Mumbai: The excitement was palpable in the Kanakia Spaces office building complex as people lined the corridors and poured out of balconies to catch a glimpse of Zinedine Zidane, one of the most decorated players in football history, and currently the manager of Real Madrid, as he arrived in Mumbai on Friday.
The visit was just one of the many promotional activities lined up for the day as part of his endorsement deal with real estate developer Kanakia Spaces Pvt. Ltd for “Paris", its French-themed residential complex in Bandra-Kurla Complex in the city.
Understandably, all access points to the firm’s office in Andheri, a suburb of Mumbai, were blocked.
Security guards and heavy-set bouncers stood determinedly to fend off any enthusiastic fans and media persons, after the football star and his wife were mobbed at the airport the day before. This is Zidane’s first visit to India.
On the 10th floor, where Zidane was to be stationed briefly, the office staff turned out in their best, sparkling silk sarees for the women and jackets for the men. Cleaning staff gathered in tens at various points, particularly near the rest rooms, scrubbing constantly.
Visitors, or at least the ones who had managed to sneak past the zealous security, were shooed into discreet rooms, away from the sight of the footballer.
Zidane arrived dressed in what is now popularly called a Modi jacket over a white shirt, slacks and indigo blue loafers. He appeared light years away from the mercurial player who won France the World Cup in 1998 and almost won it for them in 2006 before a moment of indiscretion spoilt it for them.
Now better known as the manager of Real Madrid, Zidane led the team to the Champions League title in May after being in the job for around six months. The transition from being a player to a coach has been a learning experience for him, one that he hopes to get better at with each passing day.
In a short, roughly six-minute conversation with this paper, he said the main thing was to have passion for the sport. “It’s not my personality to shout," said the player once known for his aggression on the field. “But (it is) to be a friend to the players. You need to be yourself. You can only do good things if you are yourself, and not somebody else," he said in French, loosely translated by Paris’ French designer Olivier Vecchierini.
Whisked away to the BKC site, Zidane made another public appearance in the afternoon at the National Sports Club of India in Worli, to attend a press conference with the Kanakia family.
Rows of bouquets lay outside the theatre, presumably to be handed to the French star later.
Himanshu Kanakia, managing director, Kanakia Group, explained why a developer in Mumbai signed on a retired international footballing icon from France.
“Very few athletes represent sporting excellence like Zinedine Zidane. Not only is he a global icon but also among the most recognizable and relevant symbol of France to sports fans in India."
Ashish Kanakia, a director in the company, said it took 12-18 months of emails going back and forth and talking to him.
“It wasn’t easy. There were several discussions and they weren’t sure whether it would be worth his while and stature. Unlike most celebrity endorsements which are superficial, we want to ensure that his involvement wasn’t just limited to the use of his image and photos. We wanted him to be involved in the vision for the product as well."
On being asked about his thoughts on wellness, Zidane maintained that even though he wasn’t playing anymore, he was just as disciplined when it came to his fitness routine. In some instances, he pushed himself even more to ensure he was fighting fit.
Zidane is ironically in Mumbai on the night when France play Portugal in the opening night of the European Football Championships in Paris. The last time the Euros were held in France, in 2000, Zidane inspired France to the title.
He picked France as one of the favourites. “It was similar (to the situation and team) in 1998. You have a huge energy in France, but ultimately you have to play in the ground," he said.
According to industry estimates, the company would have spent approximately between $1-1.5 million for this association as it included bringing the football star and his entourage to India, images, shoots, media interactions as well as events.
Zidane is the second big football star to endorse an Indian company after Tata Motors signed up Lionel Messi in 2015 for ₹ 60 crore per year.
According to an ESP Properties-SportzPower report released this year, the overall pie for sports endorsement deals grew 27% to Rs.416.40 crore over the last year. Of this, cricket accounted for Rs.264.4 crore, while endorsements with international athletes grew to Rs.110 crore. Other sports raked in Rs.42 crore in endorsements.
After the press conference, Zidane attended a celebrity football match event which included Bhaichung Bhutia, Sunil Chhetri and during half time, participated in some football entertainment with Shiv Sena leader Aditya Thackeray. Later on Friday, he is expected to be part of a wellness panel with cricketer Zaheer Khan and actor Bipasha Basu.
He will end the day by attending a fashion show by designer Masaba. He is expected to visit Jaipur, Agra and Delhi before flying back home.