Zinedine Zidane: The Most Spectacular End To A Football Career

It goes without saying that the world cup final is football’s ultimate occasion It’s the match the whole planet is watching With the biggest prize in the game up for grabs. July 9th in Berlin was no exception. But for all the star players on show that night, all eyes were on one man, and one man only. Zinedine Zidane One of the greatest of his generation would take to the field one last time Captain his country as they looked to win the most important trophy in sport And bow out in the most spectacular fashion of all Initially, It looked as though France wouldn’t even qualify for the tournament at all. They drew twice against Israel they drew against Ireland, against Switzerland. We had a lack of Leadership and the coach, Raymond Domenech, like called talked with Zizou and he told him to come back because he needs leadership Along with 1998 world cup winning heroes Lillian Thuram, Bixente Lizarazu and Marcel Desailly Zidane came out of international retirement to help “Les Bleus” seal their place at Germany 2006 Coming back and saying I’m doing this to play my last World Cup. Well nobody was really gonna let him down in a way. So he gave a major psychological boost and also technical boost I mean he was the real boss on the pitch Zidane is a visionary player and is an incredible interpreter of this job. The talismanic playmaker was made captain and almost single handedly dragged Raymond Domenech’s previously shaky looking side all the way to the final. With sensational individual performances against Brazil and Portugal in the knock out rounds. Producing these amazing masterclasses against Spain, against Brazil which is probably the best individual performance I’ve seen of a football player. He was awarded the golden ball for “Best Player” at the tournament before the final. But nobody could have known just how much of the story was still yet to unfold. The great thing was for Italy to be in a final after a really complicated year in domestic football because we had a betting scandal called Calciopoli. In May 2006, the Italian police uncovered a coordination of game rigging between some of Italy’s top clubs. this scandal left the country’s image in a dubious state. The match started in as dramatic a fashion as you’d hope to see. Marco Materazzi’s clumsy challenge on Florent Malouda inside 10 minutes handed France a penalty and a golden chance to make the perfect start to the final. Zidane took and looked to overdone his pitching wedge of a Panenka. Time standing still as the ball clipped back off the underside of the bar and eventually over the line. When the ball came down, you didn’t even know if it was in or not so people just froze and then it was just a major burst of happiness really. It was a proof of “Fou” and of huge talent. Materazzi redeemed himself before the halfway stage of the first half though Raising highest to head home an Andrea Pirlo corner and equalise for Italy. By the end of the match, the two goalscorers names would be the only names on everyone’s lips but not for reasons anyone could have predicted. With the score level at 1 – 1 after a surprisingly open 90 minutes the game went to extra time In the 109th minute, Materazzi and Zidane began talking on the edge of the Italian box. Materazzi was just a defender of Inter Milan which was at the time the team that took advantage the most from Calciopoli. Being an AC Milan fan I witnessed Materazzi’s attitude in a lot of games and everyone knew he wasn’t a nice guy. Exactly what was said still remains somewhat unclear but we all know what happened next. Inexplicably; Zidane, the embodiment of calmness and class on the pitch headbutted the Italian centre back in the chest sending him crashing to the floor. Most headbutts are spontaneous Something that just happens, almost instinctively. When two players are already in each other’s faces But this one was entirely calculated. Horacio Elizondo had no choice but to produce a red card and ensure that Zidane’s final act in a sport he had played with such beauty and served with such distinction would be one of shocking, premeditated violence. And ultimately led to Italy winning the world cup on penalties. Later, Zidane went on to say… All great tragic heroes have a fatal flaw and this was Zidane’s. A narrative that football likes to weave is that of a player who exists on the edge consumed with fire and passion that translate to greatness on the pitch but also suffer from occasional bouts of hot headed madness. This was one such moment, and it was pure theatre Materazzi, the ultimate antagonist with form for provocation exploited Zidane’s weakness by insulting his sister and the midfielder fell for the bait, hook, line and sinker with devestating consequences. It was surreal, it was tragic I mean even now I think every French football fan remembers Thierry Gilardi, he was the French commentator and his comments live on TV were “No, not that Zinedine, not after everything you’ve achieved.” It’s impossible to state how otherworldy the whole thing felt. A man at the apex of world football, known for the beauty of his play commiting such a primal act of aggression and losing his head so badly. Zidane had gone from being on the verge of possibly delivering a second World Cup for his country and complete footballing immortality to, in some people’s eyes, tarnishing his reputation forever. Why did he do that in his last match? Watching the almost surreal images of Zidane after the headbutt contemplating his actions, awaiting the red card and about to leave the pitch for the last time. You can almost see his whole career flash before his eyes The French media turned on Zizou with Le Figaro calling the headbutt “Odious” while L’Equipe asked how could he ever be considered a role model after what he’d done. The public were far more sympathetic though with polls carried out in the immediate aftermath of the incident showing 61% of French people had already forgiven him for his actions while 52% said they understood them. But while the French wept, Italy rejoiced. For some it was a blight on their victory. I would have prefered to win the match without Zidane’s red carge. Revenge over France was sweet after losing out to them in the final of Euro 2000. Especially with David Trezeguet who scored the winner that day missing the crucial penalty in the shootout. The big question is just how much of an impact did the headbutt have on Zidane’s legacy. Ultimately, it’s a subjective thing. While some see it as the defining image of the midfielder, others look past it and remember the many, many moments of pure inspiration on the pitch. What’s certain is that it did give us one last piece insight into the man himself as he walked off the Olimpiastadion turf past the World Cup trophy. His last game had turned into a microcosm of his career; unapologetic genius, madness, creativity… and beautiful chaos. All carried out with an unmistakeable “Frenchness”. “King Zizou”