The former Real Madrid midfielder says Bale is 'more than good enough' for the Bernabéu and believes anything could happen in the Champions League final
Of all the praise that has been lavished on Gareth Bale perhaps none will make him blush quite like that delivered by the Frenchman who landed in a rain-drenched London on Friday afternoon dressed in a black jacket, black T-shirt and blue jeans. He looked like any other person but this was Zinedine Zidane, greatness in the flesh, and for someone of Bale's age and attacking instincts, the ultimate benchmark.
"I've been watching Tottenham for the very reason Gareth Bale is playing," said Zidane, "and aside from [Cristiano] Ronaldo and [Lionel] Messi he is the footballer who impresses me most. He particularly impresses me because he is consistent; he doesn't just raise his level for one or two matches, he is consistently good, consistently scoring important goals."
While those words are sure to please Bale, who no doubt mimicked "Zizou" more than once growing up in Cardiff, they are also likely to irritate Tottenham and could be deemed by the club to be part of an ongoing attempt by Zidane to entice their prize asset to Real Madrid. After all, this is not the first time the former Real player, who currently works as an adviser to their president, Florentino Pérez, has publicly praised Bale. Earlier this month he claimed the 23-year-old Professional Footballers' Association player of the season is worth at least £60m and is sure to interest those European clubs who could afford such a fee.
Spurs are determined to keep Bale and, despite their failure to qualify for the Champions League, are confident he will sign a fresh deal that will see his salary rise to £150,000. However, if Real, and one of their legendary former players in particular, were to come calling the Welshman may just find the lure of Los Blancos too difficult to resist.
"He is more than good enough," replied Zidane when asked if Bale had what it takes to play for the Spanish giants. "All talented players can go to Real Madrid."
Zidane was in London as part of a promotional event for Adidas that also tied in with the capital's hosting of Saturday's Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. It feels somewhat remarkable that a man of his talents – a three-times world player of the year, a World Cup winner and someone Pelé once described as a "magician" – only won the competition once. His contribution to Real's 2-1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen in the 2002 final was, though, a moment to make up for a million disappointments; that edge-of-the area, air-slashing volley from Roberto Carlos's first-time cross that restored Real's lead and had the majority of those in attendance at Hampden Park, as well as millions watching at home, rubbing their eyes in amazement.
"It is the kind of goal that is very difficult to repeat," confessed its architect. "I have tried to repeat it for advertising campaigns but to no avail – I have never been able to. It was a wonderful moment for me and was fantastic on the night as it helped us win."
Zidane also lost two Champions League finals while playing at Juventus, in 1997 and 1998, and ahead of Saturday's all-German affair at Wembley it is the first of those defeats which naturally springs to mind. The Turin club, having won the competition in the previous year and just secured the Serie A title, arrived at Munich's Olympic Stadium widely expected to defeat Ottmar Hitzfeld's Borussia Dortmund. But they lost 3-1, with Zidane marked out of the contest by a recently-arrived midfielder from Motherwell called Paul Lambert.
"Borussia Dortmund at the time hadn't had a great season and the team was getting older, guys like [Jürgen] Kohler and [Andreas] Möller, but they were still great and deservedly won," said Zidane. "That shows a lot can happen in one match. A final is just one match. A lot of people make Bayern Munich favourites [to win on Saturday] but I will always remember my first final and how we lost despite being hot favourites to win. That was against Dortmund, too."
Zidane's warning is also based on more recent experience with him having seen Real beaten by Jürgen Klopp's side in the semi-finals of this year's competition, a result he described as a "pain" for the La Liga club. That elimination also, perhaps, hastened José Mourinho's departure from the Bernabéu, with it confirmed in the past week that the Portuguese will leave Real at the end of the season before a widely expected return to Chelsea.
"For the time being he's still at Madrid and there are two matches left of the season," said Zidane, who worked alongside Mourinho as Real's sporting director for a 13-month spell up to last September. "What happens on the pitch will show if [him going back to Chelsea] was a good idea or not, but when you're a very well-known coach there is pressure on you anyway.
"I don't think his confidence will be dented [from having failed to win any trophies with Real this season]. Obviously he will be disappointed but he still has a lot of trust in what he does and what he says."
As far as his own future is concerned Zidane is clear in his desire to enter management. It is close to seven years since he retired as player, with the final act of a glittering career that startling headbutt on Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final, and since then the 40-year-old has combined high-level duties at Real with a coaching role at the club's youth academy as well as the completion of coaching qualifications back home in France, in Limoges and Paris.
"I have ambitions," said the Frenchman, who appears as lean and healthy as he did in his prime. "I am very happy doing what I'm doing at the moment; working with youngsters at Real, but I would definitely like to run a club one day. I have no idea which club it would be, but that is definitely my aim."
Zinedine Zidane was speaking at the adidas lab, showcasing the latest innovations at the cutting edge of football. For more information visit www.adidas.com/football or join the conversation @adidasfootball #adidaslab