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Remembering Zinedine Zidane’s LaLiga debut for Real Madrid

A throwback to memory lane: Zinedine Zidane made his LaLiga debut for Real Madrid 21 years ago at the Mestalla.

Valencia v Real Ma X

Real Madrid are about kick-start another league campaign this weekend, against Almeria in a bid to defend their title. Spanish football is currently marred with transfer-related issues with many teams unable to register their players. With Florentino Perez at the helm, Real Madrid is untouched by this panic, having already registered their new signings in Aurelien Tchouameni and Antonio Rudiger.

Even 21 years ago, things were not too different. Real Madrid had comfortably registered the most valuable player of the world (then) in Zinedine Zidane and had been eagerly awaiting his debut in LaLiga. Zidane was the headline, the FIFA world player of the year in the previous year (2000), and the excitement and frenzy around him was unparalleled at the time.

Here’s a brief history of how Zidane became a Madridista:

Zidane made his official Real Madrid debut against Real Zaragoza in the Spanish Supercopa. The first leg away from home ended in a 1-1 draw. Euan McTear revisited this game in detail. Madrid won the second leg 3-0 at home as Zidane claimed his first Real Madrid trophy within a couple of games. A harsher awakening was about to arrive in three days at the Mestalla.

Real Madrid visited the Mestalla on August 25 for their first La Liga fixture of 2001-02. It was a hostile atmosphere to begin with, and this Valencia side of the early 2000s was a force to reckon with. They had played in two consecutive Champions League finals in 2000 and 2001 and would eventually go on to win LaLiga in 2001-02 under Rafa Benitez. This team had players like Santiago Canizares, Roberto Ayala, David Albelda and Pablo Aimar. It definitely wasn’t the most the ideal opponent for Real Madrid to begin their title defense against.

Here is how the two teams lined up for the game:

From Transfermarkt

At the beginning of Zidane’s Real Madrid career, Vicente del Bosque often started with this 4-2-2-2 formation on paper with Zidane starting as a left-sided attacking midfielder. However, Zidane would often slide to the right to make the formation a bit lopsided. He would of course also drop deeper to help with build-up.

His approach to the game was characteristically simple yet brilliant. He would soak pressure 30-50 yards outside of the Valencia box and then unleash through balls for the overlapping left-back (Roberto Carlos) or the center forwards (Fernando Morientes and Raul Gonzalez running into space in the two half-spaces). Zidane fit like a glove. In his third official game, it seemed like he had already been playing at the club for 10 years. The synergy with Carlos, Luis Figo, Raul, etc was instant.

Valencia had a really difficult time containing Zidane in the first half because he was practically immune to any kind of pressure. You could not take the ball off that man without committing a foul. Almost all the iconic Zidane moves were on offer. In the second half, however, the summer heat of Spain finally caught up with Zidane a bit. His touches seemed a little heavier and he actually missed a couple of excellent scoring opportunities. Valencia had already taken an early lead in this game through Miguel Angulo. Madrid was chasing the game and Zidane’s misses proved to be costly in the end.

Here are the full highlights of Zidane’s performance in this game:

Real Madrid finished 3rd in LaLiga behind eventual Champions Valencia and runners-up Deportivo La Coruna that season. But in the most Real Madrid way, they would go on to win the Champions League in Glasgow, thanks to Zidane’s iconic volley.

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