Greatest League In The World

When Bohemians met Bordeaux and Zinedine Zidane scored a free-kick in Dalymount Park

The Real Madrid manager’s memories of Bohemians are undoubtedly few and far between, but for a period in the mid-1990s Zizou frequently faced off against the Gypsies.

ASK ZINEDINE ZIDANE his memories of playing against Bohemian Football Club and the Real Madrid manager would probably smile at you shyly, shuffle his feet a bit and attempt some modest answer that the Irish defend so hard and play with such selfless heart and passion.

It is unlikely that the manager – who since last meeting the Gypsies 22 years ago has gone on to win the World Cup, European Championships, Uefa Champions League, La Liga, Serie A, a league title in charge of Real Madrid and, just last weekend a second consecutive Champions League title as manager – could even tell you which city Bohemians play in.

Despite taking charge of just 20 games in European competition as a manager, the Frenchman has won as many European Cups as Alex Ferguson, Pep Guardiola, Brian Clough and Jose Mourinho, and twice as many as Bill Shankly and Arsene Wenger put together – following last weekend’s 4-1 final victory over Juventus.

To make this statistic even more mind-bending consider the fact Ferguson managed Manchester United in over 200 games in the Champions League, winning two titles. Zidane has overseen 20 fixtures in under two seasons, and won it on both occasions.

He is an enigmatic character and has ignited an impossible debate to rank his pedigree as a manager – one camp saying he could not achieve what he has were he to leave the Bernabéu, the other arguing that he has done what no other manager since Arrigo Sacchi could, which is to successfully defend the Champions League.

Camp B would continue that he has done what Manuel Pellegrini, Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez could not do at Madrid, which is to manage the egos of a dressing room of Galacticos and keep them motivated throughout the duration of an entire season.

United Kingdom: Juventus v Real Madrid - UEFA Champions League Final SIPA USA / PA Images SIPA USA / PA Images / PA Images

In a year where Zidane became the first manager to successfully win back-to-back Champions Leagues, perhaps his greatest achievement is to win Madrid’s first La Liga title in five years, and their first league and European Cup double in 58 years.

Madrid have always had the pulling power of millions to spend, but that did not always guarantee success for the man in charge. Jose Mourinho oversaw a team which included many of the faces who stripped Juventus to pieces last Saturday in Cardiff.

Ronaldo, Benzema, Modric, Ramos, Marcelo, Varane. Replace Bale, Kroos and Navas with Di Maria, Xabi Alonso and Iker Casillas and the quality is a lot closer than you’d think.

But once upon a time forging his managerial legacy was barely a thought in the young Zizou’s mind. Once upon a time the most pressing issue to him was how to navigate a sodden Dalymount Park turf on a wet, cold, miserable autumn evening in Phibsborough.

Zidane has played competitive football in Ireland on three occasions: twice with Bordeaux and once with the French national team when Shay Given plucked one of his immaculately laced free-kicks from nessling into the top corner in Lansdowne Road.

There are few men who can say they have thwarted Zidane, but Shay Given, for 90 minutes at least, rank among the counted few.

However long before this, when the prospect of a balding Zidane was unimaginable, the mastermind playmaker was, it seemed, routinely lining out against European regulars Bohemians.

Before Zidane was winning European Cups he was coming face-to-face with LOI stalwarts  like Pat Fenlon, Jim Crawford, Tony Cousins and Michael Moody – in the first round of the Uefa Cup.

It was a muddy, misty Tuesday night in September 1993 when George Hamilton described the unknown Bordeaux number 7 as Zinedine Zidane “…the 21-year-old midfield sensation” and the Irish public had its first glimpse of a man who would come to define modern football on the pitch and on the touchline.

giphy Zidane scores in Bordeaux's 5-0 victory against Bohemians.

Up front for Bohs was current Waterford Director of Football Fenlon and ex-Longford Town manager Cousins, but it was the French striker Christophe Dugarry who slipped the ball under goalkeeper Dave Henderson for the decisive goal in a 1-0 victory in north Dublin.

A week later Zidane got his own name on the scoresheet, as well as an assist, in a 5-0 demolition in France which capped off a 6-0 aggregate victory.

Zidane-aye, as Jimmy Magee in commentary for RTE referred to him, was a constant menace on the left flank in the second leg, dropping deep to receive the ball and thread through balls for striker Philippe Vercruysse repeatedly with his trademarked finesse.

“He’s a very good player this 21-year-old,” noted Magee. “Strong, skillful, Zidane,” he said moments before Stephane Paille found him lurking unmarked at the back post for a simple tap-in to make it 1-0 on the night and 2-0 on aggregate.

Bohemians had held out for 22 minutes, but eventually the floodgates opened and four more goals, including their second assisted by Zidane, pelted the League of Ireland hopefuls into submission.

In hindsight it can be easy to assume Zidane was the best player any time he took to a football pitch, even before his transfers to Juventus and Real Madrid.

However even Magee in commentary saw the playmaker had something more, even when Zidane was not the name on the scoresheet for Bordeaux’s second.

“That’s a great piece of play,  Vercruysse the scorer, but it’s all about the number 7 Zidane-aye. Brilliant play, he really had to cut that back with expert skill,” said Magee.

giphy (3) Zidane leaves Donal Broughan for dead.

giphy (4) Zizou crosses to get the assist for Bordeaux's second in 1993.

It would be two more years before Zidane and Bohemians met again in 1995 – this time in the Uefa Intertoto Cup, a competition which was discontinued eight years ago.

Zidane got the assist again for the opener, before swinging a free-kick into the net in Dalymount Park. Confusion and indignation spread among the hosts afterwards as Bohs goalkeeper Dave Henderson believed it was an indirect free-kick which Zidane had scored illegally.

Even the match reports from over two decades ago admit Bohs had let themselves down on this occasion, striker Cousins even hitting the bar in a close game. Paul Buttner of the Irish Times wrote:

Bohemians had Derek Swan sent off as they succumbed, rather tamely, in the end (2-0), to a Bordeaux side which never needed to engage top gear in their Intertoto Cup game.”

But perhaps the biggest tragedy suffered on a night where Zidedine Zidane scored a free-kick against a League of Ireland side is that just 1,500 spectators were there to see it.

Though many more since have claimed to have witnessed a moment in time for Irish football, one of those nights where a God of the game took to the field in Phibsborough – it is incredulous that less than two thousand were present the night Zidane swung a dead ball into the net in Dalymount.

A night when Zidane etched his name alongside Pele, Bobby Moore, Zbigniew Boniek and Michel Platini as world stars to have performed their artistry at the Home of Irish Football.

download (1) Maurice O'Driscoll skips by Zidane (right) during the Uefa Cup meeting with Bordeaux in 1993.

Who knows if Zidane even remembers his free-kick. A man who would go on to win the World Cup on home soil, the European Championships two years later, the Champions League as well as Serie A and La Liga, is quickly making strides to become the most accomplished player-turned-manager in the history of the sport.

It is premature to predict, but Zidane could yet forge his legacy alongside names like Bobby Robson, Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola as enjoying the most successful and distinguished player/manager career of all time.

His night pulling a League of Ireland side to pieces with his ease of technique and silky grace probably ranks low in his collection of distinguished memories.

But for 1,500 supporters at Dalymount Park on a torrential night in 1995, and those who saw him two years earlier in 1993 Zidane will always be remembered as a promising playmaker with a full head of hair, a poet in motion with the world at his feet, and, as George Hamilton put it, “the 21-year-old midfield sensation… Zinedine Zidane.”

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