By Sara Murphy and Alex Tschumi
Zinedine Zidane is a figure of mythical proportions in the world of football. Widely considered one of the best players to have ever played the game, he is certainly among the most decorated individuals in the history of the sport. Although he has been retired since 2006, the three-time “FIFA World Player of the Year,” continues to be one of the most recognizable faces in the world. Zidane’s popularity extends far beyond his native country of France, where he was recently voted “the most popular Frenchman of all time.”
In exploring Zidane’s unparalleled fame and success, the 1998 World Cup is arguably the single most important event in Zidane’s career. The conditions surrounding the tournament and the French team’s victory played a defining role in their direct and indirect effect on Zidane’s decisions and actions on and off the field. The multi-dimensional relationship between Zidane and the ’98 World Cup is a unique and defining factor in the direction and growth of Zidane’s image.
The Social and Political Aspects of Zidane’s Image:
The right man at the right time…
Zidane emerged from the ’98 World Cup as a hero and international icon. Although he was hailed for his performance and ability as a soccer player, this was not the sole contributor to his unprecedented popularity and success. Equally as important were the social and political conditions that existed in France, which played a defining role in shaping Zidane’s image and influence among fans and critics alike. Zidane capitalized on the unique opportunity provided by the World Cup, as an arena in which power of sport and society could be combined. His recognition and acceptance of this position enabled his transformation into a figure of hope and identity for individual people and entire populations, and allowed for his significance to transcend far beyond the lines of the soccer field.
The climate in France during the ’98 World Cup was one of tense political and social division, which stemmed from the diverse makeup of multi-ethnic backgrounds that comprised the nation’s people. Much to the surprise of France, and the rest of the world, the tournament had the unforeseen effect of challenging the established views of social discrimination and racism that prevailed throughout the country. The win for the host nation spurred an immediate wave of nationalism, football mania, and an array of social and political repercussions. France’s national team, as reflection of the country’s diverse population, became the symbol of France’s maturation towards a unified national identity, and the possibility of greater social mobility. At the forefront of this revolutionary phenomenon was Zidane.
In 1998, Zidane was recognized by fans and commentators around the world as a “powerful and inspiring rejection of racism in French society.” A Kabyle by descent, Zidane was born in Marseille, and grew up playing football in the poor town of La Castellane. His parents emigrated from the Berber region of Algeria in the 1950s, and thus represented the masses of immigrants that had become part of France’s multi-ethnic population. Their story, shared by so many others, is one of immense hardship marked by poverty, depression, and discrimination. While there were many players on the French national team each with their own diverse background and unique heritage, it was Zidane who was singled out as the figure of “successful integration.” Despite the connotation of the term “integration,” and its implication of an inherent division, this was a step in a positive direction for France. The reality of the situation, revealed in a poll taken just prior to the World Cup, was that thirty eight percent of the French population admitted to being racist. For Zidane, the face of France’s multiethnic society, “integration” was seen as a monumental achievement. His belief and commitment to wield his power on and off the field to promote this transformation were consistently evident in his words and actions during the World Cup. The extent of Zidane’s influence, however, was dependent on the careful balance between his identity as a talented soccer player and his complex inherited and experienced identity as a French citizen.
His words, actions and impact…
The World Cup was never intended to spark political and social change, much less produce a figure capable of providing a real challenge to racism in France. Zidane was well aware of the importance held by his performance on the field, and how it translated into French society. He also recognized the fragility of the situation, and so his approach to the media was one of caution and calculation. Zidane has received ample criticism for not taking a more vocal stance in the wake of the ’98 World Cup, and for “sidestepping politics” with his trademark, ‘I have no message,’ response to questions. His public persona was “as carefully constructed and as skillfully defended as any of his most elaborate midfield moves.” As a result, the few comments Zidane did make regarding the World Cup carried a heightened level of significance for his audience in France and the world abroad.
