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.


Rapid I Movement said...

Well, allegations and cross-allegations will always be there. As regards the Italians playing defensive football, well, wasn't this one of the most boring WCs ever anyways, because of the simple fact that most of the strikers failed to strike? Aside that one near-perfect match against Brazil, how much would the Frenchmen have deserved the cup anyways?
Just as Zizou's show of angst may well nigh have been justified from his standpoint, Materazzi's sledging, however vicious is justified too, solely for the fact that it was the bloody World Cup final, if nothing else.
I've nothing either for or against either of the teams (I support none of them actually) - but to rake up something so rampant as sledging in sports and yet be unable to take any meaningful action would be a shame to the international football community.
In other words, we need to move on.

Erythrocyte said...

To start with, any kind of serious ranting is welcome on this blog.
As for poor old Zidane, I feel much as you do. One of the most disgraceful spectacles this WC was the pathetic football that England played contrasting starkly with their self-aggrandisement, bad behaviour and sentimental hooey off the pitch, magnified a thousand times in the persons of the English fans, who insisted on staying on after England lost with the sole purpose of booing Cristiano Ronaldo (who i admit has not covered himself with glory.) The thing is, football religionists regard their football as a sort of transcendental phallic symbol rather like the linga of Shiva, but the fact is the ones who get ahead in the game are very often the ones who have the least idea or investment in 'manly' virtues. thus sneaky backstabbing, drama-queening and petulant infantilism are prized like gold and silver by teams with the urge to win. Is that gross or what?

Anonymous said...

This post echoes my thoughts to a large extent, though I feel that Zidane should have taken the matter off the football field if he wanted to fight it out. He was honest in what he did but he shouldn't have done it on the pitch.


I love Zidane, and I was going to say, even after that incident but I'll say especially after it. I just found the HEADBUTT ITSELF incredibly funny. Materazzi is one lucky boy to have got away with just a headbutt. I want him to be punished, in fact.

However, your argument against Italians (and oh, those generalisations!) - well, can I just say 'double standard'. Let me remind you that not everyone agrees that their playing style is 'ugly and monotnous'. And it's really quite ironic - here we were, outraged and troubled by the very idea that someone could call Zidane an 'Islamic terrorist', by the unforgivable racism of that (what he actually said, by reports, is worse, of course), but apparently Zidane is a saint as well as a great man (oh no, he never ever would do such a thing!), and, interesting, that it's just fine to make other racial/cultural stereotypes. Oh, those Italians - they're all so dirty. How dare they win the World Cup - the cunning, foul thieves!

In the end, I agree that the incident reminds us that there are more important things in life, and that football isn't played in a happy social vacuum, but I have no qualms declaring this: I found Italy's team performance to be worthy of the World Cup, and Materazzi's stupidity doesn't taint that entirely. Just as I think Zidane's greatness is not diminished at all by this one display of perfectly justified anger.

olidhar said...

oui, oui, but if i am zidane and do what he did, then materazzi wins, literally, and why on earth should i let THAT happen?

Confused & Baffled said...

Doing The Zizou

Some fun while we're on this topic.

Phõéníx said...

@ famous blue raincoat - "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...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."

Perhaps you need to take a look at the replay of the post incident reaction. Zidane knew he had committed the crime when the referee wasn't looking...he was looking to get away with it. If you watch the aftermath closely you will see all the French players crowd around the referee and try to make him reverse the decision and Zidane stands there shaking his head. Ordinarily he would've escaped scot free ala Hand of God, Rijaard spitting at the Germans etc. There is a French lawyer out there who has filed a suit against FIFA for the use of video technology which is outside the rules. He's trying to have the final replayed...we know it won't happen...but it will be a landmark movement if it did.

Soumik if you have been following football over the past few years you would know that such incidents are not new. Brazillian Adriano was banned for 3 odd games a couple of years ago for punching an opponent unconcious on the field of play during a Champion's League game.

Rewind to one infamous match at OT where the referee awards a dubious penalty against Arsenal which Ruud van Horseface fails to convert...and all hell breaks loose afterwards where Arsenal players openly taunt and push Nistelrooy around. Why the hostility against Man Utd's penalty taker? Well Horseface got Patrick Vieira(then Arsenal captain) sent off after he had clambered using his studds onto the back of the player while making a challenge for the ball. Vieira who had been floored kicked out in the direction of Nistelrooy(who was well out of range) and was shown a red card for intent. Honest rage? You decide.

Whether it be an act of racism on the pitch or from the exists in football. If FIFA are going to remain hypocrits then players are going to take things into their hands...this reminds me of Cantona or even Gary Neville's encounter with disgruntled fans...more recently with Samuel Eto'o at Zaragoza(? Az should know!)

Players are under tremendous pressure when they play for their country or a high profile club. As for Zidane, this incident just shows us that he is mortal like the rest of us. It is the media that labelled him God...and now they are the ones replaying the head butt over and over just incase we missed it the first time. 'It gets worse and worse each time you look at it' - this is all they have to say about the incident. Zidane is a legend and in my opinion all this incident did is take the shine of the Italian Job. If you think about we are talking about Zidane's gesture and the WC Final has taken a backseat. Zidane will remain the subject of speculation for years to come. Again...Zidane did not faulter at the final hurdle along with the Frenchmen on the pitch...he had to watch from the sidelines.

I was wondering whether anyone would like to put up a post on diving. I shall like to post upon the blinkered media focus on simulation in world football today. But I'd like someone to take the lead and throw in the usual suspects first. Hehe!

@ rapid i movement - "how much would the Frenchmen have deserved the cup anyways?"

More than most. France had come through a group containing Switzerland(the team which conceeded 0 goals during the tournament) ,South Korea(Semi finalists in WC2002) and Togo(Who held off the likes of Cameroon and Nigeria to announce their arrival on the world stage). France scraped their way out of their group coming second...but if you go back to the South Korea particular to Patrick Vieira's header which clearly crossed the line and wasn't given...the French would've won that game if our dearest 4th official cared to intervene.

France then faced Spain, Brazil and Portugal and eventually Italy. rapid i movement I think I have answered your question.

Sue said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sue said...

I still believe he should have waited till after the match. I know the provocation was immense, but to watch the man walk out of the final ruined the tournament for me. Other people do that, but not him, not at his last appearance.

Rooney making an idiot of himself had its funnier aspect (not least being the reaction of my young cousin in Yorkshire who has been supporting Man U and therefore Ronaldo all this time!) but this was just heart-breaking.

Anonymous said...

@Sue: Tintin da says that if Zidane took the incident off the pitch, then it would have been a criminal case and not a footballing offence.

Rapid I Movement said...

@ phoenix - er...good teams are supposed to pull these things off anyways, na? Take the Brazil-Ghana match for instance - Ghana was unlucky and Brazil played below par. That didn't make much diff to the score, did it? I thought they were starting to come together as a team. But then of course Zizou happened.

What I wanted to say was that neither France or Italy quite had that winner's spark of 2002's Brazil or 1998's France.

Phõéníx said...

I'd disagree...until the Germany match one couldn't see the Italians springing a surprise without the referee's intervention. As for I said...the three match winning streak(Spain, Brazil and then Portugal) demonstrated that they were worthy finalists. I'd have loved to have had a Germany - France finale but it wasn't to be. If you talk about that spark...I'd say Germany and France had it.