A sublimely elegant footballer with a touch of pure genius, Zinedine Zidane used his head on the biggest stage of all – and ended his stellar career in ignominy.
Zidane’s famous headbutt in the 2006 World Cup Final in Berlin stunned the watching world.
But for those who knew the Frenchman’s fiercely competitive nature it perhaps wasn’t such a surprise.
A heated off the ball confrontation between Zidane and Italian defender Marco Materazzi boiled over when the Real Madrid legend took issue with a remark allegedly made against his mother.
Turning, he headbutted his opponent’s chest, knocking him to the ground. The inevitable red card followed a moment later.
Without their best player – and arguably the best player in the world at the time – France fought a rear guard action to hold on for a draw. But Italy ended up winning the game on penalty kicks.
“What I said was stupid,” Materazzi said later. “But it didn’t deserve that reaction.”
“You would hear stronger words said on the streets of Naples, or Milan, or Paris, much more serious things.”
Materazzi claimed he spoke to Zidane about his sister, and not his mother, as if that was any better.
So the final that began with a Zizou penalty beating Buffon in the first six minutes ended in infamy.
In a career that spanned 18 years and included 15 trophies, the then 34-year-old midfielder had won a wonderful reputation for his serene majesty on the ball. Then the moment of madness.
“If you look at the 14 red cards I had, 12 of them were a result of provocation. This isn’t justification, this isn’t an excuse, but my passion, temper and blood made me react,” Zidane would say by way of explanation of his rush to the head.
For many players, the head butt would have destroyed their reputation, but such was Zidane’s standing in the game that it was a blip. A big blip, maybe, but not fatal.
Now Zidane has brought his winning ways back to Real Madrid as the team’s Champions League winning coach.
With stars like Ronaldo and Bale, his team is capable of some stunning football.
But with the French master at the helm, you can be sure they will play ugly as well if the situation suits.
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