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Zinedine Zidane's perfect volley: An oral history of his 2002 UCL final goal

On May 15, 2002, Zinedine Zidane scored one of the Champions League's greatest ever goals for Real Madrid. To this day, teammates and neutrals who witnessed it remain in awe.


ZINEDINE Zidane did a lot of wonderful things during his career as a player, but the volley he scored against Bayer Leverkusen at Hampden Park in Glasgow, which won Real Madrid the 2002 Champions League, was one of the best. So much so, that the legendary midfielder tried to recreate it.

"I tried to score the same way again later, even during shooting an advertisement," Zidane said, years later. "But it never happened again. Never. I tried in training, but it never happened. It was perfect the day it happened."

For those lucky enough to have been there on that night in Scotland, it was a strike that has remained vivid and beautiful in the memory, regardless of how many great finishes have happened since.

As Raul, another great Real Madrid player who scored in that 2-1 victory, later said: "Any football lovers -- not just Madridistas -- would have enjoyed that goal."

Through interviews with players, coach, journalists and ground staff, here lies an oral history of the goal that some have said made one of the greatest and most decorated players of his generation a Real Madrid legend.

PART I: The pressure was on

TO say that there was a lot riding on the Champions League sounds trite, but everywhere you looked in Glasgow in May 2002 ,there seemed to be all-or-nothing potential.

For Zidane, it was his first season at Real Madrid after arriving for a world-record €75 million fee from Juventus. It was a chance to repay that faith with some glory, and it was also an opportunity for him to complete his collection of the game's most significant trophies, having already won the World Cup and European Championships with France, he had lost his past two Champions League finals with Juve.

Ominously, Real Madrid had finished third in La Liga behind Valencia and Deportivo la Coruna, and had also lost to Deportivo in the Copa del Rey final -- not what the storied club had hoped for in their centenary season.

There were some parallels in Leverkusen's position, too. Klaus Toppmoller's team had also narrowly missed out on their two main national trophies, the Bundesliga and the German Cup, but any pressure they felt was of an entirely different nature.

Real Madrid were expected to collect silverware every year, while the German team were that season's surprise package. They had never reached the Champions League final before, and it was their last chance at tangible glory after winning the hearts of many on their way to Hampden.

Santi Solari, Real Madrid midfielder 2000-05: It was a celebration year because it was the 100th anniversary of the most important club in the world. We knew we needed to win something big, and we had a last chance to make it happen in the Champions League. We also knew "Zizou" was lacking that trophy and he was eager to earn it. We were Real Madrid: this is the club that owns the Champions League and everybody expects you to win. In a year like that, we had to win it to avoid disappointing people and the history of the club.

Steve McManaman, Real Madrid midfielder 1999-2003: It was a difficult campaign, and we had lost in the semifinals the year before -- there was always a lot of pressure to get to the final. Zidane was our major signing; he had the silly title of Galactico and had come in for a world record fee. He'd had a fairly subdued first year at the club and had played in about five different positions as Madrid tried to fit him in somewhere. We signed the greatest player in the world, but he had struggled for a bit of form and confidence; because it was his first year and we didn't win the league that year, there was pressure.

Isaac Morillas, Real Madrid member for more than 30 years: Perhaps the beginning of the season was not so good [for Zidane] -- it took a bit of time for him to adjust to the club -- but his superb class could be seen by anyone who knows about anything about football.

Clive Tyldesley, commentator for British broadcaster ITV: It wasn't a good season for Madrid even though it was a team with lots of star names such as Raul, Roberto Carlos, Luis Figo and Zidane. But Leverkusen had come to the fore by beating Manchester United in the semifinals, robbing Sir Alex Ferguson of the dream Glasgow final, which had seemed to have been written in the stars.

Jens Nowotny, Bayer Leverkusen captain in 2002; injured for the final, he watched the game on TV in Colorado after an operation: Getting to the final is the result of the work of two seasons: in the first you qualify and then you have to get through to the final. We had two seasons preparing for this match. It was the biggest game in the careers for a lot of people in our team. Some players can only imagine playing in the final of the Champions League.


PART II: Leverkusen were capable of springing a surprise

EUROPEAN football's elite descended on Glasgow for the final and the King of Spain, the German chancellor and former James Bond actor Sean Connery joined them. Michel Platini, Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Gerard Houllier and Fabio Capello were also there, as were players from the 1960 Hampden European Cup final when Real Madrid beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3, a showpiece that is still considered one of the competition's best.

For local flavour, there were also members of Celtic's 1967 Lisbon Lions team and all the stardust seemed to work its magic on the city as a whole; fans of Madrid, Leverkusen and Scottish clubs sung songs and enjoyed the buildup in the city centre together.

