The first names mentioned when it comes to discussing the most successful players of all time tend to be the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Maradona, Pele or Franz Beckenbauer. Almost no-one would spontaneously mention Bixente Lizarazu, even though the 1.69 m (5 ft 6 in) native of the Basque country was one of the most prolific medal collectors in the history of the game. “I got more than I ever hoped. I reflect on that with great joy and pride," the ever-thoughtful Liza said as he looked back on his career.
“Despite all the trophies, he's remained modest and never acted like a star," commented his Bayern contemporary Michael Ballack. That cannot be taken for granted in the light of so much personal glory. Lizarazu represented France 96 times, winning the 1998 World Cup on home soil and EURO 2000 in Belgium and the Netherlands.
Always at the highest level
Keen surfer Lizarazu rode a wave of success at club level too. Liza won practically everything there was to win with Germany's biggest club, including German championships, DFB cups, the Intercontinental Cup and the Champions League in 2001. The famous victory over Valencia in Milan was certainly the crowning glory. “2001 was a perfect year with the Bundesliga title, the Champions League and the Intercontinental Cup," the former player declared. He shouldered his responsibilities in the penalty shootout in Milan, coolly putting away the seventh spot kick.
The left-back was variously described as a ball of energy, finely-honed athlete, model professional and even – with an faintly ironic smile – as a giant in the air. In nine years and 182 Bundesliga appearances attitude his on and off the field was always exemplary. “Football was my life in Munich," he himself said.
Bowing out at the top
The life in question was lived in two stages. Lizarazu joined Bayern from Athletic Bilbao in 1997, before leaving for Olympique Marseille in summer 2004. Just six months later, he was back in Munich, before finally calling time on his career after nine seasons in Bavaria. “I mulled it over for a few months," he said at the time, “I've decided to stop at the highest level at a club which has given me everything."
He played his last match for Bayern on 13 May 2006, before taking his leave in front of a 69,000 crowd at the Allianz Arena. With the championship shield in his hands, the Frenchman gave a few last interviews. After a final wave to the loyalists in the main stand, he disappeared to the dressing room for the last time.