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July 10, 2006   

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The scarred French messiah

Abdelhamid Kermali is considered one of the founding fathers of the Algerian football team, but the French might consider giving him the Legion d'honneur, the French equivalent of a knighthood.

Because according to football legend, Kermali, as coach of the Algerian football team, denied Zinedine Yazid Zidane -- who because of his French-Algerian extraction had a chance to play for either nation -- a place in the Algerian side.

Reportedly, Karmali found Zidane too slow.

Why, Zidane, Why?

Born on June 23, 1972, in Marseilles, France, Zidane grew up in the government-sponsored housing estate called La Castellane in the northern suburbs of Marseilles.

La Castellane is filled with immigrants. Mostly from former French colonies in Africa -- like Algeria -- and the Caribbean.

It was in these streets of hunger, poverty and alienation that Zidane grew up, and learned his football.

'I was lucky to come out of a difficult area,' Zidane told Britain's The Observer in 2004. 'It teaches you not just about football but also life. There were lots of kids from different races and poor families. People had to struggle to get through the day. Music was important. Football was the easy part.'

Can you identify Zizou? An early 1980 photo of AS Foreste football club shows Zidane (fourth from left in the top row, beside the goalkeeper with the white jersey), the shy gangly kid.

Photograph: Getty Images

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