Reported Aston Villa target Mehdi Zerkane has admitted that Zinedine Zidane once tried to sign him for La Liga giants Real Madrid, speaking in quotes reported by Bernabau Digital.
French-born, Algerian-raised and having made his name in the deep blue of Bordeaux, perhaps Zidane saw a bit of himself in 22-year-old Zerkane.
Then again, it’s probably more likely to be the youngster’s silky skills, impressive work ethic and dynamic dribbling ability – rather than his background – that caught the eye of a man who, at the time, was sitting comfortably in the hottest of managerial hotseats.
“One day my father receives an unknown call, answers and when he picks up the phone he hears ‘Hello, I’m Mr. Zidane’,” Zerkane recalls, explaining just how close he came to a potentially once-in-a-lifetime move to the 13-time European champions fell apart.
“My father thought it was a joke but it turned out that it was Zidane, who told us that he was going to send us an email with the aim of coming to Madrid for a week.
“Once we arrived in Madrid, it was Zidane who was waiting for us at the airport. I was shocked. We did a week of tests there, everything went well but I wanted to do too much in front of him, roulettes and all.
“Then we played a game against a team from the southern outskirts of Madrid and the club at the end of the game told me that they wanted to sign me right away.”
Will Aston Villa target Mehdi Zerkane regret turning down Real Madrid?
Zerkane would eventually join Monaco instead, following the advice of his dad. Father knows best, and all that.
“My father told them we needed to think things over and so we came back to France where I ended up signing for Monaco,” he adds.
It is worth noting that, at the time of his arrival in 2017, Monaco was viewed as one of the finest finishing schools in the whole of Europe, having won the Ligue 1 title that very same year with a baby-faced Kylian Mbappe leading the line.
Four years on, it is Aston Villa, rather than Real Madrid, looking to lure Zerkane away from his homeland, according to L’Equipe, though it seems that he has recently fallen behind Leon Bailey and Julian Alvarez in Dean Smith’s list of priorities.