Zidane closes glorious chapter for France
By Pierre Serisier
PARIS, Aug 12 (Reuters) - Zinedine Zidane closed one of the most prestigious chapters of French soccer history on Thursday when it was announced he was quitting international football.
"Zidane will not play for France anymore," said coach Raymond Domenech. "I'd have liked him to carry on but he thought he had to leave the place to young players."
Since making his debut a decade ago, the number 10 has been the inspiration behind a team that went from also-rans to world champions in 1998 and European champions in 2000.
France were never the same dangerous side when "Zizou" was absent or not at his best.
He suffered a thigh injury before the start of the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan and the defending champions went out in the first round without scoring a goal.
Zidane showed flashes of brilliance during Euro 2004 but not enough for France to avoid another failure, with a defeat by eventual champions Greece in the quarter-finals in June.
Zidane, who turned 32 in that month, said he felt tired of international football after the Portuguese debacle and it became increasingly unlikely he would find the enthusiasm to help with qualifying for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
His pride would not allow him to play if his powers were too much diminished by age.
Zidane's vision, effortless close control, delicate turns and ability to create space made him one of the soccer's greatest ever players.
"He dominates the ball, he is a walking spectacle and he plays as if he had silk gloves on each foot," former Real Madrid player Alfredo Di Stefano has said of him.
That talent enabled Zidane, son of Algerian immigrants, to live a life that most from his humble roots in the tough La Castellane district of Marseille, could only dream of.
He started his career at Cannes before moving to Bordeaux but it was with Juventus that he made his mark and by the time he moved to Real Madrid in 2001 he was the world's most expensive player, costing some $66 million.
Voted European player of the year in 1998 and world player of the year in 1999, 2000 and 2003, he came second only to Michel Platini as France's most respected footballer.
After making his international debut in August 1994, scoring both goals in a 2-2 draw against the Czech Republic, Zidane was rarely absent from the France line-up.
He arrived exhausted at Euro 96 and as a result France were knocked out against the Czechs in the semi-finals. It was a different story two years later at the World Cup on home soil where he scored two first-half goals in France's 3-0 defeat of Brazil 3-0 in the final.
With a top-form Zizou, France went on to win the European championship in 2000 later beating Italy 2-1.
However, the good years with France seemed to be over for Zidane and many of his team mates after Euro 2004. Captain Marcel Desailly, Bixente Lizarazu and Lilian Thuram all announced their international retirement after the tournament.
Zidane will now have time to concentrate on duties with his club Real Madrid until his contract ends in 2007.
"I love soccer but I won't be sad when my career reaches its end. Nothing lasts forever. You know that from the start," Zidane said before Euro 2004.
Zidane made thousands of fans weep for joy after the 1998 World Cup final and his departure is likely to prompt tears of sadness.