When Fabio Capello was the England manager he often talked about the way the national shirt hung heavily on the shoulders of his players.
Capello was not always credited for his way with words, but that one line summed up a whole generation of England players. They may have been global superstars with Champions League medals and millions in the bank but when it came to playing for their country, they were intimidated by the sight of three lions on a shirt.
The burden of expectations can weigh down the best of us, so spare a thought for Enzo Alan Zidane Fernández. The young midfielder will train with France’s Under-19s for the first time this week. The team’s manager, Wily Sagnol, said: “We’re all somebody’s son, there won’t be any more expectation on him,” but the 18-year-old is set to make his debut in a training match behind closed doors on Tuesday night while contending with the six most iconic letters in the country’s sporting history: ZIDANE.
Those three consonants and three vowels add up to the greatest player of his era: the man who volleyed in the most majestic goal ever scored in a Champions League final; the three-time world player of the year who won the scudetto with Juventus, La Liga with Real Madrid and the World Cup and European Championship with France. To Alfredo Di Stéfano he was “a walking spectacle who plays as if he had silk gloves on each foot”; to art-house film directors he was a leading man who could carry a whole movie; and to the people of France he was their goalscorer in two World Cup finals. But to young Fernández, he is a father, a coach at Real Madrid and the reason his name has been known his whole life.
Enzo has opted to play under his mother’s maiden name but whether he likes it or not, his father has made him famous. Their family kickabouts in the Zidane back garden have been watched by over two million people online. The skills he showed as a 12-year-old against Barcelona’s youth team have excited a generation of expectant Real Madrid fans. When he was called up to the Real Madrid first-team squad as a 16-year-old by José Mourinho it made front page news. When he scores a spectacular goal in a youth match – or loses his temper and is sent off – the story is recounted around the world, because of his famous name.
When Didier Deschamps held a press conference last week to discuss France’s upcoming friendly against Holland, he was asked about Enzo. The France manager won the World Cup with Zidane when Enzo was a toddler, but he would not be drawn on the subject: “Leave him alone, this is all he needs. His name is hard to carry. He’s just a player with a well-known name. It’s never easy, and it’s even less easy with his name. He won’t live his father’s history and I think Zizou will agree with me. Zizou lived his life, had his career. Enzo will have his own.”
Enzo will have his own life, but it may not endure like his father’s.
Jordi Cruyff, who spent the bulk of his career at Barcelona and Manchester United without ever settling on what name to put on the back of his shirt, knew all about being less than extraordinary. “There are two types of football players,” he reflected. “The legends and the mortals. My father is a legend and I am a mortal. The legends like my father; they come, they do and they remain. I am part of the vast majority of mortals; we come, we do and we die.”
Cruyff won the Premier League and played for Holland. In most families that would measure up fairly well, but it just so happens his dad was “Pythagoras in boots”. To his credit, Jordi seems to have accepted his lot: “It was more the media who were dreaming that my genes would be identical to my father’s. To my pain, it was never like this.” He is now a sporting director in Israel with Maccabi Tel Aviv, who won their first title in a decade last season.
Paul Dalglish has also moved abroad to find some success. Having grown up but never truly settled at Celtic, Liverpool and Newcastle, Paul spent some time drifting through the Football League before setting off for the US, where he is now coaching with the MLS club Real Salt Lake. “I can’t go anywhere without people saying: ‘You’ll never be as good as your dad,'” he said of his time in England. “Growing up with the surname on your back, you were never really judged on what you could do. You were judged on what you could do compared to what your dad had done. Coming to America, where the knowledge of what he had done wasn’t the same, allowed me to be judged on what I could do. It was enticing to be able to carve out a reputation for myself. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Pelé’s elder son, Edinho, has also found some peace in coaching. The former Santos goalkeeper had an unremarkable career in the game but after being convicted of murder and arrested for his part in a drug-trafficking operation, he seems to have found a home again at Santos. He was appointed as their goalkeeping coach in 2007 and has since been promoted to the role of assistant manager. Edinho is now wise enough to admit that he and his father made mistakes: “We do not choose our parents. If it was not the ideal father in my youth, he regained it all when he stood by me and went through it all with me. I have to be aware that 24 hours a day I’m always a potential target, and that at any moment I can be used.”
Edinho knows the pitfalls of being a famous son and is well placed to help his younger brother, Joshua Nascimento, who plays for the Santos youth team. Joshua plays up front but has decided against adopting his father’s shirt number: “As I am a striker, I prefer to wear No9 or 11. Maybe one day I’ll wear 10, that will be big. It will increase the responsibility. I’ll have to handle it the best possible way. The comparisons will happen, but I have to block them. Pelé was Pelé, and I am me.”
It all sounds a little drab for young Enzo, but he can take heart from the story of the Forláns of Montevideo, a family who have led Uruguay to international trophies across three generations. When Diego Forlán helped win the Copa América in 2011 he emulated the achievements of his father, Pablo Forlán, and his grandfather, Juan Carlos Corazo. Forlán scored two goals in the final against Paraguay, then lifted the trophy and announced: “Three generations have won this trophy. My grandfather won it, my father won it, and now I have also done it. The name of Forlán will stay in history.”
Who knows, maybe the name of Fernández will stay in history, nestling up to the name of Zidane.