Sunday, July 09, 2006

The New Rooney

All is forgiven. After a tournament where officiating drew the ire of fans, media and even FIFA President Sepp Blatter, the officiating team in the final have redeemed their peers by making one of the best -- and most difficult -- calls of the tournament.

Their decision to eject French captain Zinedine Zidane for a behind-the-play headbutt has outraged spectators and best-dressed manager Raymond Domenech. When they see the replays tonight, there will be no room for a defence of Zizou.

The attack by Zidane must rank as the tournament's most unexpected outburst. The ejection of Wayne Rooney, while controversial with some, was the result of an outburst by a player famed for his ill-temper. Zidane has a modest background in this regard (although his outburst during the second group stage match will now appear to foreshadow this incident), and coming in the second-half of extra-time, his actions rank as extraordinarily selfish and disgraceful.

I can't fathom what Zidane's explanation will be following the match. For now, we should simply congratulate the officials for consulting with each other, and making the necessary call without consideration for the reaction.

UPDATE: While the 1998 and 2000 incidents are now being recalled, it should be remembered that during six consecutive seasons for Real Madrid Zidane was only sent off twice, and he also avoided red cards in international play during that period. There's speculation about the words Materazzi spoke that presumably pushed Zidane over the edge. This combination biography/psychography at kabyles.com offers a compelling perspective:
"One of the theories about Zidane as a player is that he is driven by an inner rage. His football is elegant and masterful, charged with technique and vision. But he can still erupt into shocking violence that is as sudden as it is inexplicable. The most famous examples of this include head butting Jochen Kientz of Hamburg during a Champions League match, when he was at Juventus in 2000 (an action that cost him a five match suspension) and his stomping on the hapless Faoud Amin of Saudi Arabia during the 1998 World Cup finals (this latter action was, strangely enough, widely applauded in the Berber community as Zidane’s revenge on hated Arab ’extremists’).

Zidane’s first coaches at AS Cannes noticed quickly that he was raw and sensitive, eager to attack spectators who insulted his race or family. The priority of his first coach, Jean Varraud, was to get him to channel his anger and focus more on his game. According to Varraud, Zidane’s first weeks at Cannes were spent mainly on cleaning duty as a punishment for punching an opponent who had mocked his ghetto origins.

By the time he arrived at Juventus, in 1996, he had become known for his self-control and discipline, both on and off the pitch..."
UPDATE II THE FRENCH CONNECTION: While many in France have expressed sympathy for Zidane, few if any have been willing to apologize for or defend him the way the English press did for Rooney. A quick roundup courtesy of the wire services: "We can imagine that there was a provocation [but Zidane's act was] unpardonable. It's a strange exit." -- Sports Minister Jean-Francois Lamour. "We can't excuse this gesture." -- former Sports Minister Marie-George Buffet. "This morning, Zinedine, what do we tell our children, and all those for whom you were the living role model for all times?...neither Ali, nor Pele, nor Owens, nor any other great hero of their standing -- the standing that you were on the verge of joining -- ever broke the most elementary rules of sport like you did." -- sports daily L'Equipe. "The blue angel was transformed into a demon. He can't exit this way, it's impossible. This morning, the sense of incredulousness is still there." --Le Parisien.

31 Comments:

At 4:18 PM, Blogger Karen said...

I wasn't paying that close of attention and didn't see the headbutt until they showed it on replay. I can't imagine what could possibly have angered Zidane so much that he would risk being ejected in the World Cup final. Sure the italian player he butted had held him from behind a few moments before but that reaction was ridiculous. It's a shame that this will be the moment of his final World Cup match that everyone remembers rather than any of the amazing goals he scored over the past month. Perhaps he'll say something tomorrow to help everyone understand. However, at the end of the day, perhaps he'll just pull Pronger and say it was a 'personal and private matter'.

 
At 4:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post; all credit to the ref for the consultation and making the unpopular call.

 
At 5:15 PM, Blogger Alex said...

