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Wednesday, 12 July 2006

3385: World Cup 2006; Genius Zizou

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by : Stephen Orford

Paolo Di Canio, not one known to waste time on needless compliments, has described Rossi as ‘a man who can get the best out of a player’. Rossi shrugs this off – “it is pleasing to hear such words” is all that he will say – but the improvements shown by players like Goran Pandev and Cristiano Rocci justify Di Canio’s comments.

“I guess that managing to work on a budget and improve the players I have available is one of my trademarks. I think that is why the clubs I’ve managed have signed me! But I enjoy working with players and seeing them improve. For me, the most important thing a manager can do isn’t win games but rather make a positive impact.”

Rossi’s skills will be further tested next season. Already, Lazio have lost both their central midfielders Ousmane Dabo (Manchester City) and Fabio Liverani (Fiorentina) and replacing them without any money at their disposal won’t be easy.

“We’re looking to sign younger players who, in time, will manage to do as well as they did. Given our situation we can’t go out there and buy ready made players but instead we have to look at players with potential and hope to nurture them.”

Another one who could be out of his way from the club is Paolo Di Canio where there seems to be a certain reluctance to offer him a new contract. “From a personal point of view I’ve got an excellent relationship with Paolo and would like him to stay. He is an excellent player who loves the club. It would be sad to miss out on that.”

On a more positive note, Lazio have managed to retain young striker Pandev. “He’s a very talented player who, like others who are similarly gifted, can be somewhat stubborn at times. If he develops as I am expecting him to develop, Pandev will be a very important player for us in the future.”

What lies in that future is anyone’s guess although Rossi is confident. “The minimum target will be that of doing as well as we did last season. It will be difficult because last time no one was expecting us to do well so they will be ready for us. As for the UEFA Cup, it will be a great experience where, hopefully, we will do well. A club like Lazio deserves to be as close to the top of the Serie A as possible and playing regularly in Europe.”

This interview was made possible thanks to the assistance of the Lazio Supporters Club Malta.
As France narrowly failed to bring home a second World Cup in eight years in Berlin on Sunday (July 9), all the talk surrounded the ignominious end to the footballing career of Zinedine Zidane.

The man who carried the team to their 1998 triumph and who was instrumental in their run to the brink of glory this year was sensationally dismissed by Argentine referee Horacio Elizondo for a marble-misplacing, plot-losing aberration. Zidane’s as yet unexplained head-butt to the chest of Italian defender Marco Materazzi came at a time when France were gaining the ascendancy in a tight but nonetheless absorbing contest. There seems little doubt that some unpleasant words were aimed in Zidane’s direction by the Inter Milan stopper after what had first appeared good natured banter, yet the lunacy which followed is nothing short of indefensible.

With Zidane’s exit went French hopes of breaking down a masterful Italy defence marshalled superbly by captain Fabio Cannavaro, with the ensuing penalty shoot-out becoming an unavoidable inevitability. That France lost the shoot-out 5-3 to a surprisingly nerveless Italy is only part of the tragedy for Zidane. He had showed with his seventh minute spot-kick how expert he is from 12 yards, and would surely have been first to step up to the mark in the shoot-out. His absence proved costly for the team, but also brought with it a quite disgraceful end to what has been a glittering career. The former Juventus and Real Madrid star bows out of the sport after winning 108 caps for France, scoring 31 goals along the way including two which contributed to the 3-0 World Cup final victory over Brazil in Paris in 1998.

He takes with him the Golden Ball Award, given to the player voted by journalists as the player of the tournament in Germany 2006. Clearly the vote was counted some time prior to his moment of madness in Berlin, and his nomination as the prize-winner is no doubt a great source of embarrassment to FIFA. Yet the wider implications are that it will now be impossible to place the career of Zidane into any kind of context without remembering his wild head-thrust at former Everton defender Materazzi.

For all his artistry on the field, and notwithstanding the numerous honours won by the former World Player Of The Year, he has now left an indelible and unsightly blot on his copybook. Few players throughout history have lit up The Beautiful Game in quite the manner which Zidane has managed to do down the years, but it seems that with his genius comes the generous portion of madness that is often associated with such other-worldly gifts.

Other greats have had their personality defects closely scrutinised despite their bewildering brilliance on the field. Just as the late George Best’s detractors begrudge him legendary status as a result of his off-field activities, so Diego Maradona’s point to his penchant for powder and his propensity to blatantly cheat. While Zidane is renowned as a polite, unassuming character off the field with a clean living reputation, his actions in the 2006 World Cup final will have earned him a similar kind of notoriety in the eyes of many.

And yet there has been so much to admire about Zidane. Aside from the many accolades picked up by the 34 year-old along the way, it was the way in which he so elegantly played the game which gives rise to the notion that he is one of the game’s all-time greats. At times the football seemed surgically attached to his magical feet, and rarely has a professional athlete possessed such balance and grace as that owned by the former French captain. He could score goals too, witness his jaw-dropping volley for Real Madrid in the 2002 Champions League final victory over Bayer Leverkusen at Hampden Park, and the impudence with which he casually chipped Gianluigi Buffon from the penalty spot during the early moments of his ill-fated swan-song.

Though a fading star during World Cup 2006, his majesty had been enough to carry France though to a second World Cup final, with his displays against Spain and Brazil providing snippets of the vintage Zidane. The world will remember these, as it will his exploits in ‘98 and his many inspirational performances for both Juve and Real. However, the world will now also remember the dark side of Zidane, and how a glorious career ended with an appalling act of madness.

By Stephen Orford

10 July 2006

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