Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Anything but a moment of shame
[Seeing that The Blab blog is now reserved for serious discussions only, I still venture to post this here rather than in the forum, 'cuz I'd consider this a serious post. If the blog is not to be used for anything but academic discussions, the admins please feel free to remove the post or provide a link to this permalink to the origuinal post on my blog on the forum if you please.]
While the self-righteous world-audience seems unanimous in condemning Zidane's head-butt, with occasional apologetic consolatory offerings of peace in talking about how Materazzi had exactly provoked the French great, I find this debate rather fruitless to carry on. And repulsive.
Can't you see? This is not the common unsporting tactics of teams that we've been barraged with throughout this cup! Here is one man, a great footballer and one who takes his stature and his game seriously (some would even say, too seriously) - and in full glare of tv cameras he goes ahead and commits a foul which he's not interested in trying to hide. He knows what he's doing, and he was ready to face the consequences. The second he had the Italian on the ground, he was also taking off his captain's armband, fully aware of the end he has chosen for his unbelievably colourful career. It was a moment of honest rage, of righteous anger - the kind we rarely see these days, and it was directed purely and unapologetically at the other style of commiting fouls - the insulting whisper, the carefully executed illegal tackle hoping the ref wouldn't notice (or even hoping the ref might be conned to book the other guy for diving), and of course, the nonchalant dives which seem to be an integral part of the tactical armour of any modern soccer team.
When you have almost accepted diving and conning and succesfully executed illegal play as special skills that enhance an international player's worth, what moral right do you have to sit and judge a man who openly and publicly expresses his anger at being abused and takes on the consequences of his act without a word of protest? If the football officials and the moral pundits were a li'l more self-respecting, they should be burying their foul mouths in shame after this.
And then, when the world is happily viliying the courageous gesture of Zidane, here comes Materazzi, openly telling the world that he had indeed insulted Zidane, quite vilely at that, first pinching his left nipple and pulling his shirt, and when being offered the shirt after the match by Zinedine, he proudly states that he merely wanted to take the shirt off Zidane's wife. The implication being - I have not called him a terrorist, I have not abused him by bringing in his mother (two other rumours going around) and therefore it is quite okay if i was asking his permission to undress his wife. Bah!
The saddest part of the deal is that the Italians, with their ugly and monotonous defensive style, would now be grinning away to glory. Cuz they have won the world cup not by playing the best football out there, not even nearly the best. For sure they were given undue preference aginst Australia, and it was a match they looked quite sure of losing. But what has paid off for them is the traditional Italian club weapon of foul-mouthing your oppponent and taking his case and provoking him to retribute and therefore get sent off or warned. It's common tactics in all major Italian clubs (well, it's no wonder match-fixing scandals keep resurfacing there once so often) and is proudly referred to as "cunning" play. It's really sad to see this paid off against Zidane.
Indeed, provocations have paid off against the great Frenchman quite a few times in his career. He is a very quiet guy, used to bottling his reactions, but prone to losing his temper and going completely off the hook when he does finally react. This was such a moment. But in a World Cup marred by half as many bookings for divings as for fouls, and with its array of illegally won pivotal penalties, this was a moment of difference. I would choose to read this as a moment of open condemnation of the system which has all but officially taken such illegal tactics as part of the colour and nature of the "physical" game.
He didn't try to con anybody. He didn't claim innocence. He didn't even protest and say that he was abused and hence his reaction. He did what he wanted to do, what he felt he was justified in doing, he wanted retribution for the insults of Materazzi, for FIFA would surely be ignoring the Italian's provocations but for the drama that has come to surround them now. Zidane has forced us to look straight into the rather disconcerting contrast between genuine anger and violence produced through hurt on one side, and clever and vain dirty-play on the other. He was indeed abused (whatever the abuse was) and he just spoke with his action. He didn't try to hide his anger. He didn't try to justify his anger either. It was the most befitting way he could have said goodbye to a system which allows temperamental but basically quiet and honest players like Zidane to suffer through the dirty tactics of cleverly planned professional provocateurs.
Even if Zidane was not a genius, and I hadn't been witness to some of the most enduring moments of football magic thanks to him, even then I would have remembered him and honoured him for this one single gesture. It was brave and honest, and that a great professional like Zidane can risk his reputation and his national stature to stand up and react this way - it was a moment of freshness for me, and a great moment of pride. If Zidane had provided some exquisite football moments in a World Cup that had not been continuously rivetting by any means, he has also provided a proud and unapologetic counterpoint to the great tradition of cheating and conning that we've seen being showcased throughout this World Cup. I feel no need to be ashamed of such a gesture. It was a moment of real pride for the sport, if only it would get its priorities right.