A few points:

• I would like to know how the ref ultimately made the call. It appeared that the ref didn't actually see the play happen, and the only person I saw him talking with after the fact was Buffon (the Italian keeper). Regardless of whether or not it was the right call, I have to question the appropriateness of a referee consulting one of the players before making his decision.

Ž I have to think that whatever the guy did or said to draw Zidane's ire was significant enough that he probably deserved the headbutt.

Ž I hate to see a player thrown out for something that happened away from the play. I'd be fine if they changed the rules and let them play a little in overtime, so long as it doesn't affect a play around the ball. Imagine if Messier (or Gordie Howe) got thrown out of a hockey game every time he threw an elbow?

• As for the actual game, France completely outclassed Italy for 120 minutes, it's a shame they lost on penalties.

 
At 5:22 PM, Blogger mudcrutch79 said...

I agree with Abboud. I'll also say that as someone raised on North American sports who could see himself getting into soccer, the rules aggravate me to no end. Zidane shouldn't have done that but the result is exceedingly harsh for something that had no actual impact on the game or the player. Plus, I'm so fucking tired of watching these guys drop to the field if someone so much as looks at them the wrong way.

I hope that we find out what was said - I assume that the guy said something to him.

I also echo Abboud's comment about France outclassing them - penalties are a horseshit way to decide things. Italy reminded me of the 1998 Czechs in the Olympics, just playing for the shootout.

 
At 5:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

He spoke with the linesman prior to the call. Buffon was the likely cause of the consultation.

If that is not a red card, I really don't know what is. Hell, it would be 5 and a game in hockey too.

 
At 6:32 PM, Blogger Jameso said...

I can't imagine that the guy said anything Zidane hasn't heard a thousand times. He's not some kid with a short fuse and something to prove; he's a leader who's been here before.
Speculation is that they checked with the fourth official (meaning that tv replay could have been involved).
ZZ knew what he did. Watch the replay- before the ref even heads his way, he's already taking the Captain's armband off.

 
At 6:35 PM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

Yes, as pointed out here the card came after the referee consulted with the fourth official.

I found it reminiscent of the trend in baseball (at least in the playoffs) for the home plate umpire to consult with the other officials and reverse/make a decision if required.

As for the relation of the punishment to the crime, I think it was entirely proportionate. It was a violent attack on another player. It's actually worse that it took place out of the play, because there can be no excuse that both players were caught up in the excitement of a play for the ball.

The Independent has some speculation as to motive, although from the press coverage I've seen, there's no word yet (from Zidane) as to why he lost his head:

"In the wake of the incident there can be only two possible interpretations. One is that Zidane...simply lost his head and had something akin to a nervous breakdown.

The other was that he was reacting to a remark from the Italian player which went straight to the core of his pride; in his family and his Muslim ancestors. That last suspicion could only be underlined by a remnant of violence from his past. Eight years ago he was sent off in a group game in the World Cup finals in Marseilles which he eventually came to dominate with a two-goal performance against Brazil in the final in the Stade de France. He turned viciously on a Saudi Arabian opponent, as he did on Materazzi last night. Later, the consensus was that the Saudi player had insulted Zidane's ancestors, a nomadic North African tribe.

Here last night there was no ready explanation for the moment that will besmirch the whole tournament..."

 
At 7:42 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

I found it reminiscent of the trend in baseball (at least in the playoffs) for the home plate umpire to consult with the other officials and reverse/make a decision if required.

No way. I find it reminiscent of the entire World Cup, where players whined and bullied their way into calls. I agree that he should have been sent off, but the ref didn't see it, and Mazeratti Turturro, or whatever his name is, certainly embellished. It was no worse to me than the elbow Cannavaro threw on Henry, by the way.

And nothing on the overt homo-erotocism of the Italian post-game celebration? Very disappointing.

 
At 7:54 PM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

How can you embellish falling on your back after being head-butted in the chest?

Your distaste for all things Italian is clouding how you see the incident.

