Monday, July 10, 2006

Perceptions part 2

A few categories of reactions to the WC final (and the head-butt incident that will have newspaper subs around the world dredging up old clichés and dreaming up new puns):

1) If Zinedine Zidane isn’t a personal hero and you didn’t support the French team: you shake your head in smug self-righteousness and make noises about a great player ending his career in disgrace, condemned to be remembered for all time for one shameful incident. All the while you’re shivering with the very particular excitement that comes with watching heroes being toppled off pedestals.

If you belong in the above category and you’re also a Calcuttan, you earnestly explain to TV channels that you’re pleased Italy won because they beat France, and France had earlier beaten Brazil, which is of course the best team in the world. Intermittently you scream “Ronaldinho! Ronaldinho!”

2) If you’re a middle-of-the-road Zidane fan you brush off tears, mutter darkly that he must have been provoked beyond human tolerance to do something like this; you talk about the red mist in a great player’s head, about the thin line between genius and madness – you point out that both qualities spring from the same source, that one cannot exist without the other, and this is why the careers of many great sportspersons make for such fascinating studies.

3) But if you’re a genuine Zidane devotee – like a dear friend with whom I’ve had some immensely stimulating discussions about sport and life – this is what you say (and I’m quoting as best as I can remember):
I mean sure, he had to be red-carded, no question about that. But did you see that head-butt? If you have to end your career with a head-butt, this is the perfect way to do it. It was as graceful and effective and beautiful as everything else the man has done in his entire career. Marco is a hulking six-footer and he went down like a tree. And what’s with this idiot Times correspondent going on about how Zidane’s career didn’t end on the poetic note he was hoping for? Has the man ever actually read any poetry? Or was he talking about Westlife songs? What happened with Zidane here was positively Homeric.
And later:
Watching a man like Zidane, whether he’s playing or head-butting, you realise that all you’re ever going to be is this poncey little journalist carrying a laptop around, pretending that your life is actually worth something.
And then you spend the whole night practicing artistically executed head butts against the wall of your room.

[Clarification: I haven’t been following football long enough to fit in any of the above categories myself. But if I did, it would probably be somewhere in the second.]

P.S. My friend also called my attention to a press conference by the Israeli prime minister, telecast Live on CNN this morning, where the man spent the first five minutes congratulating Italy on their WC win, and only then moved on to the subject of violence in Gaza and the need for Israel-Palestine peace. Lovely.


  1. I am told by reliable (and green) sources that what Materazzi actually said to Zidane was, "I have heard a lot about the poetic force of your headbutt. I have been longing to learn from you how it's done. Can you show me please?"

    Ah, life!

  2. And what a headbutt it was. O tempora, O Mores. Red cards be damned. I'd lose the whole cup just to be able to give back to some idiot Italian pretty boy trying is hand at some 'sledging'.... He's still my idol!

  3. Both category 2 and 3.

    That was a beautiful head butt. With no backward movement, he got awesome power into it. Fabio Grosso also deserved one.

    A couple of videos:

    1. THE headbutt
    2. A compilation of some of his best moves on the field. Not the headbutt, though.

  4. hehe.. good one :)

    I thought I was in category 2 but after reading your friend's defence I won't mind moving to category 3!!

    and why haven't angry Calcuttans spammed you yet? :)

  5. TTG: Materazzi a pretty boy? Ahem, ok. Del Piero yes, Cannavaro yes, Materazzi ain't winning no beauty contests.

    Jai, there's a fourth category as well. Clueless American journalists who've spent their entire lives writing about baseball and then suddenly packed off by equally clueless editors to cover football. Resulting in the most inane set of articles on football I've ever read. Here are samples:

    As for Zizou, I can only sigh like the French commentators and say "Porquoi Zizou?" But I'm vindicated, I said the Italians would win and they did.

  6. Incidentally, west bengal govt is going to invite Zidane to learn from his "skill", read a PTI wire item today. One wonders if they want to use it with a frail Manmohan Singh
    Jai, will you let me know of this friend's name. What a comment he made. Exactly mine, though not as well expressed. My guess: Yusuf Begg. ET colleagues are chanting at my back that they love Zidane's butt. Whatever that means.

  7. I have quoth you without permission. And now will blithely thank.
    Apologies for being cheeky
    here,if you want to check.

  8. Pankaj: nope, not YB. This was Shougat - and I assure you, my feeble transcription doesn't begin to capture the way he said what he said. I probably missed out a few gems too.

