James Lawton: World stage will miss the master

International football is not so rich - and this has been especially so in this summer of the European Championship - that it can lightly mourn the departure of Zinedine Zidane.

Indeed, there has never been an age of the World Cup and European championship game inhabited by so much outstanding talent that the beauty and the light of Zidane's play would not have been mourned.

When 'Zizou' moved towards the peak of his powers six years ago, leading France to the World Cup victory over Brazil in Paris, he was more than a football star. He was a story of grace and redemption for one of the darkest corners of national life; a poor Algerian boy who was born in Marseille and grew up in a cheerless high-rise there, he was a thrilling antidote to the more rabid sections of a right wing hostile to the presence of France's large immigrant population from the old colonies.

Zidane, cool, understated and mostly dignified - a rare lapse was when he was sent off for reacting fiercely to an over-zealous, despairing Saudi Arabian marker - showed the potential of young people penned back in their ghettos. When the Champs-Elysées was jammed with a rejoicing nation, and they ran out of hot dogs and whisky in Harry's Bar, his name was never far from everyone's lips.

Now, when he is 32 - an age when the football cognoscenti might have hoped for at least a few more swigs from one of the finest vintages, he is plainly submitting to the physical and mental pressures which seemed so evident in the recent tournament in Portugal, when all the leading European nations were obliged to watch the triumph of the Greek team ethos.

Zidane was just one superior talent who failed to make an impact - apart from his exquisite dead-ball execution of England - and his decision to retire from international football, along with Paul Scholes of Manchester United, is another sign that big-money European club football is draining the reserves of its leading performers.

In earlier decades there was physical pressure enough for the top performers. Indeed, Bobby Charlton and Nobby Stiles were getting through a minimum of 60-odd club games, on heavy playing surfaces, when they became the first and only Englishmen to win both the World and European Cups, but undoubtedly there was less all-consuming attention on their work.

The fact is that Zidane suffered a season which, by his own standards, could only be described as nightmarish. Real Madrid were a travesty of their normal standards, and repeatedly Zidane was seen to be in anguish over the breakdown of rhythm and conviction. The horror was only compounded when Zidane joined his French team-mates for the challenge of the tournament in Portugal. France, who in their World Cup and European Championship wins of 1998 and 2000 represented a beautifully coherent brand of football, looked tired and disjointed, and had little will to resist the force of Greece in the quarter-finals.

Beyond that brief eruption against England, Zidane, who was among the walking wounded when France failed equally abysmally in their defence of the World Cup in the Far East two years ago, wore a face mask of defeat.

Plainly he now feels that the challenge of operating for both Real and France is too much. It is a decision that, on top of the widespread disappointments in Portugal, surely demands serious review by the football authorities. When you squeeze a melon sooner or later the pips are heard to squeak.

In the case of a footballer, he is increasingly aware that it is in club football that he shapes the scale of his rewards. Zidane has decided that international football must be the casualty as he protects his last days of huge earning power. It means that all over France and the wider football world yesterday a light went out.

News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower