Zinedine Zidane after scoring in the 1998 World Cup final
While believing 1998 was not his best year as a footballer, Zinedine Zidane has conceded he wanted to be recognised as the best player in the world.
Zidane was a talismanic figure on French soil as Les Bleus claimed their first World Cup, scoring two goals in the final against Brazil and propelling him to the Ballon d’Or.
Despite going on to scale further heights in football at both club and international level, it remained the only year he ever won the prestigious individual award.
Speaking to L’Equipe to mark his 50th birthday, Zidane revealed it is one of the few trophies he kept from an exceptional playing career, while admitting he particularly wanted the status in the game that accompanied it.
“Because I give everything, I am able to offer everything,” he said. “I have almost nothing at home from my career. Two or three objects. I am not at all conservative or materialistic. When I want to see souvenirs, I go to Marseille [where his parents live]. I don’t live with it.
“I was a little overconfident the weeks before the vote. I got a little fired up in a few interviews. I’ve never been one to say, ‘I deserve this or that,’ but with this Ballon d’Or, in 1998, I told myself a little bit. It wasn’t really me but I really wanted to have it.
“I was the best player in the world. It does not happen often, and to me only once. There may be preferences in the votes but when you have it, you have it. You are the best player in the world at this time, and it’s beautiful.”
Zidane admitted to a dip in form with Juventus after the World Cup success, but believes 2000 was his best year as a footballer as he led an “unplayable” France to a second European Championship.
“After the World Cup, I was catastrophic,” he said. “I no longer put one foot in front of the other. Even my friends told me: ‘But it’s your cousin who plays, it’s your cousin who came back to Juve!’ When you win a big title like the World Cup, you tend to slack off. And me, I really relaxed.
“It takes time. After January, I restarted. Very well in January and February then I injured myself. One hundred days. The season is over. Then I resumed for the 1999-2000 season with the victory at the Euro. There, I was at the top.
“For the next two or three seasons, I never let go. 1998 was my year but I think 1999-2000 was my greatest season. Not just for me. For our whole generation in blue. Our France team was exceptional. Euro 2000 remains the pinnacle of this generation. At the Euro, we were unplayable.”