In regards to the final match of the World Cup, Zidane has said that he saw the championship against Brazil as being “the final game of an entire people,” and his first goal the best “single image” of the “power of integration.” These two statements, in their apparent contradiction, embody Zidane’s internal conflict as it represented the larger situation in French society. This moment of confirmation easily could have been defined in a confrontation of opposing loyalties. As part of a discriminated race and a discredited team, it would not have been surprising if Zidane had claimed the victory for himself and les Beurs. Instead, in a demonstration of strength and revolutionary character, he presented the win to the entire nation of France, while simultaneously acknowledging the social and political importance of the moment.
The significance of Zidane’s balancing act between the loyalty to his roots and dedication to France was not lost on the public. Zidane’s position was the ultimate confirmation of the merging of cultures that French fans were experiencing as they supported their team. In the celebration of the nation’s victory, the issue of race was not simply made irrelevant but actually transformed into a source of pride and collective identity. In an attempt to capture the remarkable change taking place amongst the sea of French and Algerian flags that decorated the joyous crowds, one reporter wrote: “There was no more hierarchy, or convention. No more disdain, no more bad mood. No more social classes, no more provincials or banlieusards. Nothing but the extraordinary, like a world upside down.” Following in the path set forth by their hero, the French population rallied behind the figure of Zidane and his move towards modernization, declaring him the symbol of the “new France.”
Despite Zidane’s best efforts to separate himself from the political sphere, the media and French population found every excuse to formulate this connection. The presence of politics was hard to ignore; in the celebration that followed, cheers of “Zizou for President!” rang through the crowds and commentators declared, “There is only one political party tonight.” Many saw the national team’s victory as representative of “a decisive defeat against the National Front” and its powerful, allegedly racist leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. Le Pen had famously discredited the French national football team, prior to the World Cup, as being ‘artificial’ for having too many players of ‘foreign,’ or multinational descent. This and similar comments were not forgotten by Zidane who pronounced the team’s victory, “the most beautiful response to intolerance.” Following the win, Le Pen and his party were essentially forced to publicly congratulate the team and conceded in acknowledging Zidane as the “principle artisan of the final victory.” On a less controversial note, in a great political gesture, French President Chirac and Prime Minister Jospin both donned French jerseys at the post-game celebration and made numerous statements praising the team on their success. The symbolic importance of this act “marked the solidarity of the French nation from highest office to poorest immigrant children in Marseille worshipping Zidane.”
Zidane has since described his first goal in the final match of the ’98 World Cup as “a powerful, even transcendental, sign of possibility”. While this could be interpreted as the hopeful words of a football player who has put his team ahead in the biggest game of their lives, on a greater level it was what Zidane gave to his fans around the world. For those who suffered unjust discrimination on the basis of race or culture, Zidane created a new national identity and redefined what it meant to be a French citizen. In the words of Sami Naïr, an Algerian born scholar of immigration and consultant to the French government, Zidane “does more with the motion of his hips than ten or fifteen years of policies of integration.” Equally as important was what the figure of Zidane provided in the realm of social mobility. Fans young and old, rich and poor, celebrated in the confirmation of the “football dream.” At the root of Zidane’s popularity, fame and success was the fact that he was an inspiration and living proof that that anything can be made possible through sports.
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Video Source (click here to watch more videos of the final match)
The Commercialization of Zidane’s Image After 1998:
A significant part of Zinedine Zidane’s global popularity stems from the widespread dissemination of his image. Like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and David Beckham, among others, Zidane has exploited his identity as an athletic icon to garner economic profit. Furthermore, he has utilized his branding as a symbol of success in multiracial integration in order to appeal to broad commercial audiences. From a business standpoint, this capitalization has been a calculated and tactically implemented strategy. Unlike several of his teammates on the French national team, Zidane has chosen to avoid controversy, especially when speaking about social and racial issues. In a country like France, where social and racial unrest seems to punctuate news programming on a nightly basis, there is an inherent commercial value attached to a seemingly “uncontroversial” advertising figure. Rather than harnessing his image as an integrated Frenchman of Kabyle ancestry to provoke social commentary, Zidane has used it to further his commercial interests.
