Some football players were born for the international stage.
Zinedine Zidane, whose birth certificate was probably stamped by UEFA before he left the maternity ward, is one of those mercurial individuals.
Lifting pretty much every heavy piece of silverware there was to win during his outstanding playing career, Zidane performed on the biggest stages of all, giving the biggest performances to match. So when he picks out two English players who he believes could make a big impression at the 2016 European Championships, you don’t take his words lightly...
When ShortList.com spoke to the now Real Madrid manager for a forthcoming interview (watch this space), we touched on the topic of England, at which point the midfield icon spoke of two English talents he believes could steal the show in his native France come June:
“[Harry] Kane and [Raheem] Sterling are two exciting players for England. This summer in France will be a real opportunity for the rest of Europe to see how good they are,” said Zidane of the prodigal pair.
High praise indeed. And while Zidane’s next words won’t have any Three Lions supporters rushing to the bookmakers and put their mortgage on England winning the thing, if the likes of Spurs striker Kane and Manchester City winger Sterling rise to the occasion, he doesn’t see any reason why Roy Hodgson’s team can’t go far:
“I don’t think they are favourites but they still have some very good players. They were very strong in qualifying, so I am sure they will arrive in France thinking they have a chance.”
He’s not wrong. England’s qualifying record was almost too good, even against mostly lowly opposition, with 10 wins in 10 games and a +28 goal difference, meaning confidence should be sky-high among the team.
But haven’t we been here before? Pressed on why he thinks England have failed to win a major tournament since 1966, Zidane conceded that it could be a mental fault as much a technical one:
“The mental factor can play a big part in football. Spain couldn't make it further than the quarter finals for years, when they did manage to they went and dominated football in a way that hadn’t been done before. Some of those England teams I played against with players like Scholes, Gerrard and Beckham were more than capable of winning tournaments, so maybe mentality played a part."
Scholes, Gerrard and Beckham were more than capable of winning tournaments
Though Roy Hodgson’s men aren’t the only English side interesting Zidane right now, revealing he’s also been enjoying the swashbuckling football being played by Leicester in the Premier League, and is even looking forward to welcoming them in the Champions League next season:
“At this stage of the season for Leicester to be leading is an incredible achievement, it's being talked about not just in England, but football across Europe. With so many big teams with big budgets in England, if they can be in The Champions League next season, it will be special for football.”
The Bernabeu boss also weighed in on the fortunes of his fellow new La Liga appointment Gary Neville, currently under pressure as Valencia boss: "Gary has played in every big occasion there is to play in, and under one of the greatest coaches there has ever been. He has so much knowledge to give, but it is a new league for him. If he is given time, I am sure he will do a good job.”
With G-Nev also sure to be prowling the touchline shouting at players for Roy Hodgson at the Euros, he'll be hoping Zidane’s positive words about young English talent rings true more than anybody.