let me preface my World Cup Final observations by admitting how much I admire Zidane. His swansong I awaited like a numbed coke head, yearning for the highs of yesteryear, yet never truly expecting much more.
that it ended bittersweet was very French, very fitting and very forgettable, the effects of whisky having a far more brutal effect on my memory than age did on the Algerian-born star.
for those fully aware of the poetry and irony that littered the game, forgive my indulgence:
1. Zidane’s penalty must go down as the cheekiest of all time. He sold a dummy to the world’s best and most expensive goalkeeper, who would have saved it had he simply stood still and stuck out his left arm. More than that – he managed to score a goal without the ball touching the net. This is no mean feat, and usually requires the assistance of an opposing defender who’s furiously scrambling to clear the ball away but is beaten by the narrowest of margins.
2. Zidane and Materazzi scored the two goals in normal time. You probably know that.
3. David Trezeguet, who missed the penalty that doomed the French, plays for Juventus in Italy. He was also the one who scored the extra-time winner against the Italians in the 2000 Euro Cup Final, a match best remembered for the Italian bench, arm-in-arm on the sidelines, prematurely celebrating an imaginary 1-0 victory while the clock still ticked…sure enough, Wiltord equalized for the French in injury time, setting up extra-time and then along came David Trezeguet.
4. In the week following their victory, the Italian Football Federation, embroiled in match-fixing scandals even before the World Cup, passed judgement on several leading Italian Clubs. Juventus (who Zidane used to play for) were the worst hit, falling to Serie B (Division 2), where they will probably flounder for a while. A mass exodus of players – Cannavaro, Buffon, Zambrotta etc. – is expected. AC Milan were also hit hard, and will start next season in Serie A with a serious handicap.
What does this all mean? Next season, Italy’s almost-team, the perennial underachievers, the chokers, Inter Milan, will probably have their best shot at a Serie A title since the days of Lothar Matthaus and his German gang.
And, in all likelihood, after his impressive World Cup, their defence will probably be manned by the irrepressible Marco Materazzi.
What a week he’s had. Talk about winning things because your opponents aren’t around.
Like I said, forgive my indulgence, for now the serious story begins.
I do not believe any commentator out there has done the head-butting incident justice.
Many have pontificated for hours over the words that were exchanged; the moment’s hesitation before violence erupted (“It was a premeditated head-butt!); the moral justification (or lack thereof) for responding with violence; the legacy that was Zidane; the culpability of the foul-mouthed Marco and other banalities that are almost always argued with colored lens on.
Discussing these things is all well and good, and fills many an evening beer chat, but really skirts around the most important human lesson to be derived from all this:
We are frail and fearful creatures, and if, in moment of intense stress and pressure, are pushed into corners and ordered to remain there, are prone to respond with momentary lapses of reason. And violence.
My father has told me that if he were Zidane, he would never have responded with violence. He knows this because others have cursed his mother and sister before and he hasn’t responded.
I find this the most ridiculous statement (I told him so).
Simply because he has no idea how Zidane feels! The only person who would know how somebody would respond when placed in such a situation is, well, Zidane. And we got a clear answer.
My father would have no idea what it feels like to grow up as a Muslim Algerian in (ex-colonizer) Catholic France and then have to fight your way to stardom despite bigotry and all kinds of other pressures.
I flipped the question back to him:
Why would somebody – a model human being and global citizen, a role model and idol for millions of children the world over, in front of a billion watchers, on his swansong, on the verge of etching his name next to Pele’s and Maradona’s in footballing folklore – respond with violence?
In my mind, there is only one answer – human psyche is such. Human frailty is such. If even the most ostensibly glorious person responds with violence, how can we expect the average character to wave an olive branch?
I have therefore chosen to view Zidane as a prism for human psyche and actions.
the next time somebody asks me why a Palestinian or a Lebanese or a Tamil or a Christian or a Muslim or a Jew chooses to pick up a weapon, Zidane has shown that even the most exalted character, in a dream theater, chose violence as expression.
(But I merely seek to understand violence, not justify it. Zinedine Zidane, my idol and hero, is a blooming idiot for doing what he did. But he made me remember one thing – not everbody is Mahatma. Not everybody can turn the other cheek.)