Zinedine Zidane and Edgar Davids’ two worlds at Juventus
This feature is part of Duology
Zinedine Zidane was unique. With or without the ball under its spell, it would float around the field as if it were only grazing its surface. Watching him glide effortlessly between phases of play, Zidane at times took on the appearance of an interpretive dancer, prancing between players and tackles with balletic poise and Gallic confidence; in space, beyond slits, through presses, never more than one Roulette far from freedom. He would demand the ball, calm it in an instant with the flat of his chest, the softness of his thigh, the tip of his toe, and carry it forward with unmatched purpose and intention.
Freed from the duties that rested with so much expectation on his broad shoulders, for the club and for the country, Zidane roamed the pitch entirely at will, throwing delicate passes for the first time here and throwing destructive balls across the- beyond the defenses. Only occasionally would it erupt into more obvious authoritative action; often storm past his midfield comrades to thunder a cross with his header or shoot a strike past a flat-footed goalkeeper with one of his capable feet; at other times, explode in quite a different way, for his ever-quivering temper bubbled beyond boiling point, in outright aggression, and his emotions would erupt in a flash of calculated violence. Zidane was gunpowder stored in an ornate glass vial.
Playing concerto after concerto, on the pitches his very presence would make a scene, Zidane almost certainly inspired more children to engage in the beautiful game than any other of his generation, not only because of its seat-limit volatility. . but because of the deceptive simplicity he made the act of fabricating the beautiful appear. At his best, Zidane epitomized the elegance of football. He was inimitable and relentless.
Throughout four of his unforgettable five years in Turin, Zidane performed alongside his perfect foil. Both often suitably draped in black and white, Edgar Davids was the yin of Zidane’s yang. His partner in crime, the hard-hitting Dutchman would hardly have been better suited to team up with Zidane if the Frenchman had designed him from scratch himself.
If Zidane was the flower whose thorns were only found on close inspection, Davids’s were immediately apparent. Nicknamed the Pitbull by his compatriot and manager Louis van Gaal, due to his relentless determination, bark and bite, Davids played intuitively aggressive and combative football, born from his early days of mastering his craft on the streets of Amsterdam, and was never afraid to put his body on the line, win ugly if the occasion demands it. This partly explains the other exclusively animal names with which Davids has been adorned during his career: the Piranha, the Shark. One pass under, one loose touch, and he would chew on you.
Yet anyone who believed Davids was uniquely animal, a purely physical presence or an outright bully and nothing more, simply never watched him play. The midfielder boasted of an exemplary array of skills, endowed with a level of technique players with a fraction of his tenacity could only dream of possessing. He could snatch or recover the ball from his opponent and be overwhelmed by no constraint to offload possession to progress on the field. His belief in his own ability was unwavering. He could cross a back line with a nice pass. He could ask questions of the toughest of the “Guardians with a long range rocket.” Davids was creative and adaptable.
Zidane has found his way to Juventus after successful stints with his native Cannes and Bordeaux. After seven seasons at home, in 1996 Zidane left Ligue 1 as the division’s player of the year and, after a handful of English clubs reportedly missed the opportunity to sign him, champions Juventus. Europe, acquired its services for an implausible price of £ 3.2. mr. His move to Italy at the age of 24 would soon see him realize every ounce of his immense potential and begin the journey to heaven that would elevate him from prospect to prodigy.
Davids, meanwhile, found his place at Juve after a year at AC Milan threatening to dig the formidable foundations he had strived to lay at home club Ajax. Davids had already secured a litany of silverware with his childhood squad, including three straight Eredivisie titles and a Champions League win to boot, meaning his reputation predated his arrival on Italian soil as well.
At Juventus, Zidane and Davids, under the expert supervision of an experienced Italian manager Marcello Lippi, whose future historic brainwave brought the two together, would become the heart and soul of the team that won successive Serie A titles in the waning 1990s, where they would come together supremely.
So the duo were in sync, in fact their fortunes seemed to match each other more than any other regular teammate. This has never been clearer than in a Champions League group stage game at home against Hamburg in late October 2000, when the Old Lady of Italy was downed 3-1 by the away Germans. . In the span of just four minutes of the first half, Juventus were reduced to nine men and it was both Zidane and Davids who saw the red. The first received his marching orders for a scandalous head butt delivered to the defender Jochen Kientz, while Davids received his for two quickly won reservations. They won together, they lost together.
Functioning as Lippi’s “one man engine room”, Davids did the dirty work and he did it well. While not exclusively an executioner, Davids’ demanding approach to pressing and insistent ball retention made the lives of his opponents hell and, with their energy and enthusiasm undermined, then cleared the ground for allow Zidane to weave his majestic ways at will. .
Asked during an interview with FourFourTwo To quote the key to his partnership with Zidane, Davids said: “It was about trust and energy. If you have that connection with someone, you know what’s going to happen. It’s all about feelings, knowing football at a certain level, and we both understood football at the same level. Beside each other, at the epicenter of every match, it appeared Davids and Zidane were boasting a connection like few others. This connection has even exceeded national limits.
At the European Championship in 2000, Davids’ own nation, co-host the Netherlands, faced Zidane’s France in the group stage of the tournament and, in the days leading up to the match, far from showing common caution or just reiterating his focus on his own homework, Davids couldn’t contain his praise for his Juventus teammate and his next opponent: “Just watching Zidane train inspires me. He’s one of the best players in the world, ”Davids said. “He thinks in one second and does it the next. He is a special, original and exceptional player. It creates space where there is none. Only the best players can do it. No matter where he gets the ball or how it gets to him, Zidane can get himself out of trouble. His imagination and technique are incredible.
Davids was constantly in awe of the work Zidane would produce alongside him and Zidane seemed forever grateful for the platform Davids work provided him.
At Juventus, the two midfielders had the chance to form the backbone of a magnificent vintage team. Equipped with the consummate professionalism and conscience of Ciro Ferrara, the unyielding will and ambition of Antonio Conte, the rare power and grace of Alessandro Del Piero, Juve soared nationally, although they were deemed insufficient on the European stage. Yet even in a sky full of stars, Zidane and Davids shone.
Admittedly, both players had their flaws. Davids was physical: Glaucoma required the wearing of glasses every time on the pitch, a mandatory accessory that unnecessarily helped the midfielder stand out among the crowd, and, if impossible not to mention, that of Zidane. was mental; an idiosyncratic temperament that highlighted its dominant flaw with alarming regularity.
But these factors only sought to further underscore the qualities of both players, as they reminded those watching that the two were, despite convincing evidence, only humans. Men, not machines, were responsible for the acts owed to those lucky enough to witness their dazzling double act in the flesh.
Eventually, Zidane and his ambitions would overtake even the giants of Turin and leave behind his Dutch companion as he migrated west, in search of the sanctity and splendor of Madrid where, along with his comrade Galácticos to Real, he continued to polish every formidable facet of his game. In the crisp white of Los Merengues, Zidane’s legend would continue to grow, as he became a deserved champion of Spain and Europe, certifying himself as one of the most naturally talented and universally beloved footballers to have blessed the game.
Edgar Davids, too, would ply his trade on more distant shores before hanging up his boots, orchestrating memorable spells at Barcelona, Internazionale and Tottenham Hotspur, as well as Crystal Palace and, remarkably, even Barnet. He would never quite regain the magic of his days at Juventus, although he might have rediscovered some of the insanity while in the lower levels of the English pyramid, but Davids had long since earned its place among the legendary elite in football history. .
By Will Sharp @shillwarp