Zinedine Zidane, considered by many the
greatest soccer player since Diego Maradona and an unparalleled master
of the game's fundamental skills, announced his retirement today, saying
he would stop playing professionally after the World Cup this summer.
"Today I am making the decision to leave it all behind," Zidane, a 33
year-old midfielder from France, told a press conference here after a
morning practice with his team, Real Madrid.
"It's been two years that I have not been comfortable and have not been
playing like I want to play," he said. "Now is the time."
Zidane lacks the flair and explosiveness of the game's all-time greats,
such as Pele and Maradona, or even of contemporaries like Ronaldo of
Brazil. But his effortless mastery of the basic skills of the game
allows him to turn a routine pass or trap into something extraordinary,
often leaving current and former players in awe.
Pablo Aimar, one of Argentina's best players who has drawn occasional
comparisons to Maradona, said it was worth the price of admission just
to watch Zidane control one pass from a teammate, something as mundane
as an outfielder's catching a pop fly in baseball.
"There are players who should never stop playing," Aimar told the
Spanish sports daily Marca in December, referring to Zidane. "When you
are watching a Real Madrid game, it is worth spending an hour and a half
in front of the television to watch Zidane make one cut with the ball."
Maradona told the same daily last May that Zidane was probably the most
skillful player in the history of the game. "Perhaps no one in the world
of soccer has been able to control the ball like Zidane," he said. "He
has an incredible level of skill. He can stop any ball, settle any ball,
and he always seems to know where the ball is going to go."
Zidane's one drawback, Maradona said, was that he lacked the low center
of gravity required for great dribbling. "He's just too big to squeeze
between two or three players," said Maradona, who at 5 feet 5 was a
devastating dribbler. Zidane is about 6 feet tall.
The son of Algerian immigrants who learned his soccer in the tough
streets of the ghettos in Marseille, Zidane made his professional debut
at age 17 with the French club Cannes. He went on to win the FIFA World
Player of the Year award three times, and led France to victories in the
1998 World Cup and in the European championship two years later.
He became the most expensive soccer player in history in 2001, when Real
Madrid spent 72 million euros to acquire him from Juventus of Italy.
Asked once if the label of the world's best player was a difficult
burden to carry, Zidane responded to the contrary. "It's easy to carry
because I don't believe it," he told the Argentine newspaper El Clarín
As for the greatest player in history, Zidane says it is a simple choice:
Enzo Francescoli, a player from tiny Uruguay who starred for the club
Marseille during Zidane's childhood but who never performed well at the
World Cup. "For me, Enzo is like God," he told El Clarín. "If someone
thinks I've reached his level, that would be the highest praise possible."