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Zinedine Zidane: "I knew how good I was"

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The midfield legend, now a coach at former club Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane, speaks to ShortList about how he got to the top 

You grew up on the rough back streets of Marseille. How did that influence the way you played?
One of the things I feel so lucky about is coming from a tough background, a tough city. We didn’t worry about winning a game of football; we would worry about making it to the end of the day. You can’t choose where you come from, but you see it with the South American players who come from tough backgrounds, they play tough on the field. I have no doubt at all that growing up as the son of an immigrant on tough streets gave me a tough mentality. 

How important is confidence for players?
Cristiano Ronaldo has been the best player in the world for the past few years, and he knows he is the best. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t work hard, or that he doesn’t want to improve and get better, but he has that confidence where he knows how good he is. I was not the most prolific goal scorer, but I knew how good I was. I knew that I could read the game and see things one or two seconds quicker than everybody else.

Ronaldo has often been linked with a move back to the Premier League, especially a return to Manchester United…
Big players are what people want to read about, so that is why they are written about, but why would Real Madrid have any intention of selling the best player in the world?

Just to confirm: he’s not for sale?
No he is not for sale, it wouldn’t make sense. 

Gareth Bale is constantly linked away from Real Madrid, where do you see his long-term future?
Of course clubs are going to want Gareth, he is one of the best in the world, but I am not sure how much clearer we can be. Gareth has made it clear, his agent has made it clear, we have made it clear, his future is at Real Madrid. We sign the best players in the world, we don’t sell them.

 I wasn’t interested in the nightclubs of Turin, the girls, and why I didn’t turn up to training in a Ferrari.

How much of a difference does it make to be surrounded by players of that calibre?
I remember in training at Real Madrid I would see Roberto Carlos and David Beckham practising free kicks, Ronaldo [the Brazilian one] and Raul trying to score past the best goalkeeper in the world in Iker Casillas, and I knew I was playing with winners, with the best. Playing with the best will give you a winning mentality because it gives you confidence. In an age where you can pick money over playing for the best clubs, with the best players, it is a big thing for the world’s top players to make the right decision.

It’s pretty easy to get distracted as a footballer. How vital is it for players to have the right mentality and make good decisions?
I remember the [then] club president at Juventus Gianni Agnelli, asked me why I wasn’t interested in the nightclubs of Turin, the girls, and why I didn’t turn up to training in a Ferrari. Maybe 30 years ago you could live that life and still be a top player, but for the past 15-20 years that has not been possible. Players are so physically fit, ability is not enough. That is why we have seen so many wasted careers. If you don’t have the right mentality off the field and let things get in the way, then you will not have the right mentality on it.

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You won everything worth winning. How focused were you on success?
For 17 years football was everything to me. It’s all I did, all I thought about, it was all the players at Read Madrid focused on. Training, games, it consumed me. You don’t just win, you think about winning, it becomes your everything. That is why even when I finished playing, I could not sit around on my couch watching football, I needed to be a part of it. I still need to know what success and winning feels like even if it is not as a player. You can’t fake those emotions, they come from focus and mentality. 

Is the Champions League a big goal for Real Madrid this year?
Like every year it is one of our main targets. Nothing other than winning it will ever be enough for this club.

Many were shocked by the fee for your countryman, Anthony Martial. Is he already starting to prove his value?
With transfer fees, what looks big now can look like nothing a few years down the line. People went crazy when Juventus paid all that money [£32.6m in 2001] for Gianluigi Buffon – how could a goalkeeper be worth that much? Who can now look and say Buffon was anything other than one of the greatest buys ever? It’s the same with Ronaldo – after all the goals, and all the trophies, who mentions the fee now?

There are already comparisons with your former team-mate Thierry Henry. Are they valid?
Come on, Thierry is one of the greats, it is not fair to put that pressure on the kid. It is obvious he is full of ability and confidence, so it looks good for the future. 

France host the European Championship next year. Who are the favourites?
I think France are looking like a good team again. Spain will have a point to prove after their World Cup, and have a chance to make it three titles in a row, which would be a big achievement. When you look at the German team, I still think they will be the team to beat.

[Images: PA]

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