New Delhi: For young Indian footballers, especially those at the school level, having an audience outside of your own family or friends during a competition is a rarity. But, there were a few lucky ones in the national capital who had the former French World Cup winner Bixente Lizarazu looking on and throwing in bits of advice as the Army Public School, Bangalore thrashed Champion School in the final of the FC Bayern Munich Youth Cup.
A left back in his day with the champion team Bayern Munich, and the all-conquering French national team led by Zinedine Zidane, Lizarazu’s presence was quite inspiring for the young boys as they brought out all the tricks in the bag to impress the man. The winners of the Youth Cup will get another chance to meet the defender when they travel to the home of Bayern in Munich.
The champion defender who spent two days in India as he witnessed schools from all over the country in the final stages of the tournament, believes that young players need to learn the art of controlling the ball well before anything else. “Bring the ball under your control on the first touch, that is where it all starts,” Lizarzau said.
“Coaches have to understand and so do the players, that individual ability on the ball needs to be developed first before tactics and positions are thought of.”
He further added that, more than the glitz and glamour, it is all about getting the basics right from the early stages.
“The system needs to start from the bottom with kids playing every day. Even practicing against the wall is not a bad way to start because it will help your individual techniques which can then be worked upon by an experienced coach,” Lizarazu points out.
The focus though quickly moves on the Bayern Munich and their fortunes, and Lizarazu, a Hall of Famer, is quick to point out that the domestic dominance can be translated into European glory for the Bavarians.
“Bayern Munich is always in with a chance to win the Champions League. There is heavy competition from the likes of Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid and even the new contenders in PSG and Manchester City,” he confidently asserts.
“I am really interested to see how Pep Guardiola and Manchester City perform when they come up against a traditional powerhouse in the competition,” the defender adds continuously keeping an eye on the young boys playing.
Lizarazu, who missed the famous 1999 Champions League final against Manchester United at the Nou Camp due to injury, is quite happy that his former opponents Paris Saint-Germain are in the thick of things in Europe.
“It is after a while that a team from Ligue 1 has had such an outstanding effect in Europe and it will be good to see them do well.”
Paris Saint-Germain had their hearts broken by Neymar and Barcelona last year, and have all but wrapped up the title race at home. Currently the superstar bandwagon from the French capital is fighting for survival after a 3-1 thrashing at the hands of Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu in the first leg of the Round of 16.
In their quest to achieve European glory, PSG followed the famous adage, ‘join the enemy if you can’t beat them’. The enemy in question is Neymar.
“Judging Neymar on the basis of domestic performances is not enough because PSG at this stage have a team good enough to play with one leg and win the Ligue 1.”
Since the Brazilian’s transfer, there has been a lot of talk about the move being a step down from the lofty reaches at Barcelona. However, Neymar on his part has been outstanding in the way he has made the Ligue 1 his own show.
“Barcelona are no doubt a bigger institution than PSG and for Neymar to really have his own legacy, he needs to win the Champions League,” Lizarazu, a former Bordeaux man himself points out. He further explained that a definitive answer on whether the Brazilian captain has taken a step back or not can only be given after a few years.
“If he (Neymar) can help bring the Champions League title to Paris, he will be considered as a legend.”
Speaking of legends, Lizarazu fondly remembers his memories from two decades ago when he became part of French football’s elite and most loved, as they first conquered the World Cup on home soil before going onto win the European Championships and two Confederations Cups. France beat Brazil in the World Cup final in 1998 and then Italy in 2000.
20 years later, Didier Deschamps, has a wide range of attacking talent at his disposal with the likes of Anthony Martial, Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Kingsley Coman to name a few.
“The current French team has a lot of pace and flair in attack. Mbappe, Pogba, Griezmann are all players who can turn the game very easily. It is after the group stages that is their real test,” Lizarazu said.
Indeed, France play Australia, Peru and Denmark in the group stages in Russia – and one would expect them to come out unscathed.
“The likes of Germany, Brazil and Spain are always going to be strong favourites ahead of France,” says Lizarazu.
“After the first stage, Les Blues must play three to four excellent games to emulate our achievements from 1998,” the former champion signed off.