My New Football Crush from Real Madrid’s U15: Enzo Fernández
Zinedine Zidane’s gifted son, Enzo Fernández, a chip off the old block at Real Madrid
Among Real Madrid’s cadets the name of Enzo Fernández commands only fleeting attention, at least until the wiry No 11 earns his first touch of the ball.
By Oliver Brown
Instantly, his skill bewitches; the chest control, positional sense and drives from deep all suggest a talent to make mockery of his 15 years.
But one move above the rest gives him away: a lazy 360-degree dribble once known as the ‘Marseille turn’, where he contrives to drag his foot back, spin his body and finally beat his opponent in a single liquid motion.
At Valdebebas, Real Madrid’s gleaming training sanctuary out by the city’s airport, it is referred to simply as the roulette and it stands in Los Merengues folklore as the exclusive preserve of Zinedine Zidane.
The effortlessness of its execution by a teenager might be explained by the fact that young Enzo happens to be Zidane’s eldest son, a player not merely in the great one’s image but of his blood.
On this occasion, junior is branded as Fernández – maiden name of Spanish mother Veronique – as part of his father’s attempts to control the maelstrom of publicity about to engulf him.
To a generation of fans who grew up replaying that volley to win Real’s ninth European Cup in 2002, or those two headers for France in the 1998 World Cup final, there will only ever be one Zidane. Already, though, the profile of his progeny is elevated to pop-star levels.
Enzo’s exploits have gained him his own unofficial website, while a montage of his most outrageous pieces of invention to date, in a youth tournament against Barcelona three years ago, has attracted almost five million views on YouTube.
How could a 12 year-old display such consummate control? How dare the little tyro score from a direct free kick?
Touted across Spain as el heredero (the heir), Enzo was apparently born to emulate the game’s established nobility, having been named after Zinedine’s hero, the former Uruguay star Enzo Francescoli.
The problem is that, like many coveted properties from the Real hothouse, he faces multiple claims upon his loyalties. Specifically, he is burdened by the vexed issue of whether, as a boy of mixed ancestry, he winds up competing for France or Spain.
The hopes invested in him by both countries are such that the imminent resolution could yet have a profound bearing upon his future career.
Although born in Bordeaux, Enzo has spent his last nine years in Madrid and can trace his maternal grandparents to the town of El Chive, in Almería.
The debate appears all but settled in the eyes of the Spanish federation, whose under-16s coach, Santi Denia, has watched Zidane Jnr perform in Real colours several times, with the intention of inviting the youngster to practice sessions.
But sometimes even a passport cannot define one’s ties. On this front, Zidane is perhaps best placed to dispense advice, having played the pawn in a similar diplomatic stand-off between France and Algeria over whose flag he should carry.
Algeria, as the land of his birth, loudly asserted that he was theirs when the choice came in 1994, despite a rumour that then coach Abdelhamid Kermali deemed him not fast enough.
There was a technicality, however, which no amount of Algerian bluster could challenge: Zidane had by this time made his debut for France. For Enzo, still perhaps three years off a senior call-up, the decision is nothing like so clear.
Alas, Chapter VII Article 18 of the Fifa statutes reads unhelpfully for his purposes, decreeing that a player of dual nationality can switch associations at any time provided he has not received his first full international cap.
France’s mediators still hope to use this phrasing to ensnare Enzo, even if they promise to do so tactfully. Unless he helps win a World Cup for them, they will not go as far overboard as they did with his father, projecting his image on to the Arc de Triomphe.
But a documentary on the relationship, entitled “Dans les pas de papa” (In the footsteps of dad) has been screened on state television, including a split-screen demonstration of father-and-son roulettes, as if they were identical tricks.
François Blaquart, coach of the France Under-17s, is being gentle, while admitting that a sensitivity resides in the very name Zidane: “The most important thing is that he wants to play for France. This is a hyper-mediated event. If it were the surname Dupont, we would not be commenting at all.”
As it is, Zidane finds himself both the iconic figure for French footballers, if his Berlin butt on Marco Materazzi is excused, and the emblematically elegant madrileño for his storied record at Real.
His success in spawning another player potentially as gifted just seems, in each of his adopted lands, too good to be true. Still, he is plainly finding the minute scrutiny of his son stressful.
“I’d rather not talk about it,” he said when pressed. “He’s enjoying his football in Madrid and that’s what matters.”
Under the direction of Florentino Pérez, the Real president and Zidane’s close friend, a media exclusion zone has been thrown around Enzo to ensure he is unsettled no further.
How Zidane must pine for more innocent days, when all he had to worry about was a family kickabout in the garden. But if his genetic good fortune is any guide, he had better start embracing the notion of a dynasty.
Rapidly it is emerging that the famed Zidane technique is not confined to Enzo alone. Theo, his younger brother, is only 12 but a recent addition to Real’s children’s ‘B’ squad, as a goalkeeper.
The development of Theo, who at the age of five joined local club Canillas — also the destination of Ronaldo’s son, when the Brazilian represented Real – is still more freakish.
Zidane has argued that Jose Mourinho, the manager matching him for charisma at the Bernabeu, is the best appointment Real could have made.
The love-in is soon likely to be mutual, if he can cement his legacy, indeed his legend, by bequeathing to the new man a host of baby Zizous.
Following in father’s footsteps
Brian and Nigel Clough: Both played for England. Brian a legendary success as a manager. Nigel now manages Derby County.
Johan and Jordi Cruyff: Johan was simply one of the greatest players. Jordi was not, but played for Barcelona and Manchester United.
Cesare and Paolo Maldini: Cesare played in two World Cups and won one as a manager – Paolo was captain.
Frank and Frank Lampard: Both England players, though Senior was picked only twice.
Harry and Jamie Redknapp:
Harry is the leading English manager at the moment, Jamie’s England career was cut short by injury.
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