When signing sponsorship arrangements, firms aim to expand brand awareness and strengthen brand image.Companies will often disseminate their advertisements utilizing many forms of promotional media with the goal of reaching as many consumers as possible. The consumer constructs brand associations upon seeing advertising, identifying the athlete’s image with a product. In many ways, the celebrity’s image is fully reassigned to the brand. Paralleling the use of celebrity images, brands will often sponsor events to create links between certain popular competitions and their products. In the 1998 World Cup, the sponsorship opportunities were boundless, offering companies a wide range of matches, geographic targets, and a diverse set of players with different images to choose from in order to manipulate the kind of associations consumers made about their brands.
While the 1998 World Cup was obviously a competitive football tournament, it has also been identified and analyzed as an advertising competition between multinational firms. Ironically, its organizing body, FIFA, determined that the area reserved for the emblems of both sponsors and the football federations should be the same, highlighting the importance of economics in football. Perhaps the most publicized battle occurred between Nike and Adidas, the two most prominent producers of football apparel in the world. The culmination of both the football and advertising competitions was the final match, played between France (whose sponsor was Adidas) and Brazil (whose sponsor was Nike). Allegations even emerged that the two firms had influenced both national teams’ composition and strategy. While the chairman of Adidas allegedly inspired the omission of the international stars Ibrahim Bâ and Eric Cantona (sponsored by Puma and Nike, respectively) from competition, Nike was accused of forcing Ronaldo, its “marketing poster boy,” to play in the championship game despite a convulsive fit and seizure suffered the night before the match. This commercial presence reinforces a not insignificant conspiracy theory that the World Cup and FIFA place economic interests above the founding principles of the international competition.
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A common practice in World Cup marketing is to focus on a few key individuals, using carefully honed artistic tools to portray them in an arresting and almost mythical light. Zidane’s racial history and uncontroversial political stances, as well as his striking facial features, helped in this mythopoesis, making him appear as an ideal spokesperson for French as well as international football. Rather than speaking about race and discrimination in France, Zidane tends to redirect conversation to his retreat from La Castellane, the Algerian immigrant suburb of Marseille, and the clear-cut, common-sense morals he learned from his family. His story perpetuates the image of the multiracial and successfully integrated Frenchman, almost as if paralleling a folk tale. Using this constructed image, Zidane established his commercial niche in a 1998 Adidas advertising campaign that profiled racially and ethnically diverse players on the French national team alongside white players. The subliminal use of race in black and white photographs and television advertisements aestheticized the diversity of the French national team, and profited from France’s insistent need for reassurance about its racial and ethnic tolerance. Similar strategies were employed in the victory celebration on the Champs Elysées, where Zidane’s face was projected as if an icon of a “new France” onto the facade of the Arc de Triomphe and the Algerian flag fluttered alongside the French tricolore, as if consigning the long, bloody, painful battle over France’s former colonial possession to oblivion.
Zidane’s commercialization and financial success can be attributed to and analyzed within a series of conscious and strategic career decisions. By leaving Bordeaux in 1996 to play at Juventus, he enabled his brand to expand to a more profitable market niche and provoked comparisons to France’s last iconic #10, Michel Platini. By moving to Italy, Zidane also entered a different football economy. At the time, the best-paid French players in Italy could make up to 30 million French francs per year, while those who remained in France earned only about a third of that sum. After establishing himself as a pre-eminent attacking midfielder in Europe and winning a World Cup, he parlayed this success into a move to Real Madrid for 77 million Euros, then the most expensive transfer fee in history. From 2001 to 2006 he played with the “Galacticos,” the most famous and powerful squad in the world, utilizing international competitions and world publicity tours to promote and expand his advertising viability. Indeed, by 2006 his receipts from advertising contracts—some 8.6 million Euros—almost doubled his 6.4 million Euro player’s salary from Real Madrid.
Zidane’s global recognition and power within the football world allowed him to dictate the terms of his sponsorship deals as well as the dissemination of his carefully guarded image. He once stated, “Je ne serai jamais récupéré si je ne le veux pas,” refusing to be defined or exploited by any political or commercial cause without his explicit approval. It is reported that his agent, Alain Migliaccio, automatically refuses any business proposition that guarantees Zidane less than one million Euros. Based on his standards of dignity, Zidane once rejected an endorsement deal that would have placed his likeness on shopping bags, contending that shopping bags inevitably end up on the floor and that his image should never be so defaced or degraded. This cautious management of sponsorship opportunities allows Zidane both to retain his dignity and to spread his brand through companies that have included Adidas, the food group Danone, the communications giant France Telecom, and the insurer Generali France, among others.
