The Lady Zizou

What’s their not to love about Louisa Necib.

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She is elegant. Beautiful. Sublime. Graceful as a swan. The personification of all that is the art and beauty of the French people.

But I speak not of a model. Not of a Da Vinci painting on display at La Louvre. Not of a lady you would expect to find at the Place du Trocadero, ready to give you a tour of the Eiffel Tower and L’Arc de Triomphe. Not of a performer at the Moulin Rouge.

I speak of a footballer. And not just any footballer. The cream of all French ladies. The best they have ever seen in France.

Titou!

Her nickname, Titou is in homage to the player whom the French media so aptly compare her to. Zinedine Zidane – nicknamed Zizou. But comparisons with Zidane are many. She was born in Marseille. She is of Algerian origin. She is l’etoile – the star, of French women’s football.  Everything revolves around her. She is the epicenter of this rather successful looking bright future of French women’s football.

But then again, that is what is wrong with the French.

The French always pin their hopes on one individual. In the 50’s, it was Just Fontaine. Top scorer at 1958 World Cup with 13 goals (a record for a single tournament). It took them until the 80’s for them to show a modicum of dominance again. Semi finalists at the World Cups in 1982 and 1986. In between, they lifted the Euros on home soil in 1984. It had been the turn of Michel Platini, to dazzle the world. And when Platini retired, they were dismal again, not even qualifying for World Cup 1994. Luckily, they were hosts in 1998. Luckily, they had Zidane. Zidane was there too for Euro 2000. Injured in 2002, the cracks showed. Present in 2006, a run to the final, lost only by a head-butt. And when he retired, disaster in South Africa. Disharmony in Ukraine and Poland.

Reliance on one player doesn’t do a team a world of good.

For the women however, it is much different. Necib is relied upon, but she does not step up. In the heat of the moment, when the team really needs her, she disappears. It is all well when the team is clicking into place. When the opposition isn’t posing a threat. She will pick the passes. She will have her cultured first touch. Her vision will be exemplary. She will glide all over the pitch, her ponytail, distinctively tied slightly slanted to one side, seemingly controlling her rhythm.

But when things aren’t falling into place, neither does she. She will look overwhelmed. She will be frustrating. Waiting for her to produce the magic, magic that she is capable of. She will not produce it. It’s what she did at the World Cup in 2011, invisible against England at the quarters, and Germany in the semis. It’s what she did at the Olympics, frustrating in the semi final against Japan.

Against Japan, her touch eluded her. Her passing was horrible. She gave the ball away countless times. It took her 67 minutes to come alive. When she did, it was almost magical. A run from deep against the Japanese midfield, taking on all comers. But she hadn’t completely shaken them off. She seemed trapped in the midst of two opposition midfielders. Then, the Marseille roulette. Stepping on the ball with her right foot, dragging it back, spinning while dragging the ball with her other foot. She was away from the two. She had performed the move so widely popularized by none other than Zidane.

From that, she shot straight at the Japanese goalkeeper. But her effort was tame. From then on however, the French looked dangerous.  Her Olympique Lyonnaise teammate, Elodie Thomis all of a sudden sparked to life. Her other teammate, Eugenie Le Sommer came on from he bench. She had an impact. She scored a goal. She won a penalty. The penalty, taken by Elise Bussaglia, was missed. And though the French piled pressure upon pressure at the Japanese goal, they could not find the equailisng goal.

They lost 2-1.

But that penalty incident shed light to how actually to perceive Necib. As the star of the team, you’d expect her to step up. But she was nowhere near it. Was she scared? Was she pulling a Cristiano Ronaldo in as far as penalties are concerned?

The answer, is no. Bussaglia took it because in order of seniority, she is ahead of Necib. It is the one thing you cannot fight against. Seniority and experience trumps stardom on any day.

And that is what is usually forgotten. For all her skill, Necib is only 25. In the women’s game, that is relatively young. Abby Wambach, the star of the USA team is 32. Homare sawa, Women’s FIFA World Player of the year, is 33. And Women’s Football icons Mia Hamm and Birgit Prinz all played until they were 32 and 34 respectively. The only other player within her age group of exceptional talent is Brazil’s Marta – but we all know Marta is an exception.

Necib stil has time before she reaches her 30’s. Hopefully, in that time, she will earn her seniority. In that time, she will learn how to overcome the big game pressure. And when this happens, then hopefully she will lead Les Bleues to a major tournament victory. She will become not only the star of French Football, but of World football as well.

Maybe, she will finally prove herself right. “To be compared with Zizou is a pride. But there is no comparison to make. I am myself.” There is time for Titou to become herself.

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