I don't think there's even the slightest chance that the complaints of the Italian players led to the card: the referee walked over, consulted with the linesman, then issued the card. From my vantage, the more a player complains the more likely he is to have the official ignore his complaint. The players did draw the incident to the attention of the referee, but it was only after he consulted with the rest of the officiating team that he took action.

 
At 11:07 PM, Blogger mudcrutch79 said...

How can you embellish falling on your back after being head-butted in the chest?

It didn't look like much of a head butt to me, as far as these things go. He drilled him in the chest, sure, but not particularly hard.

As for the comment about it being five and a game in hockey, I don't know soccer all that well, so it's hard for me to draw an analogy but this seemed equivalent to me to the type of nonsense that goes on after the whistle-a punch to the face or a facewash. If he wanted to do some damage, he would have stroked the guy straight in the face. That said, I'll let the guys who know the culture of the game comment on the severity of the incident - I'm reminded of my father asking why hockey players don't throw body shots.

I might be letting my distaste for the Italians get in the way too. For my money, they didn't show much tonight other than an ability not to break. They go down at the slightest opportunity. I really got into the French as this went along - Zidane is one of those guys who even if you don't know the sport, your eye gets drawn to him. Plus, he doesn't seem like a douchebag. If that cat on the Italian squad made a racial remark, as his been speculated...well, what can you say? What kind of way is that to win?

 
At 6:05 AM, Blogger Jameso said...

Mudcrutch- it was probably a hell of a headbutt. The headbutt is the weapon of choice in soccer fights, and I bet Zidane is better at those than at punching someone.
If he was hitting anyone his own height (Materazzi is huge) that's a broken nose or concussion.

 
At 9:15 AM, Blogger Alex said...

Jameso,

I watched the replay, and it looks to me like Zidane doesn't take the armband off until he's actually carded.

 
At 9:19 AM, Blogger Alex said...

As always, Deadspin has great coverage. In particular, they dug up this gem, which tells us a lot about the character of Marco Materazzi, the guy that Zidane headbutted:

In the 66th minute of yesterday's clash between Messina and Inter in Sicily, Zoro picked up the ball and walked off the pitch in protest at the monkey chants spewed at him by savage Inter fans. "I was fed up with it," explained the 21-year-old Ivorian. "It was the classic treatment of black players in Italy - it happens all over the country, Lazio fans being the worst,"....But not everyone at Inter was impressed: "[Centre-back and Everton legend Marco] Materazzi shouted 'stop that, Zoro, you're just trying to make a name for yourself'," revealed Zoro. "I didn't even argue with him, I've no intention of lowering myself to that level."

 
At 10:36 AM, Blogger Jameso said...

No, he doesn't take it off, but the feed I was watching at the time on the BBC showed him toying with it right after. Maybe he always does that, maybe I'm reading too much into it, I dunno.

 
At 2:31 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

At fist glance I thought that your quote was from Le Partisan, but I see it was actually from Le Parisien. Hard to tell the difference, actually. You failed to provide any quotes from his coach, or even President Chirac, who both defended Zidane. You also failed to provide any insight into Materazzi. Domenech hinted that Zidane was being taunted all game, and that this was merely the conclusion of things that had been going on all match. I will be interested to see what comes out.

I am confident that once the truth comes out, Zidane will be cleared, and Materazzi will be villified.

 
At 2:42 PM, Blogger Alex said...

From espn.com, there this:

The Paris-based anti-racism advocacy group SOS-Racism issued a statement Monday quoting "several very well informed sources from the world of football" as saying Materazzi called Zidane a "dirty terrorist."

And Materazzi's response:

"It is absolutely not true, I didn't call him a terrorist, I don't know anything about that," the Italian news agency ANSA quoted Materazzi as saying when he arrived with his team at an Italian military airfield.

 
At 2:43 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

And talk about revisionist history from the ref:

"It appears the referee was waiting for the situation to clear up a little bit before taking action."

That's the best one I've heard all day.

 
At 3:33 PM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

I think I'd greet any really coarse/unacceptable comment about my sister, or an accusation that I was a "dirty terrorist," with a laugh at the idiocy of the person making the comment.