"There was real excitement in Glasgow," said Richard McBrearty, the curator of the Scottish football museum at Hampden who looked after the Champions League trophy in the buildup to the match. "Whether people were going to the game or watching it on television, there was a real feeling that they wanted to be a part of it. It wasn't just Real Madrid's, or Leverkusen's game, it was also Glasgow's."

Real Madrid went into the game as clear favourites, but Leverkusen were capable of springing a surprise, with players such as Michael Ballack, Bernd Schneider, Lucio and Dimitar Berbatov in their ranks. Indeed, they had landed victories against Deportivo, Juventus, Barcelona and Liverpool on the way to the final.

Santi Solari: People now might wonder how a team like Leverkusen could reach the final, but they were good; they knocked out Manchester United. They were a team full of quality players. We [Real Madrid] were confident and knew we were favourites, but also knew it would be difficult. It was a balanced game and both teams were careful at the start: we were measuring each other's potential.

Clive Tyldesley: Madrid had the weapon of the Roberto Carlos throw-in. He took one early in the game and Raul sort of scuffed it to get the first goal, and Lucio equalised soon after. You thought you had the perfect start to the final, but it never quite took off.


PART III: Nobody expected him to hit the shot

AFTER the first 15 minutes, when the initial goals were scored, it was a pedestrian first half. Madrid came under a little pressure, and both sides threatened sporadically, but there had been little more than half-chances as the game seemed to be fading towards the break. Then came Zidane's goal on the stroke of half-time, completely out of the blue.

Steve McManaman: It wasn't a great move; it was just a long ball down the side from Solari to Roberto Carlos, who sort of hooked it in with his left foot. It wasn't as if he saw Zizou and picked him out with a great cross. But it was the style, the way Zidane connected with the ball so well with his so-called weaker foot, and the arc of the ball as it flew in.

Santi Solari: I sent a good pass considering the space I had, and I knew Roberto [Carlos] very well, knew when to give him the ball. My pass for another player would have been a bad one, but because he was so fast he reached it. He directed his pass as best he could towards another white shirt. It wasn't a bad cross like everybody says. It was the best cross he could have given with the speed of my pass.

It all went so fast, I didn't have time to think, but I had a great view of the goal -- better than any of the cameras. I saw him aiming and when you see him start to make that movement, you know he is going to shoot. It was amazing: he caught it very high, with his left foot. It was a one-in-a-lifetime, a magical technical gesture.

Roberto Carlos, Real Madrid left-back 1996-2007, told ESPN Deportes: I hit a bad cross, and then the ball fell perfectly for Zizou's not best foot. It was a great goal. Very few times have I seen such a lovely goal.

Klaus Toppmoller, Bayer Leverkusen coach 2001-03: It was, for the spectators, one of the best goals in a Champions League final. Technically, it was very hard for him. It was high, and only someone like Zidane could have hit it like that.

Jens Nowotny: Zidane's goal was, technically, perfect. Nobody expected he would score like that in that kind of situation. Normally a player would take the ball and try to do something, but not shoot directly. The goalkeeper and defence were surprised. You can say the best player in the world scored, and nobody should be sad about that, but it was one of only three chances Real Madrid had. It was great to see the goal but not against our team.

Tim Collings, former Reuters football correspondent: I've seen it again on TV since, but at the time, those of us who were there were slightly stunned by the dramatic impact of the goal and the sheer artistic beauty of it. It was magnificent, and in terms of clinical artistry, it was one of the greatest. I can still close my eyes and see it.

Isaac Morillas: I happened to see it perfectly because my seat was in that corner of the stands, really close to the pitch. When I saw Carlos' cross, I thought, "that's a terrible cross" and expected the ball to go to Bayer. Then I saw Zidane positioning himself to try a volley and the rest is just incredulity, amazement. A truly awesome goal.

Richard McBrearty: I don't think anybody expected him to hit the shot. Carlos was obviously only just getting to the ball and did his best to get it into the box. It was a high ball and didn't look like it was intended for him. I thought he would maybe try to control it or head it. It was phenomenal what he did.

Michael Varutti, Bayer Leverkusen fan at Hampden Park: Zidane scored a brilliant goal, and as Leverkusen fans, we showed respect for this goal, but why on this day?

Clive Tyldesley: For Zidane to decide a Champions League final with a perfectly struck volley with his wrong foot, from a cross that looped up and probably posed more difficulty than assistance to the goal, was fantastic. When you see a replay, it still somehow surprises and looks as good now as it did when we sat all half-time looking at it. As a commentator, you can't ask for any more than to have great material to work with. I said "fantastic" a couple of times -- I was happy enough with that. If you can come up with a word or a phrase which is short and sharp and captures the moment, hopefully it is something which, when it's played again in years to come, somehow represents the goal.


PART IV: He ran about 60 metres

Zidane's goal celebrations were not always the most emotional, but as he ran away towards the furthest touchline with his mouth wide, screaming in delight, it was clear how much this one meant to him.

