On November 27, 2001, a Frenchman was at the top of the football world.
World Cup winner, European champion, Champions League and Intercontinental Cup winner, no man on Earth had done it before and, according to UEFA and FIFA, he was also the best at his position.
No, it wasn’t Zinedine Zidane. It was Bayern Munich’s marauding left-back Bixtente Lizarazu and even after all that, it wasn’t enough.
Studious and disciplined, he is found in the mountains, where he is already a passionate sportsman, but a career in football awaits him despite his excellence elsewhere.
Bordeaux was the receiver for young Lizarazu but it was feared that his small size (he is 5ft 7in) would cost him.
He never gave up, however, and by the age of 19 he was working his way into the first team and helping them finish second in the League in 1989/90.
By the mid-1990s he was on the rise and Bordeaux’s superb run from the Intertoto Cup to the UEFA Cup final in 1996 put Lizarazu firmly on the map.
A controversial and anti-climactic transfer to La Liga followed, where he became the first non-Spanish Basque to play for Athletic Bilbao.
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He has been uncomfortable with discussions surrounding his identity and heritage during his career and the Basque separatist group ETA, a terrorist organization, would demand a ransom from him due to the fact that he played his national football for France and its national matches in France and Germany. .
A letter he received read: “We are concerned and angry because you have defended the colors of an enemy state…You have been generously paid to wear the jersey of an oppressor state with money stolen from the Basque people.
“Given the advantages you have received from the enemy, ETA turns to you. A lack of response brings with it a response against you and your loved ones.
On the Bilbao pitch, an injury and a row with coach Luis Fernandez caused problems and in the summer of 1997 he joined Bayern Munich, the team that beat Bordeaux in the final of their famous Cup run. UEFA.
Lizarazu described himself as a very attacking left-back, similar to Roberto Carlos, and that was exactly what the Bavarians needed.
His first season saw him clinch the DFB-Pokal before Bayern really hit their stride, winning three titles in a row.
Lizarazu missed the 1999 Champions League final through injury and one wonders if his extra quality would have been just the nice margin they needed to score a second goal and put Manchester United out of sight.
Regardless, the defeat gave the team a boost and his triumph over Valencia two years later, where he banished a personal demon.
Lizarazu had by then won the World Cup in 1998 and the European Championship in 2000 with France, but along the way in 1998 he missed a penalty against Italy and swore he would take no more never.
But in 2001 he was needed, Valencia took Bayern all the way after a 1-1 draw and it was 3-3 after the first five takers.
Lizarazu celebrates winning the Champions League in 2001[/caption]
With Bordeaux, Lizarazu had taken kicks but it was on another level. Santiago Canizares tried to put him off with a haggard look.
“I shot like I wanted to put the goalkeeper in the goal too. I shoot like crazy,” he said of his hard effort.
Kily Gonzalez and Thomas Linke scored the next two penalties before Oliver Kahn saved Mauricio Pellegrino’s effort to lift the Bayern trophy.
Such were Lizarazu’s talents, other big clubs wanted him, including Manchester United.
“I had the chance, I think around 2001 or 2002, to go to Manchester United, but that stopped very quickly because Bayern Munich said no,” Lizarazu told FourFourTwo.
“Alex Ferguson were keen to sign me and United had discussions with Bayern, but Bayern said there was no doubt that I would leave and therefore stay with them.”
“I was very happy in Munich, but Manchester United tried.”
The Scot was happy to admit his interest in Lizarazu and fellow countryman Zidane at the time as well.
“The player is very keen to join us as soon as possible,” Ferguson told News of the World. “I’m chasing six players hoping to land three. This is the case for all the big clubs.
“I went back to [Zinedine] Zidane recently, but Juventus boss Roberto Bettega told me to stop wasting my time. Juventus want to build and that’s the case elsewhere,” he said.
Lizarazu has made 273 appearances for Bayern, across two spells with the Bavarians, the less said about a solitary campaign with Marseille the better, winning six league titles and the Champions League.
He ran into minor controversy, when he slapped club legend Lothar Matthaus during pre-season training in 1999, earning himself a fine, while some saw his decision to wear the No.69 shirt during of his second passage as obscene.
However, he claimed that Lucio had his old No.3 jersey, was born in 1969, was 1.69 meters tall and weighed around 69 kilograms.
But while some professionals struggle with life after retirement, the Frenchman was eager to begin his new adventures.
“I was very sad, it was terrible. But in the end I was tired of different things in my job and above all I wanted to be free again. I wanted to be on my [own terms]. I wanted to decide everything.
“I had so many things to do and I had to be so patient. I wanted to travel.
He retired in 2006 and in 2009 he was European champion again, this time in Brazilian jiu jitsu winning the Senior 1 Light Division blue belt.
In fact, Zidane recently claimed that if he was still playing for France in the 2006 World Cup, he might not have been sent off for headbutting Marco Materazzi.
“I think Lizarazu is the only one who could have held me back. Yes, it would have been important that night if he had been by my side, although the past cannot be changed anyway.
Lizarazu continues to train and teach in the martial art, but he’s also picked up other pursuits along the way and looks absolutely amazing.
He is a keen surfer and scuba diver, but can also be seen cycling up some of the steepest hills in the Pyrenees.
To prove that he had recovered from a recent surfing accident, where he lost consciousness and tore a tendon in his leg, he challenged himself to climb the most difficult mountains in France, like you do it. He is also an avid skier.
Meanwhile, as well as working as a pundit for television and newspapers in his homeland, he has been called a ‘tramp’ by ex-Manchester United and France star Patrice Evra for comments he he made in 2014.
He also finds time to make documentaries, helping film a show about sharks in Polynesia.
It’s been life hell for Lizarazu and even the lockdown couldn’t stop him as he posted workout videos on Instagram, along with photos and videos of his adventures. We can’t wait to see what’s next.
“For me, it’s impossible to stop playing sports,” he said in 2017. “I would like to be an athlete until the last moment.”