If that's all it took to send Zizou off his rocker, Mazz should have tried it in the first half.

By your standard, Esa Tikkanen should have had his face bashed in during his rookie season.

I feel sympathy for Zidane in the sense that he's had a great career, and his resurgence at this tournament was a joy to watch, so it's a shame this incident will colour people's recollection of him. But we all have to be responsible for our actions, and it's a classic schoolyard lesson: learning how to resist making a physical response to a verbal attack. Zizou and Rooney both knew better. As a team mate, I'd be furious: France needed his boot in the penalties.

Bottom line: I don't think there are any words Mazz could have spoken that would "clear" Zidane of his responsibility.

 
At 3:56 PM, Blogger Sheamus Murphy said...

You may find this odd, but I don't think that Zidane lost his head. The French were dominating, but they weren't able to put anything through, except for Zidane's great shot that Buffon saved with his fingertips only minutes prior. I think after that Zidane knew he wouldn't likely get a better chance, that the game was headed for penalties, and he knew that the French could manage with 10 men for a few minutes as the Italians weren't much of a threat and pretty much cruising to the shootout. If anything he was frustrated that the French weren't going for it when they'd had the run of the play, but they had long since eased off by subbing Henry and losing Viera.

So when Materazzi kept calling him terrorist or whatever, Zidane walks away, thinks it over for a second, and says to himself, "you know what, I really want to take this guy out, its just about the end of the game, so dammit I'm just going to do it." And he does it. And France continued to take it to the Italians after the play, but ultimately went to the crap-shoot of penalties.

If this guy had been taunting Zidane all game, there has to be something to him only deciding to act out at the end of the game. And if you look at Zidane walking away just before the incident, it really looks like there is some pre-meditation going on. All his team really lost at the end of the day was his prowess from the spot.

I know it's ugly but here's a player with a ton of pride, who deserves respect, and he made a calculation to listen to his pride and dish it out when he thought it was deserved and the cost of lashing out was low enough. Say what you will about how this has tarnished Zidane's reputation - he will still have a place in the pantheon of the greatest footballers of all-time - but to Zidane I'd say the act of teaching the upstart a lesson he won't forget gave him more satisfaction than any ounce of lost reputation. I don't think he gives a damn about his reputation.

It so happens that Italy won it all so the lesson is taunting does pay - it gets the best player off the field. But what if France had won - everyone would still want to know what Materazzi said - and he'd be remembered not as a World Cup champ but as the guy that got gored by the champion Zidane for saying whatever terrible thing he said.

It was a thug move of the most unsportsmanlike kind, red cardable without doubt. But ask yourself what it would take for you to explode on someone, and under what circumstances. The lowest of provocations combined with little punishment?

 
At 4:01 PM, Blogger mudcrutch79 said...

You're probably right Avi. That said, there are some guys who need to have the shit kicked out of them. Soccer seems set up to protect these guys, at the expense of those who aren't running their mouth. I mean, even Sean Avery gets his face kicked in now and again.

 
At 4:53 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

Say what you will about how this has tarnished Zidane's reputation - he will still have a place in the pantheon of the greatest footballers of all-time - but to Zidane I'd say the act of teaching the upstart a lesson he won't forget gave him more satisfaction than any ounce of lost reputation. I don't think he gives a damn about his reputation.

Well said, Sheamus. I agree 100%. And I also agree with Tyler. There has to be some recourse for these guys, and if FIFA and the refs won't stop it, then the players have to. I agree with Sheamus that some greater good has been served here, as well as thinking that Zidane just wanted his vengeance. If Zidane's act gets some of this racism and unsportsmanlike play out in the open, then history will be kind to Zidane.

I think I'd greet any really coarse/unacceptable comment about my sister, or an accusation that I was a "dirty terrorist," with a laugh at the idiocy of the person making the comment.

If that's all it took to send Zizou off his rocker, Mazz should have tried it in the first half.


