At the gate of the National Sports Club of India in Mumbai, a pair of teenagers sheepishly approached anyone who was willing to listen to them without immediate dismissal. Their single question, “Do you know where Zinedine Zidane will be?” Before one can answer, the taller of the duo spots a rather large group of security officials — all dressed in black — in the far side of the NSCI complex. Suddenly, their tone takes on a note of confidence. “How do you get in?”
Inside the mini-theater housed within the premises, an unusually large set of media personnel are gathered, restlessly waiting for the Frenchman to make his appearance.
In turn, Mandira Bedi, who cricket enthusiasts will remember as one of the Indian Premier League’s (IPL) original hosts, asked the audience to settle down. Simultaneously, a crew of bouncers positioned themselves on the far left aisle. The crowd braced themselves.
Indian industries have, in recent years, cashed in on the popularity of foreign athletes, and Zidane has become the fourth superstar in the last few years to have joined the bandwagon of marquee ambassadors. In early 2013, a certain Diego Maradona was roped in by a Kerala-based jewellery firm to promote its products. Italian World Cup winner Alessandro Del Piero followed suit when he launched a line of scooters, then came five-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi coming in to serve as brand ambassador of a car company. And now Zidane made his first trip to India as an ambassador to an upcoming Paris-themed residential project coming up in Mumbai.
Subsequently, dressed meticulously in a white shirt-black trousers ensemble, coupled with a navy blue Nerhu-jacket, in walked the 1998 World Cup winner.
As expected, the flashes from the numerous cameras trained on the 43-year-old illuminated the otherwise dim bouncer-protected path meant for Zidane to make his way toward the stage. A constant murmur erupted within the audience once Bedi started introducing the proprietors responsible for the residential complex. But there was silence as soon as Zidane lifted the microphone. Each word uttered – all in French – was swallowed in with stern desperation. The following translation was devoured with equal admiration.
Speaking on the topic of the upcoming European Championships, hosted in France, the winner of the 2000 edition of the event talked up his country’s hopes.
“I know what it feels like playing a big tournament at home, having done so myself in 1998. It’ll give them (the French players) great support and a good boost of energy. The current French team is very good and the expectation is that they will play well. Even if they don’t win, they will be very competitive,” he says.
When asked about his own level of fitness, despite having retired from the game 10 years ago, he said, “As a manager I have kept the same discipline I had for myself as a player.”