Zidane has often been compared to Michel Platini, who played a similar role for Juventus in the 1980s. However, unlike Platini, Zidane generally opted out of the media scrutiny and playboy image cultivated by other stars of his generation. While many footballers become tabloid cover fixations, Zidane’s private life has always been withheld. Indeed, Zidane’s intense privacy and inherent shyness, often described as verging on social clumsiness, are not infrequently cited among the reasons for his refusal of a more coordinated political use of his image, as adopted by 1998 teammates such as Lilian Thuram. Zidane does not allow himself to be caught in situations that affect his public image, instead choosing to display himself as an attentive and responsible family man. For example, in the month after the 1998 World Cup final he was photographed for the cover of Paris Match, a prominent French weekly magazine. Rather than pictured on a field kicking a football or in a locker room preparing for a match, Zidane was instead shown posing with his wife and young sons on the beach. This careful marketing on the part of Zidane and his publicists propagates an image of Zidane as a family man, which acts as both a national and transnational sales pitch. The depiction of a Frenchman with immigrant roots as harmless and “domesticated,” with strong familial ties, goes against many of the racial stereotypes proliferated in France, contributing to the sellable Zidane success story. Thus, in creating a public persona whose priorities, as Andrew Hussey has noted, are “football, family, and friends,” Zidane has engineered an “appeal [that] transcends the religious and racial divide in one of the most tense multi-ethnic societies in Europe.”
In eschewing the direct expression of political positions and guarding his privacy, Zidane has become a public figure who is at once extremely popular and “resolutely unknowable” to the majority of the French public.” This enigmatic status may be in part responsible for his magnetic power as a public relations and marketing icon. However, a key role in the success of Zidane’s brand has been his careful construction of his image of bedrock communal values that are widely shared and easily comprehended by the French public: responsibility (note teammate Thierry Henry’s much-quoted description of his teammate as “the guy we can always count on, the one who really takes control”), hard work, talent, determination, and fidelity to the family and friends who have stood by him in his meteoric transformation. Marie-Christine Lanne, the marketing head of Generali France, has explained his commercial value and appeal, stating that “Zidane est déjà entré dans l’histoire. Son image est très forte en dehors du terrain. Il inspire la confiance et représente la compétence, le talent, avec, en plus, une élégance morale” (italics mine).  Zidane’s insistence on these fundamental values underscores his broad appeal and consequent marketing success. However, the non- or a-political force of this approach is accentuated by a singular fact in Zidane’s history: the removal, despite his frequent affirmations of his proud Algerian origins and Kabyle identity, of a significant quote from the second edition of the book Mes copains d’abord that he published with teammate Christophe Dugarry after the 1998 World Cup. In the republished version, Zidane’s explanation of the ethnic power of the victory (“It was for all Algerians who are proud of their flag, who have made sacrifices for their family but who have never abandoned their own culture”) is nowhere present, having perhaps been judged too specific, “political,” or divisive for a general-audience market.
Zidane’s iconic power has been put to use in broad humanitarian campaigns in the wake of the 1998 World Cup. Key among them is his collaboration with Ronaldo on the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) campaign “Teams to End Poverty” starting in late 1999, as well as his appointment as a UNDP Goodwill Ambassador in March 2001. As part of a broad-based, non-partisan effort to engage support for reducing poverty throughout the developing world, Zidane and Ronaldo appeared in an advertising campaign photographed by noted fashion photographer Dominique Issermann that was issued on a pro-bono basis in more than 150 media outlets in Europe. The press release for his appointment as a Goodwill Ambassador observes Zidane’s prior involvement “in a number of social and humanitarian actions mostly in a private manner,” singling out appearances in charity football matches to benefit SOS Children Villages and Secours Populaire Francais in early and late 2000. While Zidane has engaged in private efforts in Algeria and in the Marseilles suburbs, the majority of his publicized work as a spokesperson on behalf of education, children’s services, and poverty reduction—much like his commercial enterprise—is non-political in nature.
