The scene was set, with one of the all time greats lighting up a football tournament for his last time. A glittering professional career that had spread over a period of 17 years, tarnished with a bad streak because of one moment of madness. Nobody except the two players involved will know 100% exactly what was said before ‘that moment’, but almost every football fan across the world will remember vividly what it led to.
How could it be that a model professional, an icon, a legend can have a loss of control on the biggest stage of ANY footballers career. A man who would have been remembered solely for being one of the best ever, had his career permanently stained with an act of sheer stupidity.
Born in Marseille, France on June 23rd 1972, a star was born. Zinedine Zidane or Zizou as he was nicknamed grew up to be a World Cup and European Championship winner with his national team France, and a numerous times League and Cup winner with his clubs, as well as a UEFA Champions League winner with Spanish giants Real Madrid…
…And yet all this is put aside momentarily to remember the barbaric head-butt to Italian defender Marco Materazzi, in the final of the 2006 World cup in Germany. The incident involved words being exchanged and Zidane, who clearly found these words unpleasant, head-butted the Italian in the chest. This meant that the show piece in the world game was sent off leaving his team in big trouble and leaving an unsavoury ending to his whole career.
It was the World Cup final, the pinnacle of any footballer’s career, and yet the back pages of the morning newspapers were not Italy’s penalty triumph, instead it was about the craziness shown by the man who never previously seemed to lose his temper on the pitch. He was even quoted before this tournament saying: “My main fault? Niceness!”
What made it even worse is that France only missed one penalty in the resulting penalty shoot-out and he himself would have probably taken and scored one, just as he had done earlier in the game when he put his team ahead.
“I came out of retirement not just to help qualification but also because this team has the players who can do something.” His decision to come out of retirement was very much justified but it was he after all this that actually let the team down and had let himself down.
The great Dutch footballer Johan Cruyff once said: “He always knows how to motivate his teammates. He’s the leader that I knew he was.” This was very true and that is why even now many people find it difficult to believe that night’s events even occurred. An all time great is now forever being mocked on popular internet sites such as “YouTube” and when searching him on search engines, options such as “Zidane head-butt”, come up as a suggestion for you.
Zidane did however did apologise but also wanted to let it be known that it was done for a reason, and he felt that he was not entirely to blame “We always talk about the reaction, and obviously it must be punished. But if there is no provocation, there is no need to react,” said the former player.
“Above all it was a very serious provocation. It was an inexcusable gesture but the real culprit is the person who provoked it.”
But the French legend did not regret his actions and he stated that Materazzi provoked him by insulting both his mother and sister.
“It was inexcusable. I apologise,” said the 34-year-old Zidane. “But I can’t regret what I did because it would mean that he was right to say all that.”
Despite this, this obviously very humble man is not widely regarded as one of the best for no reason. His genuine love, appreciation and respect he had for his family was never hidden. “My passion for the game comes from the city of Marseille itself. Unfortunately I can`t go back there as much I want to because I play a lot here and abroad.” Right there is a quote from Zidane about his home-town and shows straight away he is close to his roots and he will always remember where he comes from and perhaps this may be one of the reasons he always seemed so level headed and down to earth. Two quotes that very much sum up his attitude is: “I was lucky to come from a difficult area. It teaches you not just about football but also life. There were lots of kids from different races and poor families. People had to struggle to get through the day.” And “I loved growing up in Marseille, it reminds me of Naples. Both are ports where the people have a zest for life, but there is also a lot of poverty and delinquency” These show the optimism he has and it all becomes far clearer as to how he motivated himself to reach such unbelievable heights in the world of football.
He was never a man to underestimate people and regardless of the opposition he would always treat them with respect and try to play to the level he knew he could play at.
” The England team must always be respected. They always fight to the end”, said Zidane before France played England in the 2004 European Championships. The man they call “Zizou” typically single-handedly won that game for France.
With France being 1-0 down courtesy of a first half goal from Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard, with just a few minutes to go till full time England substitute Emile Heskey needlessly gave away a foul on the edge of the area and the imperious Zidane strode forward to send a curling free-kick past goalkeeper David James. Then in injury time England gave away a penalty and Zidane showed no nerves as he converted the penalty with consummate ease.
French left back and national teammate to Zidane, Bixente Lizarazu once said: “If we don’t know what to do with the ball, we always give it to Zidane! He can always handle it!” These are top class footballers, putting Zidane above them in terms of ability and pundits and footballers alike, all over the world eventually started to run out of superlatives for this extraordinary footballer.
In 2001, Zizou became the most expensive player in football history when Real Madrid bought him for 46 million pounds from Italian giants Juventus. Every time he had moved to a different club, because of the different countries, it meant that he had to adapt to the changes in everyday lifestyle and then the style of football each country has. In England the style of football is very quick and the most physically demanding of all the leagues in Europe. The Italian league is considered slow but very tactical and defensive, whereas the Spanish league is very attacking with a greater license for attacking players to roam. Zidane once said “I have never had the opportunity to play in England, so I know little about it.” A play of his ability could play anywhere and even if he did have to adapt to the Spanish way of life, he certainly didn’t have to adapt to being the star player as he naturally fits the bill whatever club he may be at.
ITV sports commentator Clive Tyldesley was almost lost for words in the Champions League final 2002 Real Madrid v Bayer Leverkusen, when Zidane scored a remarkable left foot volley into the top corner. Tyldesley simply says: “Fantastic, oh fantastic”. The goal really did epitomise Zidane. It was technically a magnificent strike, fit to win again tournament and to do what he did in the biggest club competition in the world, showed just how special this man was.
To score the winner in the biggest club competition as well as scoring three times overall in World Cup Finals shows to everybody that despite what happened with the head-butt incident, it cannot hide the fact that Zinedine Zidane was one of the greatest players to ever grace the World of Football and for whatever reason, he will always be remembered.
European Super Cup 1996
Intercontinental Cup 1996
Italian Championship 1997, 1998
League Super Cup 1997
Champions League 2002
World Champion 1998 at France ’98
European Champion 2000 at Euro 2000
Ligue 1 Best young player – 1994
Ligue 1 Best player – 1996
Champions League Best Player – 1998
Ballon D’Or – 1998
FIFA World Player of the Year – 1998, 2000, 2003
FIFA Pro World XI All-Star Team – 2005, 2006
Written By Rufaro Fielding