It is a great pleasure to announce the next inductee into the French Football Weekly Hall of Fame as World-Cup winning left-back Bixente Lizarazu.
Bixente Lizarazu was born in 1969 in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, a town which lies in the French Basque Country. In 1987, Lizarazu made his professional debut for Bordeaux, starting out as a left-sided midfielder before making the switch to left-back. Lizarazu captained Bordeaux in the 2-legged final to the 1996 UEFA Cup against Bayern Munich. Bordeaux lost both fixtures though the side did feature such talents as Zinedine Zidane and Christophe Dugarry for the second leg.
After the 1995-96 season, Lizarazu moved to Spain to play for Athletic Bilbao, a side with a strong Basque identity. The sense of Basque nationalism is so strong at the club that they do not recruit non-Basque players. Lizarazu became the first French-born Basque to join the club upon signing. Rumours of disagreements with manager Luis Fernandez meant that Lizarazu only played in 16 league matches for Bilbao before moving to Germany with giants Bayern Munich.
Lizarazu states that joining Bayern Munich was certainly a career highlight for him.
“The best choice I ever made was going to Bayern Munich. I admit that I didn’t make a real effort to learn German. The reason for that was because there a number of South Americans in the squad, so we spoke Spanish. After that, everyone spoke English. I could speak a fourth language and, looking back, I regret it a bit.”
It could be argued that the player initially planned on ending his career in France. This seemed to be the consensus when he returned to France with Olympique de Marseille. His time there was not successful, with only 14 league matches played over the course of the season, again amidst rumours of misunderstandings with coach Philippe Troussier. Lizarazu finally made the move back to Bayern Munich for one season before officially announcing his retirement in April 2006.
An impressive club career in Germany earned him six Bundesliga titles, five DFB Cups, five German League Cups, one Champions League and one Intercontinental Cup. This was added to the Ligue 2 title he won in his spell with Bordeaux.
Bixente Lizarazu was also successful at international level with France. He earned a total of 97 caps and helped the country to the World Cup in 1998 as well as the European Championship in 2000. He also won two Confederations Cups with France. Interestingly, Lizarazu also made one appearance for the Basque national selection. Though not recognised by FIFA, they are eligible to play in non-competitive matches. Controversy struck in 2000 when he was contacted by Basque nationalist group ETA over a “revolutionary tax”.
Even in spite of his retirement, Lizarazu has remained active in the world of sports. In 2009, he won the European Jiu-Jitsu Championship for his category and is also a keen surfer. On top of this, Lizarazu has served as a pundit on TV and radio as well as commentating on games featuring the French national side. During the World Cup in 2010, he gave some frank and honest views on the debacle of the French side in a live televised interview with Raymond Domenech and Franck Ribéry in which he was very critical with how the squad dealt with the media and fans.
A shareholder with newly-promoted Évian Thonon-Gaillard, Lizarazu stated that he would run through the streets in order to celebrate their promotion from Ligue 2 last season.
“I’ll keep my word, I’ll do it, but I’m not going to call the international press!”
Bixente Lizarazu is deserving of his place in the French Football Weekly Hall of Fame. His no-nonsense attitude as a pundit always makes for entertaining viewing and his trophy haul in Germany with Bayern Munich is certainly of note.