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Remembering their debuts: Zidane’s first Real Madrid appearance as a player

How did the current coach do when he made his Real Madrid debut as a player? Here, we look back on that first game for Los Blancos.

Spanish Soccer - Spanish Supercopa - Real Zaragoza v Real Madrid Photo by Jon Buckle/EMPICS via Getty Images

What: Zinedine Zidane’s playing debut

When: August 19th 2001

Who: Against Real Zaragoza

Where: La Romareda, Zaragoza

Score: Real Zaragoza 1-1 Real Madrid

Goals: 0-1 (Flávio Conceição, min 54), 1-1 (Yordi, pen, min 79)

Real Madrid line-up: César Sánchez; Míchel Salgado, Aitor Karanka, Fernando Hierro, Roberto Carlos; Flávio Conceição, Claude Makélélé; Luis Figo (Albert Celades, min 88), Zinedine Zidane (Fernando Morientes, min 80), Santiago Solari (Steve McManaman, min 70); Raúl.

Coach: Vicente del Bosque

Technically, Zinedine Zidane provided an assist on his debut playing for Real Madrid. Technically…

The same can be said of Fábio Coentrão, who… technically… assisted Gareth Bale’s run and goal around Marc Bartra in the 2014 Copa del Rey final. The same can be said of Sergio Busquets, who… technically… assisted Lionel Messi’s unstoppable dribble and goal through the Real Madrid defence in the 2010/11 Champions League semi-final. The same can be said of Héctor Enrique, who… technically… assisted Diego Maradona’s iconic dismantling of England in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final.

In Zidane’s first match following his transfer to Real Madrid from Juventus, which was the 2001 Spanish Supercup first leg against Real Zaragoza, the Frenchman was the one who last passed the ball to Flávio Conceição for the first goal of a tie that Real Madrid would go on to win 4-1. Yet this was Flávio’s goal. This was his masterpiece. Of course, Zidane’s own masterpiece would come in Glasgow at the end of that maiden season in white.

While the stats sheet attributes Zidane with an assist on his debut, in the 1-1 first leg at La Romareda, the reality is that this was a tough introduction to Spanish football for the No.5. He played as the central attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 and was so closely marked by the Real Zaragoza defenders and midfielders around him that it’s a good thing he didn’t suffer claustrophobia. Every time he received the ball, he was suffocated by the opposition. The few times when Zidane did manage to display his excellent first touch to move the ball on, fouls were blown against him and the play was called dead.

This was not a good Real Zaragoza side, it should be pointed out. This Supercup match was between the 2000/01 LaLiga winners Real Madrid and the 2000/01 Copa del Rey winners Real Zaragoza, but the team from Aragon may be the worst side to have ever won the cup. They finished 17th that season, just one position above the relegation zone, and then in the 2001/02 campaign they finished rock bottom of LaLiga and were relegated to the second tier. This was not a good team. But it was a physical team.

In amongst the first few jabs and uppercuts, Zidane delivered a few punches of his own as he grew into the game and he was able to show why Real Madrid had made him the world’s most expensive player for 13 billion pesetas. He conducted a counter attack by gliding through the Real Zaragoza defence before teeing up Roberto Carlos for a shot. He had a header that dropped wide of the goal from a Roberto Carlos long throw-in. He combined excellently with Luis Figo to set up a Claude Makélélé shot. All of that in the first half.

Following the passage through the dressing rooms came Real Madrid’s goal. Zidane hardly touched the ball in the first 10 minutes of the second half as he was crowded out by the home side’s defence, but after dropping deep into the centre circle to collect possession in the 54th minute, he offloaded the ball through two defenders at just the right time for Flávio to embark on his run. The Brazilian then beat one defender after another until he reached the edge of the area, where he was surrounded by five opponents yet picked out the bottom corner anyway.

The goal brought Real Madrid confidence. The team from the capital passed the ball around in the moments after taking the lead and the cheers of “olé” that went up around the ground showed just how many travelling fans had made the journey to Aragon. Real Madrid were comfortable and Zidane increasingly so. Suddenly, the new signing had more space given that Real Zaragoza were forced to commit more men forward to attack and this allowed for a few make-you-gasp Zidane moments, from pirouettes to sublime first touches to dribbles past defenders and even, on one occasion, around the referee.

Real Zaragoza, though, did manage to equalise as Yordi headed in a cross from Roberto Acuña in the 79th minute. There was no time for Zidane to try to respond to that setback, as one minute later he was replaced by Fernando Morientes.

It finished 1-1 that night, but Real Madrid went on to win that year’s Supercup, defeating Real Zaragoza 3-0 in the second leg at the Bernabéu three days later, with Zidane starting and playing 70 minutes on that occasion. Just two games in, he’d won his first trophy with Real Madrid. The first of 18 in total over his playing and coaching career.