Italians may have won the 2006 World Cup, but who cares. What everyone wants to know is what Italian defender Marco Materazzi said to anger Zinedine Zidane so much. It is ironic that the most remembered thing of the world cup is not its poor refereeing or second lowest ever goal scoring, but an event that took place in the last 10 minutes of the regular play in its final match.
Zidane’s action was vicious and meant to harm. In fact, Zidane’s tantrum might have cost the French the now all but forgotten World Cup as their team was left without three top strikers needed for the penalty shoot off.
The black art of provocation is certainly legal and often seen as a fundamental and legitimate way of gaining an advantage over the other side. Call me old fashion, but taunting is as old as sports, and if done one on one, should remain an issue between two players.
Muhammad Ali taunted his opponents in the ring with referrers to hear it. In 1999 one of the great taunters of all time, Mike Tyson, promised to “eat Hollyfield’s children” and when his opponents failed to lose his calm, Iron Mike bit his ear off.
During contact sport matches there is always conversation between players. It is part of the ‘contact.’ Sometimes the things said are just a way of communicating or they express frustration. Still other times it is meant to confuse or provoke the opposite side. If it is done one on one, it should remain in the realm of the two players.
The Zidane case is different and within hours of the game newspapers hired lip readers and sound experts to analyze what Materazzi actually told Zidane at the field. Maybe he told Zidane that he is a ‘bolding, insecure man,’ or maybe he said that ‘he is a son of a terrorist whore.’ The thing is it doesn’t matter, as the statement was made in private. Zidane and thousands of sportsmen are submitted to taunts every day, and if after 16 years of playing professional ball Zidane can’t handle it, that is his problem.
Zidane, son of Algerian immigrants from the suburbs/banlieu of Marseille’s, has suffered taunts about ethnicity, religion, etc, through his career. Zidane has attacked and head butted his opponents like this before. His final 2000 season at the Italian club Juventus was soured by a five-match ban for head butting a Hamburg player. It is not known what the German player has said to ‘provoke’ Zidane.
What the incident displayed was a clash of cultures on the football field. While European press stayed clear of trying to relate Zidane’s behavior as coming from his Berber, or Muslim roots, Muslim leaders didn’t hesitate to congratulate Zidane. “I herewith declare my gratitude and respect to you for the defense of your private and Islamic pride against the unjust insult during the World Cup final,” wrote Iranian Prime Minister Alaeddin Boroujerdi. Zidane’s mother Malika praised her son for defending “the family’s honor.”
Even French president Jacques Chirac embraced Zidane’s dark side as possessing the “greatest human qualities one can imagine.” As much as the French would love Zidane to be the symbol of the integrated North African in their society, he is a symbol of an alienated man-boy of the French suburbs/banlieu. Making 10s of million of Euros doesn’t take away his insecurities, alienations and anger, that amongst others expresses itself through burning cars, schools and churches.
A couple weeks later Zidane issued a non-apology apology, “I regret, but would do it again,” and collected his best player Golden Ball award. [/private]