Zidane’s legacy is his elegant game, not a vicious exit
Posted by ssbg on July 14, 2006
The French singer Jean-Louis Murat summed up Zinédine Zidane like this: “Nobody knows if Zidane is an angel or a demon…. He smiles like Saint Teresa and grimaces like a serial killer.”
Murat is a huge Zizou fan, and there is a fair dose of truth in those words. Zidane’s genius has always had a dark side, as evidenced by the 14 red cards he collected in his career. The last month showed him at his best — when, as one paper put it, he was the only “Brazilian” on the pitch when France played Brazil — and at his worst, when he head-butted Marco Materazzi in the World Cup final.
His final public appearance, Wednesday night, could have offered some degree of redemption, but instead it was more darkness than light.
Zidane said Materazzi provoked him by insulting his mother and sister. And he said that while he apologized to the “children” who had witnessed the incident (but, bizarrely, nobody else who might not have enjoyed seeing a grown man assault another adult), he had no regrets and would do it all over again.
“I tell myself that if things happened this way, it’s because somewhere up there it was decided that way,” he added.
That last part was perhaps the most absurd. Blaming God — or whatever deity you believe in — for your actions borders on the demented. Whatever your religion, one thing they all share is a degree of free will, that God gives you the power to make your own decisions. The “God wanted it that way” defense (and its not-so-distant cousin, the “God made me do it” defense) is particularly hard to swallow.
Beyond that, discovering that Materazzi had “only” insulted Zidane’s mother and sister was a bit of a letdown. Anybody who has played any kind of competitive team sport at any level (with the possible exception of volleyball and polo) has heard a fair amount of trash-talking.
It’s ugly, sure. It’s childish, absolutely. But most people do not snap and head-butt opponents when their mother is insulted, particularly when that insult occurs in the private sphere of two men at close quarters on a soccer pitch.
The fact that Zidane did not elaborate on the nature of the insult only adds to the confusion. What horrible thing could Materazzi have said that would prompt such a reaction in a normal person?
The answer is … nothing. Insults of that nature hurt the most when they come from someone who actually knows you (or your mother). Materazzi has never met Zidane’s mother or his sister. He only knows Zidane as an opponent. And if he did insult either one, most would have taken it and responded in kind.
Of course, the whole matter of whether Materazzi did in fact insult Mrs. Zidane is open to debate. The Inter defender denies it in the strongest terms, though he admits to insulting the French captain, albeit in a way which is common in sporting arenas everywhere. Whom you believe on this point is a matter of personal choice. I’ve known Materazzi for eight years, I know that his mother died when he was 15, and there is no doubt in my mind that when it comes to mothers, he treads very carefully. But then, maybe I’m biased, because I know and like Materazzi.
But even if one chooses to believe Zidane, it’s difficult to reach any other conclusion than this: His act was indefensible, and he certainly did not help himself with his explanation, particularly when he suggested that he would do the exact same thing again if faced with the same situation.
A more plausible explanation for Zidane’s actions is that he was simply exhausted and frustrated and he lost control, just as he had done so many times before. It started in 1993, when he got into a fistfight with Marcel Desailly; it continued through a career that saw him stomp on a Saudi defender, punch Parma’s Enrico Chiesa, head-butt a Hamburg player, lash out at Villarreal’s Quique Alvarez and, finally, nail Materazzi.
Some people are like that. They’re human. Zidane was blessed with an outrageous amount of talent, as well as the intelligence and work ethic to make the best of it. But he’s not perfect. The price of all that was a short fuse, a red mist that occasionally engulfed him.
Zidane will no doubt be criticized for not apologizing. But there are few things worse than an empty apology. If he doesn’t feel sorry, he shouldn’t apologize. By not apologizing, at the very least he is staying true to himself. If that’s the way he is, so be it. You either love him or hate him.
It’s genuinely sad that this happened in the final professional game of his career. But only the ignorant will remember him for this. Those who love the game will remember him for the thrills and delight he offered up so many times, for the sheer elegance of his game and for the way teammates looked up to him.
At least, that’s what I’ll remember