As Zidane has carefully regulated his image to increase commercial appeal and minimize controversy, questions have emerged about the kind of impact he might have had on a racially unstable nation like France had he been more willing to develop his image as a more forthright political symbol. These hypotheses are supplemented by arguments that racial and socioeconomic harmony in France has waned, rather than increased, since the initial acceptance of France as a multiracial nation following the 1998 World Cup victory. While Zidane’s public persona has allowed him to accumulate wealth and to publicize different charitable causes, it has done little to affect the way minority populations are treated or perceived in French politics. Had Zidane utilized his celebrity politically, he could arguably have lessened racial tensions, or at least broadened understanding of present-day immigrant communities. Indeed, newspaper editors, journalists, and concerned citizens have often asked themselves in the aftermath of the 2002 run-off election between Jacques Chirac of the conservative UMP and Jean-Marie Le Pen of the xenophobic National Front: What became of the joyous, unified, multi-ethnic France of the 1998 World cup victory celebration? Would Zidane’s cultivation and use of his image as an ethnic minority have facilitated a more “unified” and enduring result?
 Hussey, A. “ZZ Top,” April 4, 2004. Observer.
 Dubois, Laurent. Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France. Berkeley: University of California, 2010: 227.
 Dauncey, H. and Hare, G. ‘World Cup France 98: Metaphors, meanings, and values’, International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 1999. 35: 3. 11.
 Fraser, N. “Cup of joy,” July 15, 1998. Observer.
 Basse, Zidane-Dugarry, in Dubois, Soccer Empire, 231, 258.
 Cojean, Annick, “A la Bastille, un 14 juillet ‘en plus drôle,’” Le Monde, July 14, 1998, 3. In Dubois, Soccer Empire, 237.
 Institut National de l’Audiovisuel « Tous en finale, » TF1 12 July 1998. In Dubois, Soccer Empire, 237.
Dubois, Soccer Empire, 247; Marks, J. “The National Team and French National Identity.” France and the 1998 World Cup: the National Impact of a World Sporting Event. Ed. Dauncey H. and Hare, G. London: Frank Cass Publishers, 1999. 50.
 Dubois, Soccer Empire, 259.
 “Le FN fait de Zidane un ‘enfant de l’Algérie française,’” Le Monde, 15 July 1998, 12. In Dubois, Soccer Empire, 260.
 Dauncey, H. and Hare, G. ‘World Cup France 98: Metaphors, meanings, and values’, 12.
 Dubois, Soccer Empire, 232.
 Ibid., 247.
 Gwinner, K., and Eaton, J. “Building Brand Image through Event Sponsorship: The Role of Image Transfer.” Journal of Advertising 28.4 (1999): 47.
 Ibid., 48.
 Silverstein, P. “Sporting Faith: Islam, Soccer, and the French Nation-State.” Social Text 18.4 (2000): 39.
 Ibid., 39.
 Kaelin, L. “Explaining Zidane: A Deconstruction with Adorno and Derrida.” Loyola Schools Review 6 (2007): 124.
 Vinocur, J. “Just a Soccer Star, After All.” New York Times 14 Mar. 1999: SM32.
 Mignon, P. “French Football after the 1998 World Cup: The State and the Modernity of Football.” Sport in Society 2.3 (1999): 232.
 Dauncey, H., and Morrey, D. “Quiet Contradictions of Celebrity: Zinedine Zidane, Image, Sound, Silence and Fury.”International Journal of Cultural Studies 11.3 (2008): 301-20.
 Dubois, Soccer Empire, 257.
 Silverstein, “Sporting Faith: Islam, Soccer, and the French Nation-State,” 41.
 Mbembe, A. “To Defend and to Question.” Chimurenga 10 (2006): 235.
 While the lens of this website is confined to the role of the 1998 World Cup victory on Zidane’s image, it bears repeating that Zidane’s presentation of himself as a private and moral family man was altered by his head-butt in the 2006 World Cup Final and that the mystery surrounding Zidane’s action became an obsession for many football fans. Nonetheless, Zidane’s popularity in France was not significantly affected by the action, and many argue that his response to Marco Materazzi’s taunts was, in fact, moral.
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