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Face to face with Zinedine Zidane

By Andrew Stevens, CNN
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Zinedine Zidane on Talk Asia
  • CNN's Andrew Stevens interviewed French football hero Zinedine Zidane in Hong Kong
  • Asked the former footballer about his career and 'incident' in the 2006 World Cup Final
  • Zidane was charming, funny and relatively open during the interview

Hong Kong, China (CNN) -- There's nothing like lobbing a simple little question into a group of foaming football fanatics.

"Was," I asked innocently, "Zinedine Zidane among the best footballers who has ever lived? Should he be counted among the likes of Pelé and Diego Maradona?"

I floated out that question to cognoscenti in the office... and stood back. The debate raged on... and on... and on. I won't go into the details; let's just say it generated a lot of "chat" among those who routinely get up at 4am in Hong Kong to watch their respective teams play live in Europe.

I had been assigned an interview with Zidane and wanted to get the diehards' sense of just how good he was.

But as ever in conversations about Zidane, the "incident" comes up sooner or later. What was said to make him head-butt an opposing player in the 2006 World Cup Final, for which he was sent off.

It was a question I planned to put to him, but I wasn't particularly looking forward to it.

For tens of millions of people Zidane was the brooding, mercurial, brilliant controlling midfield presence at the heart of some of the best football teams in the world -- the French national team that beat Brazil in the 1998 World Cup Final, the Real Madrid "Galacticos", the Juventus team of the late 1990's.

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Watch Zinedine Zidane on Talk Asia this week from Wednesday, November 25, 12.30 GMT.

He's also a man who famously guards his privacy. He has hardly ever elaborated on the incident.

When we met in Hong Kong I was expecting him to go through the motions. And be pretty defensive as well, with a journalist that was probably going to bring up the head-butt question at some stage.

He was charming, funny, incisive and (relatively) open. Admittedly, there was a translator between him and me so the conversation was limited, but here was a man definitely at ease with himself and his achievements on and off the field and obviously enjoying himself these days.

As the interview wore on I decided it was time to ask, so almost apologetically, I did. From the chorus of "tut-tutting" from his handlers, I knew I had crossed the line.

But Zidane dealt with it as he always does; he had nothing to say on the matter, and why do you journalists keep asking.

Why indeed? Simply because as journalists we want answers.

Anyway, to get back to my first point: Just how good was he?

Tell us how you think Zidane rates on the list of all-time great footballers using the "Sound off" box below.