Zinedine Zidane: What happened to 7 players who were backed to follow in his footsteps?

While there will only ever be one Zidane, that hasn’t stopped promising young players from being compared to legend over the years.

Several players have been dubbed ‘the next Zidane’, but that’s a compliment that comes with a lot of expectation. The French icon has left a legacy in the world of football that seems almost impossible to match.

The Frenchman’s trophy cabinet includes a World Cup, Champions League and French and Spanish league titles. And the list of individual attacking midfielder accolades is probably long enough to write a book.

Let’s take a look at seven players who have been compared to legend and how their careers have unfolded.

Mourad Meghni:

After impressive performances for France at the U-17 World Cup, Meghni was given the nickname ‘little Zidane’, also due to his Algerian heritage.

The youngster moved to Italy even before making his senior debut at Cannes, moving to Bologna in hopes of playing first-team football.

But after failing to play with consistency, he was transferred to Lazio. Although the main honor of his career was the 2009 Coppa Italia, he remained an unused substitute.

Meghni moved to Qatar in 2011 where he changed clubs three times before finally returning to Algeria in 2015. He played for CS Constantine for two years before retiring in 2017.

Bruno Cheyrou:

Bruno Cheyrou

When Cheyrou signed for Liverpool in 2002, Gerard Houllier was quick to compare the youngster to Zidane.

Houllier said at the time: “Bruno has the same kind of touch and style that Zidane has. There are a lot of similarities between the two when they are on the ball.
“The difference is that Zidane is 30 and has a wealth of experience while Bruno is 24 and playing abroad for the first time.”

But after 48 disappointing performances for the Merseyside club, Houllier was sacked and the midfielder soon followed him out the door.

After two loan spells in Ligue 1 and a brief stint in Turkey, the midfielder ended his career in the French top flight, never having lived up to the high expectations set for him.

Antoine Le Tallec:

Antoine Le Tallec

Yet another youngster signed by Houllier after impressing at the U-17 World Cup for France, Le Tallec has also been dubbed Zidane’s successor to the throne.

Le Tallec signed for Liverpool in 2001 from Le Havre with his cousin, but the pair were immediately loaned to the French club for two seasons.

On his return to England, Houllier tried to play down expectations: “It will be better for him and Florent to play in the reserves this season so they can get used to English football.
“But in the future, they will both be seen as important recruits. It’s only a matter of time, I can promise you that.

But the striker only scored once in 32 appearances for the Reds, and after a series of unsuccessful loans to various French clubs he was permanently sold to Le Mans in 2008.

Over the next decade, Le Tallec was sold six more times, failing to perform regularly for either club. He finally retired in May 2021 at the age of 36, after a largely disappointing 20-year career.

Yoann Gourcuff :

Yoann Gourcuff

Comparisons with Zidane were inevitable for Gourcuff due to their similar styles of play. The playmaker’s impressive performances for Rennes earned him a move to AC Milan.

Due to Kaka playing his position, the youngster naturally struggled to earn a consistent spot in the starting XI. But Carlo Ancelotti and Paolo Maldini’s public criticism of the midfielder’s attitude didn’t help the situation either.

Gourcuff returned to Bordeaux and regained the form that eluded him in Milan, winning Ligue 1 Player of the Year and further comparisons to Zizou. But after a poor World Cup campaign in 2010, his attitude has again come under scrutiny.

The midfielder was sold to Lyon for €22m but like his move to Milan, his form and condition had once again let him down.

Eventually, in 2018, Gourcuff ended up at Dijon, but due to injuries he would only make eight appearances for the club before leaving a year later.

In October 2020, Gourcuff’s father confirmed that the midfielder had retired from playing.

Samir Nasri:

Samir Nasri

Moving on to a name that the majority of football fans will recognize, Nasri has also been compared to Zidane in his youth.

Following the pattern of impressing for France’s U-17s, team manager Philippe Bergeroo said: “His ease in possession reminds me of Zidane.”
Former Marseille manager Albert Emon also compared the youngster to the French legend saying: “Nasri has the same ability to read the game as Zizou.”

Nasri, however, didn’t want the weight of expectation that came with the comparisons, explaining, “I think people were too quick to make the comparison. I was 17 and starting out when I heard people call me the future Zidane. I was shocked but quickly let go of it all.

Nasri has shown throughout his career that he is undoubtedly a very talented player, spells at Arsenal and Manchester City have left the midfielder with a respectable trophy cabinet. But overall, it’s probably fair to say that Nasri failed to live up to the extreme expectations that were set for him early in his career.

Nasri would eventually end his career at Anderlecht in 2019, but his last campaign was marred by injuries and the midfielder was released at the end of the season. In September 2021, Nasri confirmed he had retired following his release by Anderlecht.

Adel Taarabt:

Adel Taarabt

Taarabt signed for Tottenham on loan aged just 17 after being promised first-team football by the north London club. After just two appearances for Spurs, the deal became permanent.

Harry Redknapp spoke about the youngster saying: “When he came here they called him the next Zidane. He’s not in the same league as Zidane yet because he was a genius, but one day he might to be up there because he has that ability.

But after making just 15 appearances for the club over the next 3 years, Taarabt was finally sold to QPR in 2010. The attacking midfielder made 164 appearances for the club, scoring 34 goals and registering 42 assists. These are by no means bad numbers, but playing in the Championship for five years was a far cry from his early expectations.

Taarabt would eventually spend time at Fulham, AC Milan, Benfica and Genoa, but failed to match the form he had enjoyed in the Championship.

In the 2019/20 season, Taarabt surprisingly established himself as Benfica’s regular starter as a defensive midfielder. He still remains at Benfica to this day and has made 12 appearances so far in the 2021/22 campaign.

Karim Benzema :

Karim Benzema

After Benzema grabbed the world’s attention with a goal against Manchester United in a Champions League knockout tie, an article in Bleacher Report described him as “France’s best hope to make us forget Zinedine Zidane”.

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How many matches did Italy win at Euro 2020?

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While the striker’s style might not be as eye-catching as the French icon, Benzema’s collection of trophies speaks for itself. Four Champions League winners’ medals and a stack of league and cup titles, the striker enjoyed huge success at Lyon and Real Madrid.

The only stain on the striker’s international career was his exile from the national team due to a blackmail scandal. Benzema didn’t make an appearance for Les Bleus between 2015 and 2021 but coach Didier Deschamps eventually recalled the striker for Euro 2020.

Despite his exile, Benzema still managed to reach fifth place on the list of France’s all-time top scorers.


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