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Last Updated: Monday, 10 July 2006, 21:58 GMT 22:58 UK
An enduring hero to French immigrants
By Clive Myrie
BBC News, Paris

Zinedine Zidane
Zidane's background and success have made him a hero to many
The journey by car from the centre of Paris takes 25 minutes. You cross the River Seine to the other side of the tracks, north of the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysees.

Then you reach Gennevilliers, a community of tower blocks and strip malls - a classic suburb or banlieue.

It's a poor neighbourhood where unemployment is high and youths hang out on street corners with little to do.

This is the kind of environment that produced one of the world's best-ever footballers: Zinedine Zidane, who grew up on a poor council estate in Marseille.

For the son of Algerian immigrants, his ticket out of poverty was a prodigious footballing talent.

Even though he swapped the banlieue for a comfortable life of riches, he's never forgotten his roots, regularly returning to Marseille and running a children's charity.

'Rise from nothing'

His background and his success have made him a hero to France's immigrant poor and that's why we visited Gennevilliers.

We wanted to know if the kids and youths playing football in the streets, wearing Zidane football shirts, had a lesser opinion of him following his sending off against Italy.

We started filming in one of Gennevilliers' streets, between the endless rows of tower blocks that dominate the horizon.

I still respect him, he helped us win the World Cup in 1998, he's a good player, an artist, an example
Bilal Chargui
A fan

A stone thrown from one of the balconies landed with a thud right by us. Another just missed our producer's head.

They were small stones, but the experience was disconcerting. This was an area that saw some rioting at the end of last year.

Then a young man appeared on a bicycle. He was wearing a baseball hat, t-shirt and jeans. Bilal Chargui was his name - and we stayed close to him. The stone throwers wouldn't want to attack one of their own.

He was more than willing to talk to us and like everyone we encountered in Gennevilliers had nothing but praise for Zidane.

"He must have been provoked to do what he did," he told me. "I still respect him, he helped us win the World Cup in 1998, he's a good player, an artist, an example."

Smain was another young man we spoke to. He was wearing Real Madrid's blue away shirt, Zidane's last club. He said he was Zidane's greatest fan in Gennevilliers and that hadn't changed.

"He rose up from nothing and he conquered the world," he said.


Judging by the reception Zidane received when he flew back to France, the views of some of those in Gennevilliers are echoed across the country.

About 10,000 people turned out to greet him in the Place de la Concorde, waving banners and French flags.

On the balcony of a posh hotel, he soaked up the cheers of the crowd - the warmth of the welcome banishing, perhaps for a brief moment, the torment of the night before.

He's still loved and respected by his own people. For him, perhaps that's as wonderful as winning the World Cup.

How did the French President describe Zidane?

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