Real Madrid were in the cold stage of a dark era. It was the 2005-2006 season, on a cool January evening against Sevilla at the Bernabeu. The Club had just brought in Juan Roman Lopez Carlo - the fifth head coach in three years - to temporarily steer a ship way off course after Vanderlei Luxemburgo was sacked. The Club's midfield was rocking Thomas Gravesen as the anchor - a chaotic and aggressive destroyer who had little tactical awareness and was as clumsy as they come. The team was slipping, out of a top-four spot in La Liga, and would eventually be knocked out by Arsenal in the last 16 of Europe, 1-0 on aggregate.
Still, despite all that, there were moments to appreciate. Zidane was riding out the final season of his club career, and the last month or two leading up to the final match against Villareal was a giant tribute - a goodbye to one of the greatest players to ever play the game.
When Lopez Carlo initially took over mid-season, he implemented some extra training sessions to get the squad focused, and it helped. The Club started to show signs of life. They had just beaten Athletic Bilbao 4-0 in the Copa Del Rey, and took that momentum into this match against Sevilla to win 4-2 and lift themselves back into fourth place.
It was one of Zinedine Zidane's most memorable performances - he notched one assist and scored a hat-trick. As impressive as those stats were, what was even more impressive was the sheer level Zizou was playing at. He was on another plane that night, exercising his dominance over the mere mortals who occupied the pitch alongside him. And the best part? He was post-peak, like, well post-peak. He was 34.
"This is the first time in all my life that I've scored three goals. To be still able to do that at 34 is not too bad at all. I had never thought that I would score a hat-trick. But scoring goals is secondary for me; the important thing is the team's victory."
There is another gem in this match which deserves its own mention. Zidane's second goal was encapsulated by one of the most breathtaking assists in the Club's history - it was an indescribable back-heel flick from Guti which not one person in the entire Bernabeu could forsee but himself. Guti's career was inconsistent throughout, but when he was on his game, he had an unrivaled vision and feel for the game.
The quality of this video isn't perfect, but it's worth watching every second of it, and serves as a nice treat leading up to tomorrow's match against Sevilla.