Zinedine Zidane was back in action in France on Monday evening, gracing the pitch in the 12th Match Against Poverty, played in Saint-Etienne. Along with Brazilian idol Ronaldo, the former Bleus legend has been a very prominent feature of the annual fixture since 2003, and on this occasion the duo persuaded football superstars such as David Trezeguet, Clarence Seedorf and Jay-Jay Okocha to pull the boots on for a very good cause.
The 2015 match, a fundraiser for the victims of the Ebola epidemic, was a resounding success, attracting a galaxy of footballing talent and a large crowd, while also serving up plenty of exciting action. Before kick-off, Zidane gave an exclusive interview to FIFA.com and spoke about the importance of the match to him and his new career as a coach, one that currently sees him in charge Real Madrid’s B team.
FIFA.com*: **You play in the Match Against Poverty every year. Is it becoming more and more of a physical challenge for you?
Zinedine Zidane: *(laughs) Yes, definitely. It’s getting tougher on the legs. The main thing, though, is to be there to continue what we started 12 years ago and to support a different cause every time. This year it’s the Ebola virus, which has wreaked havoc in Africa. That’s the hardest thing really. You have to make sure it’s a celebration and a good football match and also get the message across to all the people watching the match. You have to think about that and put on a good show. So even though it’s getting more and more demanding physically, it’s always a pleasure to play and share this passion for football.
*Can you picture yourself taking part in this event as a coach one day?
*I’m in no rush. I want to be on the pitch for as long as I can (laughs). But why not? Of course I can. We want to keep going and keep playing this match for a long time yet. It’s been 12 years now and we hope to keep going for at least 12 more years.
*How do you prepare for an occasion like this?
*People come to see us play and run around a little (laughs). I always look after myself physically. I go running from time to time, but you’re never really ready to play a match. It’s 90 minutes after all. But you’re there to play and to give the fans something to remember. The match is also being played in France, at the Geoffroy Guichard, which is a stadium full of history.
*What memories do you have of *Le Chaudron (The Cauldron) from your playing days?
*Not many great memories, because I didn’t play much here, though I do remember playing right-back once. I was with Cannes at the time and we were playing against Saint-Etienne. We had five at the back with the two full-backs pushing really high up the pitch. I don’t think there are too many people who’ll remember that, but it happened. I did my job, too (laughs). *
*How has the Match Against Poverty changed since the first one in 2003?
*What’s always good is that the players always answer the call. They know that it’s an important cause and that it’s worth it. We’re getting more and more people involved all the time, which is important when it comes to getting fans into the stadium. Even if the players haven’t played for their club, they’re big names who are well known and whom they’ve seen in action. It’s often said that footballers are egotistical and that they don’t do anything for others, but all I can say is that they’re often there when they’re needed. There are also some players who are still playing and who’ve pulled out all the stops to be here, like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
*During your playing days you had a lot of fun on the pitch. Do you get the same amount of enjoyment in the dugout?
*It’s a different kind of enjoyment, but it’s still good. I find it really interesting, even if it is a lot harder. When you’re a player, you only think about yourself, but when you’re a coach you have to think about others (laughs), though I thought a lot about others when I was a player. A coach should think about nothing but getting the players in the right shape. It’s a different job, but it’s interesting all the same.
*How do you express your creativity in the dugout?
*I was creative on the pitch and I still try to be today, even if it’s in a different way. If things aren’t working out, you have to try solutions straightaway and change things around to see if they work. When they do, it’s because you’ve taken the right approach.
*How would you define your style of play?
*I always liked attacking football, while trying to strike a balance with defence because you can’t get by without that now. I always try to have fun playing though. Football should be fun for the people playing it and for those watching it too. I didn’t go into coaching to bore people to death. I want my team to play well, which means playing a fast game and getting to the opposition goal as quickly as possible. All I’m doing is applying my philosophy of the game.
*Does being who you are earn you the immediate respect of your players?
*I have the same opinion of coaches as every player does. Maybe the fact that I am who I am gives me a little bit extra and ensures people listen to me, but I don’t take advantage of that. I just try to talk to them and get something across to them.
*You’re a living legend at Madrid. Is that a hindrance for you in your job as a coach?
*Let’s just say it’s easier for me to express myself as a coach because of my background. I work with the reserve team and I have my own objectives, which I set with my players at the start of the season. I do have a special status at the club, but I don’t use that.
*Is there a player in the game today with the ability to make you dream?
*No. That’s not the right word. There are players I keep an eye on and who I like a lot, like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, of course. They’re fantastic players, but I like Eden Hazard a lot too. I enjoy everything he does on the pitch. I like the way he carries himself, that decisive streak in him and the fact that he’s improving every year. He can still get better too, and I think he’s a big reason why Chelsea are on top of the table.