of Marco Materazzi in Berlin’s Olympiastadion had a certain flair and panache about it.

I recently watched Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait – the film that follows the maestro through a game against Villareal at the Bernabeu. Cameras dotted around the ground follow his every movement throughout the game, while his infrequent shouts to team-mates and mutterings to the referee occasionally come through the audio.

The most surprising thing about this film is Zidane’s economy of movement. When the ball is not in his vicinity, he’s often seen casually walking, dabbing the floor with the toe of his boots – like a bull waiting to charge – or standing completely still, running his hands over his cropped dome like a man who’s lost a fairly sizeable wager in the local bookies.

You could even describe him as placid during most of the game – placid to the point of looking a bit bored. A disdainful presence on the pitch with an air of, “I’m that good, I may not even touch the ball this half.”

But when the ball does come his way, it’s a thing of beauty. The incredible first touch, whether it’s a feather-light pass to feet or a head-high rocket, is simply breathtaking.

Defenders simply can not shut him down fast enough before he’s either released the ball or disappeared up the touchline. He sets up a far post headed goal for Ronaldo (the Brazilian one) with a precision cross after beating a couple of players to the byline. It ain’t no big thing.

But in amongst all the beauty is the darkside. For those of you who haven’t seen this film and are hoping to one day, look away now. THIS IS A SPOILER ALERT.

Zidane doesn’t see out the full 90 minutes of this game as one of his most vigorous moments of activity is when he accosts a Villareal player during a melee, getting himself red-carded.

And there you have Zidane. You could imagine the filmmakers high-fiving and opening bottles of Kristal as the ref raised the red card. Their cameras were there to capture the genius and then the occasional lunacy of one of the world’s best ever footballers.

In many ways, Zidane’s temperament is perfect for a playmaker. Although playmakers are at the centre of everything – the spark in the engine for a team’s creativity, the springboard from which great things leap – they are alone. No one else does what they do, so often everything is riding on their performance.

Such is the life of the puppet master – pulling the strings for his merry band of entertainers, but all the while living in virtual silence, head in the clouds.

I think this is what makes all great playmakers slightly quirky and prone to the occasional attack of the crackers. It’s what gives them their x-ray vision when looking for a pass and what drives the thinking part of their football brain to produce the unexpected. The isolation of the role is like a permanent state of meditation that brings a Zen-like quality to the way they play and perceive the game.

Zidane is the perfect playmaker because he consistently showed his split personality. All grace and magic one moment, all hands to throats and headbutts the next.

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