On May 31, at a press conference, Zinedine Zidane announced his decision to step down from his position of coach of the Real Madrid, at a time when the club was at its peak after winning the Champions League for the third time. Such an unexpected and shocking announcement in the football world! Everyone was surprised but the reactions were unanimous. All commentators described his departure as a “stroke of genius”, a “clever move” and Zidane as an “extraordinary manager”. Even Emmanuel Macron, interviewed in June 10’s edition of the TV show “Telefoot”, responded that he wasn’t surprised. Much has been said and written about this departure which caused a real buzz. But why does Zidane generate such turmoil? Sure, he is excellent player, an historic champion, and certainly an exceptional coach. But what if the answer was also to be found in his communication? Let’s dig the question a bit further!
ZZ: A mythical brand
Zinedine Zidane is much more than a talented football player: over the years, he has become a real brand on which a true myth has been built. Zinedine Zidane has demonstrated an ability to create emotion, engagement and to mobilize his fans around him. He is also the subject of many idealized representations.
Zidane, gifted with the ball, first gained a professional legitimacy: he is successful in everything he does, combining masterful actions on the field, great team victories and great achievements as a coach. Beyond this undeniable technical legitimacy, the mythical character of his brand relies on his capacity to generate unforgettable collective emotions. Zidane embodies France’s victory at the 1998 World Cup, when the whole country took to the streeto celebrate the victory. He is a founding myth to all generations, even those who were born after 1998.
The influence of the Zidane brand is also fed by a network of loyal fans who are his best ambassadors. Zidane is not only respected by the public but also within the football world. He is admired by the new generation of football stars as K. Benzema or G. Bale who are proud to be his trainees. Zidane knows how to be appreciated and even loved by many journalists, as the media craze around his departure showed. Stéphane Meunier, author of the documentary « Les yeux dans les bleus », fell under the spell of Zidane and became one of his closest friends.
Zidane is a well-maintained legend. The champion is at the heart of idealized representations and beliefs: In the eyes of the public Zidane has remained simple and humble despite his success. He is known to be faithful in love and in friendship. He has kept in touch with his childhood friends and always gives priority to his wife and family over celebrities. The cautious and very progressive way in which he managed his conversion as a coach, not hesitating to follow a university degree in sports management, reinforces this image of exceptional humility and intelligence. The weak points of this hagiographical narrative career, including his too numerous red cards for the kind of player he is, his potential involvement in the doping scandal at Juventus, and even his headbutt during the World Cup final against Italy in 2006 were, quickly forgotten.
…. With a mystical radiance
Zidane’s true talent lies in the fact that he gave, through an organized communication strategy, a mystical personality to the character he as himself created. His statements are scarce but always much expected and listened to, like a sacrosanct God.
It is a fact, Zidane speaks very little. Indeed, the word of the great champion is scarce, and thus so precious. To maintain the myth and the fantasy, Zidane is not excessive, his communication is minutely-executed and the journalists he works with, carefully selected. This is the reason why his public interventions arouse such a great interest. To announce his departure, Zinedine Zidane called the journalists 2 hours before his press conference, suspending the time and holding the attention of numerous “aficionados” who were speculating.
Zidane has become a mystical character. More than the admiration of his fans, it is the ardor of its “adepts” which feeds the Zidane myth. As shows his biography published in 2006: “Zidane, the God who just wanted to be a man”, those who meet him always highlight a character of exception. The commentators could have pinpointed the calculated figure of his departure from the Real – a fourth victory in Europa League being rather unlikely, even if at the end of the 50s, The Real won 5 in a row – or criticized this desertion before the end of his contract, or even reminded that his last season in Liga went badly and his relations with some players were damaged. But there was almost no such commentary. Zidane is untouchable, he fascinates beyond his sport: we applause his perfect sense of timing, we laud his management.