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 May 13, 2002 | 1202 IST

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Zidane keeps thoughts to himself

Pierre Serisier

Zinedine Zidane, who dreams of leading France to a second consecutive World Cup title next month, has always preferred to express himself with a soccer ball rather than with words.

Even as a child playing on the sunbaked, sandy pitch on the housing estate where he grew up in the rundown La Castellane area of Marseille, Zidane was shy and reticent.

"There are things I don't like to talk about. Just because I'm a public figure doesn't mean I have to express myself on certain things, on my origins for example. These are personal matters which are not be discussed publicly," he said, brushing aside questions from journalists before a friendly match against Algeria last year.

Zidane's parents were born in Algeria and moved to France to settle in Marseille after the country declared independence in 1962.

Yazid -- the name he was first given -- was born in June 1972 and went from time to time with his brother to stay with relatives back in North Africa.

"When we were kids, our parents used to send us there for the summer holidays. I can remember it clearly but I don't really want to say anything about this," he said.

Before Zidane was 10 years old, it was obvious that the slim and frail boy had the skills to become a great footballer.

Ironically it was not Olympique Marseille, the prominent French first division club of the 1990s, who spotted his talent.

Zidane was still a teenager when he went to the Cannes youth training centre in 1988 before Girondins Bordeaux coach Rolland Courbis, who always had strong links with clubs on the French Riviera, offered him his first professional contract when he was just 20.


Two years later national coach Aime Jacquet, drafted in after France failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup, picked Zidane for an international friendly against the Czech Republic in Bordeaux.

The French were down 0-2 when Zidane went on as a substitute and hit two brilliant goals within two minutes to equalise and save his side's pride on home soil.

From then on, Jacquet has always included the player in his plans.

"I would always have a guy like Zidane at 10 per cent of his shape rather than any other player at 100 per cent. Why? Because with just one move, just one pass he can win you a match," Jacquet said once.

Jacquet decided to include Zidane instead of Eric Cantona, the Manchester United hero, in the French squad for the 1996 European championship in England.

"He (Jacquet) took his little suitcase and flew there to talk to Eric face to face," said France team manager Henri Emile. "He explained to him (Cantona) why he was not going to pick him. Aime really admired Zidane."

But an accident nearly put the Bordeaux playmaker out of the European event.

A month before France's first match against Romania in Newcastle, Zidane was involved in a car crash while driving his powerful Mercedes at full speed.

He escaped with a scar on the eyebrow and a sore neck but the accident left him shaken and he failed to score a goal at the championship as France went out to the Czech Republic on a penalty shootout in the semifinals.


"I've always loved sport cars," Zidane said then. "I really like speed very much. I would dream of driving a Ferrari, I mean on a race track."

Zidane named his first son Enzo but said the name was not intended as a tribute to the elder of the Ferrari brothers.

"No, I named him Enzo after Enzo Francescoli who has always been my idol. When I was a kid, he was the player I wanted to be. He had great style. He was elegant."

Uruguay World Cup midfielder Francescoli played for Marseille in the 1980s.

Despite becoming the world's most expensive player when he joined Real Madrid from Juventus Turin for $66 million and a national hero when he score twice in the 3-0 defeat of Brazil in the 1998 World Cup final, Zidane has always kept his feet on the ground.

He leads a quiet family life and has helped his parents to settle in a comfortable house near Marseille.

Now and then, he goes back to La Castellane where he still has friends.

He no longer plays soccer with them but they still call him Yazid.

"Very few people know it and very few people use my first name, except my close relatives. Everybody else calls me Zinedine."

Having two first names is just another way for Zidane to keep his private life separate from his public one.

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