The big interview: Bixente Lizarazu - "Alex Ferguson wanted to sign me... but it stopped very quickly"
Bixente Lizarazu has just only arrived at FourFourTwo HQ, but already he is causing mayhem. First, he frantically rips up some magazines, then puts us in a disconcertingly sturdy headlock.
Normally, this would be a sign that the interview’s gone badly wrong – but with Lizarazu it’s different.
“I’m not a psychopath!” chuckles the World Cup winner, who’s in London as part of his role as an ambassador with Bayern Munich.
To be fair, we did ask the jiu-jitsu black belt to tear up an old issue or two for the photoshoot. The headlock was definitely all Bixente’s idea, though, as his sense of humour took over and he insisted on showing FFT a little sample of his martial arts skills. Thankfully, the interview with him is less painful…
Can you clear this one up: is your official name Bixente or Vincent?
Anthony Stevens, Hull
Bixente. I was born in the Basque part of France and my parents wanted to officially declare my name as Bixente. But the people in the administration there said no – at that time a Basque name wasn’t allowed and so they had to use the French translation, Vincent.
Everyone in the Basque country called me Bixente until I became famous in football and journalists started saying ‘Vincent Lizarazu puts in a cross’. I was like, ‘Vincent? Who is this guy? I don’t know him!’ It was never my name, so I got a lawyer to make it official that my name was Bixente, as my parents wanted. Today, my son is Tximista and daughter Uhaina, both Basque names.
- 1988-96 Bordeaux
- 1996-97 Athletic Bilbao
- 1997-2004 Bayern Munich
- 2004 Marseille
- 2005-06 Bayern Munich
What was it like playing alongside Eric Cantona while you were at Bordeaux?
Ian Ross, Manchester
I didn't play with him for long, but he was no problem at all. I know what he did in England was famous – fantastic goals and also the problem with that fan. I saw what he said in FourFourTwo, that he should have hit the fan harder! There was nothing unusual at Bordeaux apart from a cup match that we played once: we had a penalty and it was so windy that day. The wind was against him, so he tried a Panenka and the ball never even reached the line!
Did Bordeaux’s run from the Intertoto Cup to the UEFA Cup final in 1995/96 help to earn you moves afterwards?
Steffen Reiter, Augsburg
Yes, I think it came from that – not the final against Bayern Munich, because in the second leg I had to go off injured, but from what we did in the UEFA Cup that season. Everybody in Europe saw us. Zinedine Zidane went to Juventus, Christophe Dugarry went to Milan and I went to Athletic Bilbao, then Bayern.
Just how good was Zinedine Zidane?
Theo Lecroix, Marseille
When Zizou first arrived at Bordeaux, he wasn’t in fantastic physical shape. It was hard for him to get through 90 minutes and he worked a lot on that. But he was a genius. In training he’d do things that were a little bit strange.
He didn’t have a classic technique, the things you learn at soccer schools. He had the technique from the street and movements that were impossible for everyone except him. Alone he could change a game and make a goal, but he played for the team as well. If you make a run three times and the ball is never coming, the third time you think, ‘F**k it, he is never giving me the ball.’ But it was never like that with Zidane – when you made a run he would always give you the ball, exactly two metres in front of you, perfectly timed.
He knew his team-mates wouldn't make that run for nothing, and when a player is thinking like that, everybody wants to run for him. When you had the ball in defence, you would always search for Zizou as you knew you’d never lose the ball with him, even if the pass was bad. It was always a good pass when it went to him. Playing with Zizou was so easy.
You were the first French player ever to sign for Athletic Bilbao. How proud are you to have represented a team who only recruit Basque footballers?
Jun Kaloustian, via Facebook
It’s difficult to speak about my year at Athletic Bilbao because it was the start of my injury problems. It was a football decision to go there, as Spanish football was what I watched when I was young – we lived on the border with Spain and I would often go and see Real Sociedad games. I wanted to experience playing football there, but other people wanted to talk about me being the first French player at Athletic Bilbao, not me. Then I was injured and it wasn’t possible for me to play my normal game for them, so it wasn’t really a fun season for me.
Do you feel more French or Basque?
Tom Grant, via Facebook
I feel French and Basque. In France you have some different places where there is a different culture. Corsica or Brittany isn’t the same as Paris, and the Basque country isn’t the same either. There are a few different things, but that’s great.
How important would you say Aime Jacquet was for your football career?