Steve McManaman: Technically, it was very difficult to score that kind of goal. In the game it was, you need the confidence to take that shot on. In difficult games, others might have tried to control the ball rather than risk looking a fool by getting it really wrong. I've seen him do things like that on the training ground on numerous occasions, and he just took it as second nature. If there was one person who could make a goal like that look easy, it was Zizou. It is celebrated as one of the greatest goals seen in a final, and any neutral would drool over that goal. That was the goal you would score when you were in the park as a kid!

When he scored it was like a release: that's why we bought the best player in the world, to do things like that. We hadn't seen a lot of it in his short Madrid career, but in the final he exploded. He scored the goal, and subsequently his career at the club took off. He elevated himself to be the best around and from then on he was a legend in a Real Madrid shirt. The confidence flowed out of him then.

Santi Solari: Zizou knew instantly it was a work of art, and he celebrated the goal in a way I hadn't seen him celebrate ever before. If you go through all the goals in his career -- no -- I think this was the one he celebrated the most. He ran about 60 metres. For people to remember goals and make the jump from sports to the wider public, there has to be something extra. In this case, the finish is so artistic, it's in the 45th minute, on the 100th anniversary of the club, in the final of the Champions League, and it is the winner. So many elements make it special.

Isaac Morillas: It was a superb goal at a key point in the game and, yes, we did talk about it for ages on the plane back from Glasgow that very night. And the next day in work, and for weeks afterward. After that goal, let's say he won his place in the Madridista Olympus.

Clive Tyldesley: I remember walking back to our hotel, and the goal was the thing we were continuing to marvel about. I'm often asked what is the greatest goal I've seen, and it is certainly a contender. If you take that sort of question seriously, the goal should mean something in addition to its beauty or excellence; it should be a significant goal and one that decides a Champions League final becomes in itself a contender.

Richard McBrearty: I walked out of Hampden with my friend and I bumped into a guy I hadn't seen since school. Instead of us talking about what we had been doing for the last 20-odd years, we were talking about Zidane's goal. Everybody was talking about it -- it must be one of the best goals to win a final. The quality of that finish. It wasn't a Scotland victory in terms of a club or international side and the media here can be quite patriotic, but it was a well-hosted game overall, and there was a sense of reflected glory that we had hosted and witnessed a phenomenal game and an incredible goal from the outstanding player of that time.

Zinedine Zidane, Real Madrid midfielder 2001-06, said: I feel that volley was a beautiful and unique goal. I don't plan those goals -- you just have to be ready when the opportunity appears. I hit it -- precisely, quickly and just right. I remember thinking how lucky I was to catch the ball at the right angle and height. I'm glad the goal gave us the trophy -- it was certainly one of the most important moments of my career.


PART V: There was danger every minute afterwards

GIVEN the timing of Zidane's goal, it wasn't obvious that it would be the winner, and as the second-half wore on, a Leverkusen equaliser looked increasingly likely.

Toppmoller tweaked his tactics at half-time and urged his players to attack; with seven minutes added at the end, the final stages became extremely tense.

"We got hammered by Leverkusen in the last 10 minutes," said McManaman. "Iker Casillas came off the bench and he was man of the match, he made that many saves. We were hanging on for dear life, and the relief at the end was palpable. There was danger every minute."

Leverkusen could not get back into the game, though, and Real Madrid celebrated wildly as the final whistle sounded. But there was a bitter postscript to the great Zidane moment that left the empty-handed German club with the cruel nickname "Neverkusen."

Klaus Toppmoller: It was a fantastic goal, for sure, but the goalkeeper [Hans-Jorg Butt] could have saved it. Zidane was one of the best players ever, and it was a fantastic hit, but the ball didn't really go to the left or the right, it was close to the middle of the goal. At that elevation, he could have got to it. Every German football fan said that if Oliver Kahn had been in goal, he would have saved it. We would have won three titles with him. I was disappointed with Butt, but not me alone. It was everybody.

Jens Nowotny: You can't say someone made a mistake and because of that we didn't win. That's not my style. But around Leverkusen and in the club some guys said it was Butt's mistake. Then, 10 people can say you are a great goalkeeper and we got to the final because you had a great season, and if one person says you made the mistake then you have that in your mind. The criticism is what dominates your thoughts. I still have a good connection with Butt, and I imagine that is what it is like for him.

When ESPN FC asked Butt for his memories of the 2002 Champions League final, his answer was very simple: "No -- and don't call me again," suggesting he is still haunted by what happened.

At the time, the recriminations of that night didn't travel too far beyond Germany, overshadowed by the genius of Zidane's strike. And now, 15 years later, all anyone still wants to talk about from that final is the Frenchman's wonderful goal.