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Zizou turns 50 this Thursday: Zinédine Zidane, look from Algeria

When we started hearing about Zinedine Zidane in Algeria in the mid-1990s, some people wondered about a possible relationship with the great striker Djamel Zidane who had shone with the Fennecs in the 1982 and 1986 World Cup… No relation! Djamel is a native of Algiers while Zinedine was born in Marseille, son of Smaïl Zidane, who had left his village of Aguemoune Ath Slimane in 1953, in small Kabylie, to come and work in France.

It was in the summer of 1996, after the Euros and when he signed for Juventus, that “Zidanemania” got carried away in his father’s country: “In the 1990s marked by civil war and a devastated national football, we had no icons to identify withsaid in 2021 the Algerian journalist Naïm Beneddra for So Foot. Zidane was an immense footballer, holder at Juventus and leader of a very competitive French team. Through his exploits, we vibrated by proxy for a great player who, moreover, did not deny his Algerian and Kabyle roots. So we were proud of him, even though we knew he was French first.”

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Did the Algerian selection miss Zidane?

In a country where football is religion but which failed to qualify for the 1990, 94 and 98 World Cups, a tenacious urban legend, including throughout the immigrant diaspora, will unleash passions. It is said that in 1990, the year when Algeria had just won the CAN at home, Abdelhamid Kermali, the coach at the time, dismissed the young binational Zinedine who had been recommended to him. His verdict? “Too slow” or “too heavy“, according to other versions…

In Les Bleus’ 1998 triumph, the Algerian passion for Zidane genuinely mixed admiration and inconsolable regret among many that Algerian football had missed the “best player in the world“! It was only in May 2006 that this legend would end with the final clarification of the late Kermali on Algerian TV: “This is absolutely false! At that time, in the early 90s, few knew Zidane. Go ask my assistants Saâdi, Fergani and Abdelouahab who were with me in the national team. They can testify on this subject! Zizou is a phenomenon. A rare player that I respect a lot.”

Zinédine Zidane during his first selection in August 1994

Credit: Imago

Six months later, during a trip to Algeria, Zinedine will himself firmly deny having been summoned to the Fennecs, “I did all the categories in the France team, from the minimal to the seniors“, closing this crazy story for good.

Beyond the hurt patriotic pride, this largely fantasized “failure” of Zizou at the Fennecs, we must above all see there the extraordinary passion of the Algerians for football. Quite simply… Coming from the large Algerian community in Marseille, Zinedine embodied the perfect archetype of the artistic footballer as we like them from Algiers to Tamanrasset: “In Algeria exists the love of the beautiful game, the beautiful gestureNaïm Beneddra got carried away in the After Foot magazine. The public loves the point guards with their silky ball handling, their vista, their creative instinct, their art of dribbling. And this, from Mekhloufi, Dahleb, Belloumi or Saïb, to Benarbia, Mahrez or Feghouli… Our common reference with France is obviously Zinedine Zidane: we were all inspired by him in France and in Algeria, it is our model since the 2000s“.

Algerians appreciate the warrior Zidane as much, if not more, than the player

Needless to say that there, his celestial volley with Real against Leverkusen in the 2002 C1 final or his masterclass against Brazil at the 2006 World Cup were just as proudly rebroadcast, dissected, weighed… and overrated!

In July 1998, the Algerian people proud of “his” Zizou had also celebrated the victory of the Blues. It continues to appear even today as its noble representative of the diaspora abroad. All things considered, this communitarian admiration, in the good sense of the term, is somewhat similar to the pride of the Italians for their prestigious distant American cousins ​​(Sinatra, Di Maggio, Stallone, Al Pacino, Madonna, Di Caprio) or that Irish people who still take pride in having offered the charismatic President John Kennedy to the USA.

Zinedine Zidane during France-Brazil / 1998 World Cup

Credit: Getty Images

It is moreover until the caricature that the Algerians will claim in great unanimity the very South Mediterranean virility which would have pushed “their” Zizou (16 red cards in his career!) to spin a headbutt at the dreadful Marco Materazzi in Berlin: “There, he made his Algerianness, his Kabyleness speak! laughed in So Foot the Algerian journalist Hocine Harzoune, himself Kabyle. Even if it’s a World Cup final, with huge stakes, a Kabyle is ready to do anything to save his honor or that of his relatives (his sister was targeted, editor’s note). And by atavism, Zidane, who is hot-blooded, replied! Algerians appreciate the warrior Zidane as much, if not more, than the player.”

It is indeed not uncommon to still find in the cafes of Algeria posters of “Yazid” in the process of sinking Materazzi’s chest!

“Zizou”, a name neither really French nor properly Arabic

Even if he is also cherished there for never having denied his origins (“Algeria and Kabylia are in my heart“, dixit ZZ), the Algerians consider him above all as French, as Naïm Beneddra asserts. of his four sons (Enzo, Luca, Théo and Elyaz) thus sent him back to a kinship, more than a full and complete belonging, with the country of his parents, but a warm and deep kinship.

Sculpture Zinedine Zidane

Credit: Getty Images

With his nice nickname, “Zizou”, pronounced here and there in a great consensual neutrality (a name neither really French, nor strictly Arabic), the Beur des Bleus Black-Blanc-Beur has established himself as a politico-sports symbol , even involuntarily, of a reconciliation between two countries marked by the long Algerian War (1954-1962). On the southern shore of the Mediterranean, in a country still marked by this painful past, the “Zizou president” projected on the facade of the Arc de Triomphe and chanted throughout France have done much to appease resentment.

This was the whole meaning of his profession of faith (“I am very proud to be this link between Algeria and France”) pronounced before the France-Algeria match of October 6, 2001, which had been conceived as a sort of Zidane jubilee…

It is also with his friends from France 98 that Zinedine had started his charitable action towards the country of his ancestors. On his initiative, a friendly meeting between the Blues of Jacquet and Olympique de Marseille raised 935,000 euros in aid for those affected by the terrible earthquake in Boumerdes (45 km from Algiers) in May 2003. A gesture particularly appreciated there and which will be followed until today by many medical and health actions within the framework of the Zidane Foundation and which maintain his strong love rating there…

Algeria coach one day?

A love rating that remained high thanks to his triumphs as Real Madrid coach but was partly eclipsed by the exploits of Ryad Mahrez, as Hocine Harzoune points out: “Ryad is today the hero of the new generations. He is the star of the national team which won the CAN. He was born in France too, but he comes across as more Algerian than Zidane.”

However, the illustrious elder’s successes in Madrid have raised hopes in the country that he will one day coach the national team. A not-so-mad hope… Firstly because his father Smaïl, whom he venerates, had expressed the wish (not obligatory, of course) that he would one day lead an Algerian team that his son supports as a good supporter in the One-Two-Three… But also because, like great coaches who sometimes want to experience a World Cup, Zinedine could sign up with the Fennecs for a short mission with a major tournament at stake ( World Cup, CAN) and as long as these are obviously very competitive…

But, there as here, everyone knows that the new grand design of his exceptional destiny will soon be accomplished with his appointment as coach of the France team. A fair return of things: it was with her that he was truly born into football on the evening of August 17, 1994 in Bordeaux, by signing an unforgettable double against the Czech Republic (2-2)… When he arrived at Clairefontaine in chief of the Blues, the “French-Algerian” Zinedine Zidane will be the pride of two countries that day.

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