A flawed genius who showed his flaws & genius

PRITHVI DATTA CHANDRA SHOBHI writes: It wasn’t the fairy-tale send off we—or he—envisaged. It wasn’t the triumphant end to a magnificent career. Instead, Zinedine Zidane will be remembered for the fourteenth and final red card of his career; for that final walk of shame.

That moment of madness, as Zidane charged like a bull. That image of a falling Marco Materazzi. That sight of Zidane walking off a football pitch for the last time in tears. Will that be how we remember him?

Shouldn’t our memory be of that cheeky penalty taken so calmly? Or the powerful header in extra-time, which almost won the World Cup for France, but for Buffon’s sensational save?

Or a series of game-winning performances at this World Cup, including the finals, when he orchestrated a series of aggressive moves with Henry and Ribery, creating havoc especially after the first half?

But tragically, that powerful head butt, so typical and worthy of Zidane’s early days in the rough streets of Marseilles, will be the final and indelible image.  

For all his calm exterior, shy and reticent personality and dignified bearing on and off the field, Zidane is known to lose his cool often, even at crucial moments. In 1998, he trampled on a Saudi Arabian player and was sent off, but then he could redeem himself with a match-winning performance in the finals.

Now, there are to be no second acts.

Perhaps there is an explanation for that insane, inexcusable act. As the replays showed, Materazzi, no saint himself, tweaked his nipple. Zidane and Materazzi then seemed to be trash talking. There are unconfirmed rumours of a racial slur, something that was said in 1998 too. Nobody, players or coaches, are speaking of what happened on the field, as the code of omerta has become operational.

What we do know is a simple fact: Zidane snapped and did something that goes against the spirit of the sport, of which he was one of the finest practitioners.

Zidane’s moment of madness reminds us of the temperamental genius. The same spirit which sees the game differently from the other twenty-one players on the field loses its plot so completely in an instant. That insane act denies Zidane of a poetic ending to his career. Even his biggest fan would agree Zidane didn’t deserve any better. It is a reminder of human fallibilities.

The game itself was absorbing at moments, with two well-matched and very well organized defenses refusing to give an inch. France did look vulnerable against the aerial ball and escaped at least once yet the game looked headed towards penalty shootout.

Only a magical moment of pure genius, which only a Zidane or Henry could provide, would have lifted this finals—and indeed even the World Cup itself—from being remembered for its defensive schemes, and performances. If Italian stopper Cannavaro were to be not the most valuable player of this World Cup, then Zidane would have had to take charge and put his stamp on this tournament one more time.

He missed that. We will not only remember Zidane’s red card but we will also remember a finals bereft of one more magical moment that we could have remembered this World Cup by and spoken for the rest of our lives.

Do you think he was not aware of it? You bet that sat heavily on his soul. That’s the kind of pressure which drove Maradona into a cokehead. Zidanne wasn’t merely in the business of winning this game and the World Cup for France.

He was going to provide defining moments and ever lasting memories.

Remember the penalty kick one more time.

As tragic, reprehensible and inexcusable Zidane’s assault on Materazzi was, believe me, that wasn’t the story of this finals. That is, if we are truly concerned about the spirit of the game. Today, when the victorious Italians return home, thirteen of them would know whether they and their clubs could play Series A. Not only the officials of leading Italian clubs, Juventus, Lazio and Milan are implicated on match fixing charges, but players too have come under suspicion.

Speak of protecting the integrity of the game! Italian captain, Cannavaro, himself a former teammate and friend of Zidane’s at Juventus, has been investigated. Italian goalkeeper Buffon is in more serious trouble.

In the meantime, we are ready to crucify Zinedine Zidane.