By Matthew Spiro in Marseille
Zinedine Zidane admits it will be an emotional experience when he returns to his hometown Marseille with Real Madrid CF in the UEFA Champions League tonight.
'Made in Marseille'
Sitting proudly on the Marseille coastline, staring out to the Mediterranean, is a giant mural bearing the face of Zidane. The painting, which covers 150 square metres, carries a simple message written in bold white letters in the top left corner: 'Made in Marseille'.
Born in the southern port town in 1972, Zidane never got to play for Olympique de Marseille, the team he supported avidly as a boy. The France midfield player left home at the age of 14 to join the AS Cannes youth academy, before his career took him to FC Girondins de Bordeaux, Juventus FC and then Madrid. But his affinity for the town where he grew up, for the people and for the football club, has remained.
'Still my home'
"Marseille is in my blood," said Zidane on hearing that Madrid had been drawn against the club of his heart in the Champions League. "My family and many of my friends live there and, despite the fact that I have spent my football career elsewhere, Marseille is still my home."
Defeats by Porto
Zidane's love of Marseille is a feeling that is very much reciprocated. The people of Marseille had been hoping the return of 'Zizou' would spell a summit meeting between Marseille and Madrid. But having lost home and away against FC Porto, Alain Perrin's side sit third in Group F - four points adrift of Porto - and their future in the competition is now out of their hands.
Madrid, meanwhile, have already qualified for the knockout stage, prompting speculation that they might rest some of their star players. But Zidane insisted he was desperate to play: "To turn out in front of the Marseille supporters would be very special. I've been back to the Vélodrome with Bordeaux and with France, but returning with Real Madrid would be different.
I'm sure I'll get goose bumps when I am standing in that tunnel."
Porto coach José Mourinho admitted after the group stage draw that he was concerned by stories suggesting Zidane would not play to his full potential against Marseille. But those fears proved unfounded when a sublime performance from Zidane on Matchday 1 orchestrated a 4-2 for Madrid over Marseille at the Santiago Bernabéu. "We played some fabulous football that night," Zidane said. "When you look at the talent in our side, it's obvious that when we get the wind in our sails we are difficult to stop."
Nonetheless, Zidane's lasting memory of that evening was not his mesmerising 40-metre dribble to set up a goal Ronaldo's second goal, nor Roberto Carlos's stinging volley into the top corner, but the Marseille supporters. "When I heard them singing my name in the corner of the Bernabéu, I was really touched," he revealed.
Reason to celebrate
Zidane was also full of praise for the way the Marseille players equipped themselves. "I'm speaking sincerely when I say that Marseille gave us a fright," he said. "They were well-organised, they got stuck in and they caused us real problems. It took an extraordinary performance from us to win that game. If Marseille play that well at the Vélodrome with the magnificent support they have, it's going to be very tough for us." Whatever the result tonight, the Marseille fans will have reason to celebrate as they welcome home the prodigal son.
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