For everyone who watched the World Cup final between France and Italy, there was an aura of unreality about the proceedings. Yes, it was supposed to be a sporting spectacle; but more importantly, it was the last bow of a soft-spoken French magician, widely acknowledged as the greatest footballer of his time.
Yet the sporting climax that it was supposed to be was hijacked by arguably the most dramatic curtains to an illustrious career. That head butt… that red card… Rest assured, it will be talked about for a long, long time.
The truth is, the game would always have been as much, if not more, Zidane’s Final Match rather than World Cup Final, even had he not head-butted Marco Materazzi and got himself sent off. Thousands of football fans from all corners of the world switched on their TV sets as much to catch a last glimpse of Zidane as to find out who would take home the cup.
Zinédine Zidane always had a habit of mesmerizing his audience. Be it with those sublime passes, those dizzying shimmies past a handful of defenders, or a perfect shot curving into an inviting net. It is not just his extraordinary footballing skills that make him an object of interest. It is as much his enigmatic personality, his Algerian origins and his humility.
Zidane has always been fiercely protective of his private life, but because of his origins has had to field queries as well as accusations regarding his loyalties. Born in Marseille of Algerian immigrants, he was brought up in La Castellane, a council estate in the northern suburbs of Marseille. However, his stature overshadows any religious/racial divide that simmers in present-day Europe. He has always refused to get drawn into political arguments and steadfastly refused to take sides. That in part has been what has earned him the respect of family, friends, fans and players alike.
Despite fame and fortune, humility has remained one of Zidane’s most endearing qualities. As Michael Owen testifies:
[Players] are full of respect for him, and not just for his skills…. As we walked in after the final whistle [of a Euro 2004 game where France beat England in dramatic circumstances, with Zidane scoring both France’s goals], I looked up and saw Zidane heading straight towards the dressing room while the rest of the French players were dancing around on the pitch…. He’s an unbelievable player, but what we respected most about him was that he wasn’t rubbing our faces in it, unlike some. There’s no messing with Zidane. He doesn’t need to tell anyone he’s brilliant. He just is.(Michael Owen, Off the Record: My Autobiography, pp.316–17)
On-field rushes of blood have not exactly been alien to Zidane. And though his dramatic exit from professional football shocked many of us, he might have done the footballing world a great favour. For the first time FIFA has owned up to the possibility of verbal abuse being a serious issue in the game. Zidane may have muddied his graceful exit, but it might well end up being a compromise towards making the beautiful game a little less ugly. And:
perhaps we’ll never know what was said or what he was thinking. Perhaps the greatest riddle of all is that in destroying his legacy as a sporting hero, he might have immortalised himself as the man who stood up to bigots, real or imagined, no matter the price.(Simon Hattenstone, Guardian Unlimited Sport)
It is impossible—from any point of view, for any reason—to condone what Zidane did. But it is equally impossible to say with certainty that his rash action “snuffed out” his legacy, as the Hattenstone says in his Guardian article.
For Zidane’s legacy was more than the goals he scored, the titles he won, the honours he was awarded. His legacy is a testimony to the fact that good guys need not finish last.
Zinédine Yazid Zidane: Farewell. And thank you for the music.
8 Replies to “A knight to remember”
😥 So sad. What a nice entry!
Thanks! I always had a soft spot for Zidane, what skill he had! If you notice, I named a major character in my book after him! 😉
It’s hard not to appreciate the skills! Hopefully people won’t be petty enough to hold what happened against him. They would deserve a severe finger wagging if they did! *gets ready to wag her finger* 😉
WHy did you name the bad guy after him? I saw that match and I could not believe that he head-butted Materazzi. I still think that that was inexcusable–the occasion was bigger than him and he just had to hold on for 10 more minutes. Sad too actually. Even Gods have feet of clay.
‘Thank you for the music’ is so apt. For, to paraphrase a Scotland manager, “If we play football, he plays something else.” What is also striking is the manner in which Zidane has handled matters – he apologised to the spectators and his team (but not to Matarazzi). Contrast this with Maradona who went about proudly admitting that he had handled the ball while scoring against England in 1986 and to stop a Russian header going into the Argentinian goal four years later. Had he butted Matarazzi, I am sure he would have called it “Head of God”!!
Zidane’s action has also drawn attention to the dangers of verbal abuse on the pitch. There is currently a “it happens, one has to live with it” attitude about it – some people even consider it good and ‘competitive’. But the fact is that it is often this verbal ‘aggression’ on the field that results in some extremely unsavoury incidents. What’s more, most youngsters tend to copy this behaviour – if their idols can spout abuse, why shouldn’t they? And all this, of course, spills into abusive and racist chants in stadia. Verbal abuse is a criminal offense in most countries, but seemingly not on the football pitch.
And perhaps it is this greater awareness about the need to curb abuse on the pitch that is Zidane’s final contribution to the game. Would there have been so much of a furore over what Materazzi said had any other player been involved – say Vieira or Henry? That tells you something about the man and what he meant for the game.
Ride peacefully into the sun, Zizou. And if death ever dares darken your door, elude it with a step over!
Hey Jan, just read your article about Zidane. For me he was and always will be one of the greatest football players the world have ever seen – a magician! He is in one row with Pele, Beckenbauer, Platini, Maradonna and many other great players.
Now there’s a young guy playing with Bayern Munich – Ribery! Keep an eye on him, very talented and perhaps the successor of Zizou.
Would that be Frank Ribery? We don’t get much German footy, which is sad because I think the football on the continent is far more skilled than the race-around-madly English game. Only get to see those German clubs that make it to the Champions League. 🙁
Yes Jan, it’s Frank Ribery. Unfortunately Munich is not playing the next Champions League :sad:. But nevertheless, perhaps you will see him one day playing with the French national team.