Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Lasting Memory
By Imtiaz Mussa

I’m still waiting for someone to wake me up from this nightmare. I could have sworn that Zinedine Zidane was sent off in extra time of the World Cup final. It’s a wake up call that will never come. What we saw on the pitch in Berlin was real, a real nightmare for French fans.

Zidane walked off that pitch after being shown the red card for headbutting Italian defender Marco Materazzi. It is fairly obvious that the defender said something but he actually said will be the great mystery surrounding this World Cup. Whatever those words were, they changed the legacy of a player many were ready to put among the greatest ever.

People will take their guesses as they try to read lips. Some say it had to do with Zidane’s family while others say Materazzi called him a “dirty terrorist.” Remember, Zidane is a Muslim even though he says he doesn’t practice. The Times in England went to an expert lip reader to decipher.

After an exhaustive study of the match video, and with the help of an Italian translator, Rees claimed that Materazzi called Zidane “the son of a terrorist whore” before adding “so just f*** off” for good measure, supporting the natural assumption that the Frenchman must have been grievously insulted.

How would Zidane even understand Italian? Before joining Real Madrid in 2001 for a record £45.5 million, he was with Italian giants Juventus from 1996 to 2001. He can understand Italian though he might not be fluent. But still, no one will defend Zidane for his reaction. Even though what Materazzi said was potentially extremely cruel, Zidane can wait until after the match to settle the score or just do it on the pitch by leading the French to victory. I’m not going to tell you that if Zidane was there, France would win the World Cup because that is far from the truth. His sending off did deflate them but remember that Zidane had already scored on a PK earlier in the game. It’s one thing to take one penalty but when attempting a second one, the advantage clearly goes to the keeper.

Those who are so shocked by what Zidane did probably have a bit of a short term memory. While playing for Juventus, Zidane headbutted Jochen Kientz during a Champions League match and was sent off. In the 1998 World Cup, he stamped on Saudi player Fuad Amin in response to an alleged racial slur. The man has a temper that makes him human. But the world wants him to be Superman.

So what is the great Zinedine Zidane’s legacy? His resume is hard to match.

With the French national team:
FIFA World Cup
Winner: 1998
Runners Up: 2006

European Championship
Winner: 2000

With Juventus F.C.:
European Super Cup: 1996
Intercontinental Cup: 1996
Italian League - Serie A champions: 1996/1997, 1997/1998
Italian Super Cup: 1997

With Real Madrid:
UEFA Champions League: 2001/2002
Intercontinental Cup: 2002
Spanish League - La Liga champions: 2002/2003
European Super Cup: 2002
Spanish Super Cup: 2001, 2003

Personal honors:
FIFA World Player of the Year: 1998, 2000, 2003
European Footballer of the Year (Ballon d'Or): 1998
UEFA Champions League Most Valuable Player: 2001-02
Voted Best European Player of the Past 50 Years (UEFA Golden Jubilee Poll): 2004
and his final accomplishment: FIFA World Cup Golden Ball Award: 2006

It’s a brilliant resume for someone whom certain people did not give much of a chance. Though born in France, Zidane is of Algerian descent and actually has Algerian citizenship. He could have played for Algeria but manager Abdelhamid Kermali said the kid was not fast enough. He debuted for the French on August 17, 1994 coming on as a substitute in the 63rd minute with France down by two goals. He scored a pair to give Les Bleus the draw against the Czech Republic. The rest is history.

But in many ways, we remember the greats for their last act. We remember that Ted Williams hit a home run in his last AB. John Elway hoisted the Lombardi Trophy for the second straight year. The lasting memory we will have of Zidane is him walking past the World Cup Trophy and disappearing into the tunnel. He never came out to get his second place medal.

And so we found out that he was awarded the Golden Ball as the MVP of the World Cup. Many of the votes were cast during halftime of the final. Those who voted for Zidane might want to ask for their ballots back. Nevertheless, what’s done is done as he did play brilliantly only for one moment to shadow it all. But by the reception, the team got in Paris on Monday, you would never have thought they lost. Zidane was all smiles as he and the rest of team were greeted by President Chirac.

So what’s the final verdict? Zinedine Zidane is a legendary player who has shown us that even the greatest footballers are human.


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