There has been a noticeable uptick in discourse around Zinedine Zidane. Whether it’s comparisons with latter day midfielders or questioning whether he’s overrated, the chatter has mainly centred around just how great he really was.
Any such discourse cannot begin without acknowledgement that there is an inherent foolishness in attempting to reappraise any player of eras past. For one, the player has already been appraised by the public of his day. A public that was mature enough and knowledgeable enough to evaluate his game, compare it to his positional and general contemporaries and engage in discourse around his greatness as witnessed in real time.
The game itself is never static. It is ever evolving and changes from era to era. The game demands era specific qualities and functions from each player. Players are judged in real time according to how accomplished they are at playing the game of their day, not the game of future tactical trends and demands. Because of this, there is a fundamental fallacy in the logic of using current day demands, standards and trends to reappraise a player from a past era.
There is a further fallacy in reassessing just the player in question. Apparently the recent Zidane chatter was ignited after one, or a couple of journalists rewatched his games and came away with some conclusions. This is highly questionable. In 2022, our perception of the game has evolved from 2006 when Zidane retired. It would take a special human mind to divorce what he is seeing on tape in 2006 from how he perceives the game and high performance in current time. More over, apart from evolved tactical trends, even a quality such as "consistency" is not today, what it was back then.
To more accurately - and more legitimately - reassess Zidane, it would not be enough to merely rewatch his games. One would at the very least also have to rewatch as many games from each of his best league and global contemporaries. That is, the equivalent number of games involving Rivaldo, Aimar, Dani, Deco, Scholes, Effenberg, Ballack, Rui Costa and Seedorf, to name but some of the finest of the time.
Those who affirm Zidane as a player belonging in the echelons of a handful of the very finest in history are often charged with nostalgia to discredit their assertion. It’s a lazy charge premised on poor logic. Nostalgia is not even an argument, it’s just a word tantamount to name calling. No one ever supports it while making the charge. It is invariably just thrown out there in attempt to invalidate events of the past.
The public recognises accomplishments of players in real time, not just with rhetoric but with awards. There are no lifetime achievement awards in football. Therefore no player ever wins an award in real time because of nostalgia. Awards mark the moment in time for eternity. They are the firewall that protects against the virus of revisionism. Those who seek to employ ‘nostalgia’ in attempt to diminish greatness already established are in fact themselves guilty of revisionism and recency bias.
The assessment of Zinedine Zidane’s game, career and place in history has already been completed. As such the very notion of reappraisal is to be rejected out of hand. Zidane’s greatness and legacy is not subject to any debate that isn’t concerned with a handful of the greatest in history. The public of his day established that much, emphatically. Their findings utterly rubbish any notion that he is in any sense overrated.
The most prestigious individual honour in Zidane’s era was the FIFA World Player of the Year Award. To be henceforth referred to as ‘WPY’. It is common knowledge that Zidane won it on three occasions, which stood as a joint record shared with Ronaldo until the Messi and Cristiano battle began. Here are the facts of Zidane’s historical standing. No nostalgia. No subjective arguments about his game. Just facts, and what the facts reveal.
Zidane’s first appearance inside the WPY Top 10 voting was in 1997, and his last appearance in 2006. A period span of ten years. In that decade, he finished just once (13th in 2005) outside of the WPY Top 10.
In the decade, no other player was recognised inside the Top 10 on more than six occasions. (Rivaldo and Raúl)
This alone reminds that regardless of position, Zidane was by far the most consistently high performing star in the world for a decade. It dispels any modern suggestion that he was inconsistent. Any such notion is patently false and unfounded.
From 1997 to 2006 only two midfielders (DM/CAM/CM) finished inside the WPY Top 10 voting more than once. Rivaldo (5) and Kaká (3).
This reminds that Zidane defined this era as the world’s greatest midfielder, bar none. He blows away his closest position rival, Rivaldo by four more appearances.
In the nine years that Zidane finished in the WPY Top 10 during the 1997-2006 decade, he never finished lower that 5th place.
No other player finished inside the Top 5 on more than four occasions in the decade. (Ronaldo and Rivaldo)
This reminds that Zidane was not just the most consistent star, but was generally recognised as the best player during this decade.
I would be remiss to not mention that Ronaldo actually finished Top 5 on five occasions in his career. His first appearance was 1st place in 1996. A year before the decade relevant to Zidane.
I would also be remiss to not mention that Zidane was not indisputably the world’s best. That recognition was shared interchangeably with Ronaldo during this era. Had it not been for devastating injuries, the likelihood is that Ronaldo’s contestation of the era would have reflected more strongly in the WPY awards.
Those who put Zidane in their Top 5 greatest players in history have strong, legitimate grounds to do so. Their view is imbued with a substantial amount of insurmountable historical record and facts. They must never feel dissuaded by journalists pandering to fans who were twelve years old when Zidane was in his prime. Fans trying to elevate the greatness of the best players that they truly witnessed by attempting to drag Zidane down to the level of their favourites. The same fans who are today highly tickled by the likes of Jude Bellingham. Zidane’s legacy is unimpeachable.
Those who say putting Zidane up that high is just nostalgia have no grounds whatsoever to support that charge. They only have their misuse and abuse of the word ‘nostalgia’. There isn’t one scintilla of credible reasoning or evidence to qualify or prove the nostalgia, much less any notion that Zidane is overrated.