Zinedine Zidane has produced many moments of magic on the football pitch during his glorious footballing career. And, for many, at the top of such an elite list will be the sublime volley he scored in the 2002 Uefa Champions League final in Glasgow against Bayer Leverkusen.
You often hear the phrase ‘a goal worthy of the occasion’ in football. On May 15, 2002, Champions League was graced by a goal beyond such cliched descriptions; a goal that truly elevated the sport beyond the ordinary.
A somewhat scrappy final was level at 1-1 after two soft early goals were conceded by each side. The match was crying out for a moment of genius that could settle the tie in favour of either team. At the stroke of half time, Santiago Solari received the ball in the midfield and chipped it behind the back-line for Roberto Carlos to run on to. The Brazillian left-back is no stranger to special moments himself but his loopy cross from the left flank won’t rank in the top 100 of his passes on a football pitch. It was just a hopeful ball.
But waiting at the other end of the cross was Zidane. He had been man-marked effectively in the match till then and Leverkusen must have felt for a few seconds that even a player of his quality can’t do much from the edge of the penalty area with a cross that was hanging in the air for an eternity.
Zidane’s eyes were fixated on the ball. He planted his right foot firmly on the turf, swivelled on it, brought the left foot over from an absurdly difficult angle, all the while not taking his eyes off the ball. And then struck the most delicious volley one is ever likely to see on a football pitch.
“Zidane - absent throughout most of the half - smashed the ball home from the edge of the area with a sumptuous left-foot volley of exquisite timing and technique,” read the BBC report of the match.
Zidane’s goal, which yielded La Novena (ninth European title for Real Madrid), was recently chosen by France Football as the most beautiful goal in Champions League history. According to the magazine, Zidane’s goal was a perfect blend of, “balance, finesse, power… It has everything”.
The greatest credit one can give to this Zidane goal is that every time you see a world class strike in the Uefa Champions League, you immediately find yourself asking: is it better or not than *that* piece of Zizou magic. Cristiano Ronaldo’s bicycle-kick in Turin against Juventus in 2018: was it as good as Zidane’s volley? Gareth Bale’s effort, another overhead-kick against Liverpool in the 2018 final which clinched La Decimotercera in Kiev: was that as good as Zidane’s volley?
There will, of course, be spectacular goals scored every year in football. But even years or decades down the line, the goal Zidane scored in Glasgow will remain the benchmark for great UCL goals.
Watch a replay of that moment set to operatic music here:
You can watch all angles of the incredible goal with commentary here.