I'm pretty sure they did try it, all game long. And it's easy for you to say you would have walked away, but you weren't in the game, and your historical realities are much different than Zidane's. This isn't a response to one act, but likely a response to years of taunts and humiliations.

But we all have to be responsible for our actions, and it's a classic schoolyard lesson: learning how to resist making a physical response to a verbal attack.

The difference is that in the schoolyard there are other outlets to see the transgressor punished. You can tell the teacher, tell your parents, or contact a lawyer. I doubt Zidane had any confidence that the referee or FIFA would defend him in this matter. Soccer doesn't exactly have a good record on punishing racist acts.

 
At 10:35 PM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

I like how you eagerly accept the speculation that Materazzi said something to Zidane that could be construed as racist.

Neither Zidane nor Materezzi have confirmed or even implied that. So far it's just speculation on the part of the press and the 1 billion viewers as we scramble for a rationale for what may have been an irrational act.

There is no way you could know that "some greater good has been served here" when you don't even know what happened!

I couldn't hear what if anything was said on that pitch. I could see what Zidane did. That's what I've got an opinion about.

[Aside: At a theoretical level, are you saying that there is a point where a physical response to a verbal comment is acceptable?]

[Aside II: Must there be a 'reason' this happened? Next you'll be asking why God let's little children suffer.]

 
At 1:19 AM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

There is no way you could know that "some greater good has been served here" when you don't even know what happened!

You don't know what happened either, but it hasn't stopped you from judging Zidane.

[Aside: At a theoretical level, are you saying that there is a point where a physical response to a verbal comment is acceptable?]

Yes. At a certain point, it is self-defence, in the same way defending yourself after getting slapped in the face is self-defence.

[Aside II: Must there be a 'reason' this happened? Next you'll be asking why God let's little children suffer.]

Don't be ridiculous. Everyone knows something must have happened for him to walk those three or four steps, make a decision, turn around, take two steps back, and then slam his head into the guy. It wasn't a spontaneous act. And you could see Materazzi saying something to him.

 
At 3:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Grabia:

If Totti headbutts Zidane, or English player X, for derogatory comments about Italians, are you on the same side of this discussion? [And at this point, Materazzi is denying that he called him a terrorist]

This "greater good" of Zidane's headbutt, which will spread discourse about racism throughout the soccer world, is really quite a bit to swallow, I gotta say.

It was a dirty foul on a dirty player (presumably for dirty talk/play). It was not admirable; it was foolish.

 
At 8:56 AM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

I would wager that when Totti was suspended three games for spitting on Christian Poulsen at Euro '04, Andy was all for it.

Although of course 'everyone knows' that something must've happened for Totti to spit on Poulsen. He can hardly be blamed.

At least Totti had the decency to apologize.

As for your counter that You don't know what happened either, but it hasn't stopped you from judging Zidane, the obvious response is as I said earlier, that I do know what happened: Zidanne headbutted Materazzi. End of story. In my books there's nothing Materazzi could've said that would've justified a physical response, and Zidane's response was obviously a violation of the laws of the game that was punished appropriately.

 
At 9:12 AM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

We seem to be getting closer to an answer.

Perhaps it's time to test Andy's doctrine of 'self-defence': Andy, your sister is a prostitute!

There, I said it. I await the headbutt. (And if that wasn't enough to provoke a headbutt, I'll leave it be...under no circumstances am I twisting your nipple.)

 
At 12:03 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

the obvious response is as I said earlier, that I do know what happened: Zidanne headbutted Materazzi. End of story.

That's the worst answer I have ever heard. It's willfully ignorant.

Perhaps it's time to test Andy's doctrine of 'self-defence': Andy, your sister is a prostitute!

You say that to me, to my face, in the heat of battle, and I knock you on your ass for it.

 
At 12:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izcz50QqGRw

 
At 3:04 PM, Blogger theDrizzler said...

Careful Avi, he'll totally do it...

 
At 3:59 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

Careful Avi, he'll totally do it...


LOL!!! LOL!!! LOL!!!

 
At 12:22 AM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

I'll take the chance: I have a low centre of gravity.

 

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