Julie Frayssinous, Rouen
I started as a professional with Aime Jacquet at Bordeaux – I played out on the left wing at first – and all of my best days with the national team were with him. He was the kind of coach you were ready to break your leg for, like Ottmar Hitzfeld at Bayern. I had a really good relationship with Jacquet, lots of talking, as I was a player who needed to understand things and chat to the trainer. I was interested in the tactics and what we did in training sessions.
Discussion was easy with him. He also helped me in an important moment for my career. I was still having problems with injuries during my first season at Bayern in 1997/98, and I lost all of my self-confidence. But Jacquet came to visit me in Munich and he said, “If you can come back 100 per cent fit, then you’ll be my left-back for the national team.”
That gave me the power to train really hard. I managed to get fit for the World Cup and I think I played a good tournament. In the same season, I'd gone through the worst moment of my career and become a world champion.
You reached the semi-finals of Euro 96 two years earlier but lost out to the Czech Republic at Old Trafford. Was it seen as a success or failure?
Danny Clarke, Stevenage
It gave us some confidence. We lost on penalties so we were close to reaching the final – it wasn’t because we weren’t good enough. It was the start of a new generation. David Ginola and Cantona weren’t playing any more, and Jacquet decided to give players like Zidane and Youri Djorkaeff the keys to the national team. Euro 96 was like training for the World Cup.
I wasn’t in the team for the first game of the tournament, but then I got in and that was the start for me. Even though I made my debut in 1992, the Euros was when I began to feel like an important player in the France team.
Did you go into the 1998 World Cup expecting to win it on home soil?
Jamie Frampton, London
We didn’t really know, it was impossible to say. We arrived at the World Cup very sure of our defensive qualities, but not overly sure about our offensive potential. But in the end, everyone was scoring – attackers, midfielders and defenders. Lilian Thuram scored two in the semis, Laurent Blanc scored, and I scored one against Saudi Arabia.
Scoring that goal at the World Cup felt amazing as I'd come so far from that f**king injury. It felt like a gift: ‘I give you a goal as you've had some bad moments, so now you need a little bit of sunshine back.’
You played alongside Lilian Thuram, Laurent Blanc and Marcel Desailly – how good was that France defence?
Andy Kearnley, Belper
With us four and Fabien Barthez playing in goal behind us we never lost, which is amazing. It was a great feeling to be unbeatable – it wasn’t only that we were strong individually, together we were much stronger. If I lost a tackle, Marcel would get back and make the tackle. If he lost a tackle, I would be there to help him. That defensive quality helped us to be world champions, but the midfield played a big part as well – a good defence is never just the back four and the keeper.
What did you think of Laurent Blanc kissing Fabien Barthez’s head before every match? A bit weird, wasn’t it?
James Meredith, Needham Market
It was funny! But it’s a bit like wearing the same socks or underwear – they had to keep doing it before every game and we wanted them to do it, as it was good luck. In football you start believing in such things, like if they don’t do it, we will lose!
What are your memories of the World Cup final against Brazil?
Thomas Barnes, Southampton
We were so relaxed, which is important for a game with that kind of pressure. My experiences taught me that more pressure means you should relax more; less pressure and you should put more aggression into the situation. Before the final it’s not necessary to say, ‘Let’s go guys, we've got to fight’. It’s better to make a few jokes and relax, rather than saying, ‘Tonight, I am playing the game of my life’. You know it is, but you’ll have a bad match if you say that too much. On the morning of the final we were all talking about Ronaldo, about how he played, and that we had to be so careful.
He was an amazing player – impossible to control – so we just started laughing about it, as we didn’t have any solution. But in the end we were mentally much better than Brazil and we controlled the match – it was the easiest game of the whole tournament for us, even though they had many fantastic players. When we went to receive the trophy I saw my father in the stands. He was crying, and I will always remember lifting the cup. Zizou handed me the cup, I lifted it up and then said, “F**k! I made it!” Nobody can ever take that away from me. You can never be an ex-World Cup winner. You stay a World Cup winner forever.
What did you think when a lot of French people started naming their babies Bixente after the World Cup?
Julien Delon, Reims
It was funny! And not only Bixente but Zinedine and Lilian, too. It was crazy after the World Cup, you can’t imagine it. When we went into a restaurant they’d often put on the music that people had played during the World Cup, Gloria Gaynor… [starts humming the opening bars of I Will Survive] Everyone would start singing it. For six months it was totally crazy.