On November 27, 2001, a Frenchman stood on top of the football world.
Word Cup winner, a European Champion, Champions League and Intercontinental Cup victor, no man on Earth had done it before and, according to UEFA and FIFA, he was the best in his position, too.
No, it wasn’t Zinedine Zidane. It was Bixtente Lizarazu, Bayern Munich’s marauding left-back and even after all that, it wasn’t enough.
Studious and disciplined, he was found in the mountains, where he was already a keen sportsman, but a career in football awaited despite his excellence elsewhere.
Bordeaux were the recipients of the young Lizarazu but there were worries his small frame (he stands at 5ft 7in) could cost him.
He never gave up, though, and by the age of 19 he was forcing his way into the first-team and helping them finish second in Ligue in 1989/90.
By the mid-90s he was coming to the fore and Bordeaux’s stunning run from the Intertoto Cup to the UEFA Cup final in 1996, put Lizarazu firmly on the map.
A controversial and anti-climatic transfer to LaLiga followed, where he became the first non-Spanish Basque to play for Athletic Bilbao.
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He was left uncomfortable with the talk surrounding his identity and heritage over his career and Basque separatist group ETA, a terrorist organisation, would demand a ransom from him due to the fact he played his national football for France and his domestic matches in France and Germany.
A letter he received said: “We are concerned and angry because you have defended the colours of an Enemy state … You have been generously paid to wear the jersey of an oppressor State with money robbed from the Basque people.
“Considering the advantages you received from the enemy, ETA turns towards you. A lack of response draws with it a response against you and your loved ones.”
On the pitch in Bilbao, injury and a row with manager Luis Fernandez caused issues and in the summer of 1997 he joined Bayern Munich, the side who beat Bordeaux in the final of their famous UEFA Cup run.
Lizarazu described himself as a very offensive left-back, similar to Roberto Carlos, and it was just what the Bavarians needed.
His first season saw him land the DFB-Pokal before Bayern really hit their stride, lifting three consecutive titles.
Lizarazu missed the 1999 Champions League final through injury and one wonders would his added quality have been just the fine margin they needed to get a second goal and put Manchester United out of sight.
It didn’t matter, the loss spurred the team on and to their triumph against Valencia two years later, where he banished a personal demon.
Lizarazu by this point had lifted 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 never take one again.
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 had been.
With Bordeaux, Lizarazu had taken spot-kicks but this was on another level. Santiago Canizares tried to put him off with a wild-eyed stare.
“I shot like I wanted to put the goalkeeper inside the goal too. I shoot like crazy,” he said of his hammered effort.
Kily Gonzalez and Thomas Linke score the next two penalties before Oliver Kahn saved Mauricio Pellegrino’s effort to win Bayern the trophy.
Such were Lizarazu’s talents, other top clubs wanted him, including Manchester United.
‘I had the chance, I think in about 2001 or 2002, to go to Manchester United, but it stopped very quickly as Bayern Munich said no,’ Lizarazu told FourFourTwo.
‘Alex Ferguson was keen to sign me and United had talks with Bayern, but Bayern said there was no question that I’d be leaving and so I was staying with them.
‘I was very happy in Munich, but Manchester United did try.’
The Scotsman was happy to admit his interest in Lizarazu and compatriot Zidane at the time too.
“The player is very keen to join us as soon as possible,” Ferguson told the News of the World. “I’m chasing six players in the hope of landing three. That’s the case with all the big clubs.
“I went in again for [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 made 273 appearances for Bayern, over 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 did court minor controversies, when he slapped club legend Lothar Matthaus in pre-season training in 1999, earning himself a fine, while some saw his decision to wear the no.69 shirt in his second spell as a lewd one.
However, he claimed it was down to Lucio having his old no.3 jersey, being born in 1969, being 1.69 metres tall, and weighing around 69 kilograms.
But while some professionals struggle with life after retirement, the Frenchman couldn’t wait to start his new adventures.
“I was very sad, it was terrible. But in the end I was tired about different things in my job and especially 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 in the Blue Belt Senior 1 Light Division.
In fact, Zidane recently claimed if he was still playing for France at the 2006 World Cup then he may not have been sent off for headbutting Marco Materazzi.
“I think Lizarazu is the only one who could have held me back. Yes, he would have been important that night, had he been by my side, even if in any case you can’t change the past.”
Lizarazu continues to train and teach in the martial art, but he’s also picked up other pursuits along the way and is looking in absolutely incredible shape.
He’s a keen surfer and scuba diver, while he can also be seen cycling around some of the steepest hills in the Pyrenees.
To prove he was over a recent surfing accident, where he was knocked unconscious and tore a tendon in his leg, he challenged himself to climb the most difficult mountains in France, as you do. He’s a keen skier too.
Meanwhile, as well as working as a pundit for TV and newspapers in his homeland, he was branded a ‘tramp’ by ex-Manchester United and France star Patrice Evra for comments he made in 2014.
He somehow also finds the time to produce documentaries, helping film a show on sharks in Polynesia.
It’s been one hell of a life for Lizarazu and even lockdown couldn’t stop him as he posted training videos on Instagram, as well as pictures and videos of his adventures. We can’t wait to see what’s next.
“For me it’s impossible to stop doing sport,” he said back in 2017. “I’d like to be an athlete until the last moment.”