Global football icon Zinedine Zidane appealed to French voters not to back far-right candidate Marine Le Pen for the presidency.

Le Pen will battle centrist Emmanuel Macron in the second round of the presidential election on 7 May as Europe holds its breath.

The Real Madrid boss echoed his comments from 2002 when Le Pen's father and founder of the Front National, Jean-Marie Le Pen, made it through to the presidential run-off.

"It is the same as in 2002, that I am far away from those ideas, from the Front National, and that we have to avoid it as much as we can," the World Cup winner said. Zidane – who is both hugely popular and influential – made the comments after a team training session.

The Front National has a racist, xenophobic image and Le Pen has ramped up her anti-immigration and anti-Islam rhetoric in the lead-up to the election. During Easter weekend, Le Pen claimed that French "civilisation" is under threat and promised to suspend all legal immigration.

In an attempt to rebrand herself and appeal to a wider base, Le Pen temporarily stepped down as the head of the Front National on Monday (24 April). "I am no longer the president of the National Front. I am the presidential candidate," she said.

Zinedine Zidane
Footballing legend Zinedine Zidane holds the World Cup trophy after a 2008 exhibition match pitting France's 1998 World Cup Champions against a selection of players from the rest of the world Vincent Kessler/Reuters

Le Pen's bid for the Elysee Palace suffered a blow on Friday (28 April) after the interim head of the Front National, Jean-Francois Jalkh, stepped down amid an escalating row over comments questioning the existence of Nazi gas chambers, reported in a 2000 interview.

Jalkh reportedly said: "I consider that from a technical standpoint it is impossible – and I stress, impossible – to use it [Zyklon B] in mass exterminations. Why? Because you need several days to decontaminate a space ... where Zyklon B has been used."

Jalkh denies making these remarks.

Le Pen's partner and Front National Vice-President, Louis Aliot, said: "He [Jalkh] wants to defend himself and he will be filing a legal complaint because he feels that his honour has been attacked and I can tell you that he firmly and formally contests what he is accused of."

Those backing Macron include French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, defeated presidential candidates Francois Fillon and Benoit Hamon, the Grand Mosque of Paris and the chief rabbi of France, Haim Korsia.