If not the greatest, then certainly a contender for the best ever in a Champions League final. Zinedine Zidane’s volley against Bayer Leverkusen in the 2002 edition is about as iconic as a goal gets.
The French genius is synonymous with the Europe’s premier competition after winning it three times as a manager, but if an image and a moment sticks in the memory then it is that sumptuous connection with his left foot at Hampden.
One of the very few to have had a privileged view of the performance art was Steve McManaman.
“I think the average person would have controlled it,” McManaman recalls.
Speaking on the great Frenchman during an interview with Betway, the former Liverpool player declares that he wasn’t entirely shocked by the way things played out. He speaks of knowing his teammates well.
“You know whether they can volley the ball or whether they would rather bring it down and try and take people on. He was one that could strike it from a great height because he had done it many times before.”
“He was ever so graceful Zizou and it’s not surprising that it went flying in the net.”
McManaman’s comments hint at the enormous reserves of talent within that Real Madrid squad. What to him was a simply a common preference for what to do with a dropping ball was mind-blowing to the rapturous public.
That was McManaman’s second Champions League victory as he lived through the transformation of Real Madrid under Florentino Perez. A successful behemoth of European football was definitively converted into the ‘Galacticos’ era and with it, arguably the most glamorous football club in the world.
In many ways that team recalls several parallels with Zidane’s versions of Real Madrid as a manager. McManaman also mentions the dressing room atmosphere during his time in Madrid, speaking of the leadership skills of Fernando Hierro.
In that sense a similarity can be drawn between Hierro and the incredible character of Sergio Ramos, while in Gareth Bale’s masterpiece in the Champions League final of 2018 against Liverpool, that Real Madrid side has its own iconic goal.
More than that though, the ability of Zidane to extract the best from his stars and maintain prosperity within the club harks back to the days of then manager Vicente del Bosque in 2002. Right down to the struggles after del Bosque left, which also accompanied Real Madrid after Zidane’s first departure as manager.
McManaman’s original observation that most would have controlled the dropping ball touches on one of the traits that best defines Zidane though – he approaches things in an entirely different manner to most of football.