French legend Zidane to retire after the World Cup

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The Independent Online

Zinedine Zidane, one of football's greatest players, has taken heed of what his body is telling him and decided to retire from the game after the World Cup.

The Real Madrid midfielder, who will celebrate his 34th birthday during the finals in Germany, said yesterday: "I have to listen to my body and I cannot carry on for another year."

The Frenchman cited Real's poor season as another reason for calling it a day. "I think it is better to clarify the situation now," he said. "It may seem strange that I am announcing it now, two weeks before the end of the [Spanish] championship, but this is a decision I have seriously reflected on, and one I had to make before the World Cup.

"When you do not reach your objectives, you ask yourself questions. I know I cannot play better than I have up until now.

"I am at an age where it is getting more and more difficult. I do not want to have another year like the one I have just had."

The injuries and inconsistency that have dogged him over the past two seasons may have also influenced his decision, even though he still has another year left on his contract.

He said he wanted to focus on the World Cup - "my last objective" - and give Madrid time to find a replacement.

"This is something that has been running around in my head for quite a while," Zidane said. "I wanted everyone to know so that I wouldn't be asked the 100 questions one gets when there are doubts."

The announcement will signal the end of one of the most remarkable careers in football history.

Zidane delivered the French their first World Cup win in 1998 when he captained the side and scored twice in the 3-0 final victory against Brazil. Two years later he captained them to a European Championship victory in the Netherlands. After a poor Euro 2004, when France were knocked out in the quarter-finals by the eventual winners Greece, he announced his retirement from international football.

He was named Fifa's World Player of the Year in 1998, 2000 and 2003.

The 33-year-old's swansong will be captaining his country in the World Cup this summer but he will not, as previously planned, return for a final season with Real Madrid up until his contract ends in 2007.

He became the world's most expensive player when Real signed him from the Italian giants Juventus for £46m in 2001. A year later, he scored a superb 30-yard volley, considered by many to be one of the greatest goals ever scored in a final, to earn Real their ninth European Cup in the 2002 final against Bayer Leverkusen in Glasgow.

He won La Liga the following season but has since been a victim of, and party to, the decline of the Spanish club.

The player is believed to have broken the news to his team-mates, coach and president last Friday.

At club level he won the Serie A twice in Italy with Juventus before he joined Real Madrid. Real's president at the time, Florentino Perez, was questioned for signing a player who was fast approaching 30 and who, some commentators said, was past his peak.

This season Zidane has struggled with injuries and has decided to quit a year ahead of his contract. He seems unlikely to accept Real Madrid's offer of an ambassador's role at the club.

Zidane is suspended for the weekend's trip to Osasuna but will return for the visit to Racing Santander. He will then play his last match in the Bernabeu against Villarreal on 7 May, followed by his final game for Real Madrid a week later in Seville.

Life and times of a master

Born 23 June, 1972, in Marseilles

Clubs

1998-1992 AS Cannes Games 61 Goals 6

1992-1996 Bordeaux Games 139 Goals 28

1996-2001 Juventus Games 151 Goals 24

2001- Real Madrid Games 142 Goals 34

National team

1994-2004 Caps 98 Goals 28

Honours

France

1998 World Cup; 2000 European Championship

Juventus

1996 European Super Cup; 1996 Intercontinental Cup; 1996-97, 1997-98 Serie A championship; 1997 Italian Super Cup

Real Madrid

2001-02 European Cup; 2002 Intercontinental Cup; 2002-03 La Liga championship

Personal honours

1998, 2000, 2003 Fifa World Player of the Year

1998 European Footballer of the Year (Ballon d'Or)

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