    LOL at Manmohan Singh and Bengal.

  9. I think everyone, including your friend, is missing the comic significance of Zidane's head-butt. This is not Homeric tragedy, this is bathos at its finest. Can't you just picture the Marx brothers movie where the final football match is being played, the game is down to its final moments, victory and defeat hang in balance - so what does Harpo do? He knocks his opponent down by head-butting him! Too bad that the referee didn't have more of a sense of humour. People need to stop taking football so seriously.

    Personally, I think Zidane should forget football and other such children's games and move on to real sport - like bull-fighting for instance. Wouldn't it be fun watching him do these head-butts against a red-cloaked matador with a sword?

  10. Falstaff: have to say (while clinging desperately to my heterosexuality) that Zidane is a lot hotter than Harpo in that brooding, intense way. Definitely more Homeric than Marxist.

  11. Sure, but can Zidane play the Harp?

    Leaving aside your (deplorable) taste in men, how Homeric an episode in isn't a function of how good looking the key protagonist is (outside of execrable Brad Pitt movies). If this really had been Homeric then Zidane would have chased this Materazzi guy around the football field some 7 times and THEN head-butted him. And Materazzi wouldn't just have flopped to the ground and jumped blithely up again, his limbs would have been unstrung and his football uniform would have clanged down upon him and darkness would have shaded his eyes. This whole encounter is way too bloodless and civilised for Homer.

  12. Hey! You say anything bad about Troy and I'll hunt you down (since we're in the same city now), head-butt you twice, tie you to the underside of my car and drag you around India Gate seven times.

    And Zidane can play anything he wants to, even my heartstrings (last remnants of heterosexuality dissipate)

  13. Zidane plays fair, he doesn't use his hands...

  14. Yo, according to itv, this is what Materazzi said : " 'I slept with your mother last night and she is an Algerian whore ". If it is true, then I'd say Zidane should have done a little stomping on the family jewels, ala Rooney.

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  16. j'ock (sorry that was me in the previous comment)

    Can I marry you? Anyone but anyone who stands up for the delectable Zidane deserves at least a proposal of marriage.


  17. Oh! Perfect !
    I purfectly belong to first category (except that i am not from calcutta). Especially that I wanted Italy to win bcoz France beat Brazil ! He he!

  18. I call for nation-wide Pizza Strike.

    Zidane I believe in.

  19. Sriram, ITV as in ITV in the UK? Here's another version, which apparently might be closer to the truth.

    "The Brazilian newspaper Globo showed the video to three deaf and mute teenagers who are skilled at lip-reading. They believe Materazzi said, "Tua sorella è una puttana" (your sister is a prostitute), followed by an obscene gesture. The French website said the latter version was confirmed by a source close to Zidane."

    But if Materazzi said that, then does Zidane understand Italian? I know he speaks Spanish, and did spend time in Juventus, so perhaps he does understand enough.

    Anyway, there are several alternative insults in the running, including one where Materazzi wishes death on Zidane's family. The only one Materazzi's denied explicitly is the "dirty terrorist" one.

    If he said any of these things, he deserved a less elegant headbutt than the one Zidane delivered.

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  21. Sorry, Jai, I'm spamming your comment box like crazy, but one more and then I'm off. This is fresh off the press, Materazzi's agent gave a statement:

    "Speaking to his English agents, First Artist, the Italian defender was adamant that his remarks were not designed to get Zidane sent off.

    Materazzi: I didn't call him a terrorist

    Materazzi admitted that he tweaked the France captain's nipple as they clashed in extra time. After which, it is alleged Zidane responded: "If you want my shirt so much, you can f****** have it after the game."

    The Italian said that he then replied: "I'd rather have the shirt off your woman," a supposed reference to the Frenchman's wife Veronique.

    Materazzi's agent Phil Smith said: "There was no way Marco meant to cause such a reaction.

    "It was just a typical innocuous football insult commonplace in every game. Marco is adamant he didn't call Zidane a terrorist. "

    Read the rest here:

  22. My reaction turned out to be a mix of two and three...superlative headbutt only regret was the headbutt was to Materazzi's chest and not his face so as to cause a broken nose...
    (Btw,didnt Figo's hadbutt go unpunished??)

    J'ock - thank you endorsing Zidanes hotness..hehehe

  23. Swati: no problem about the "spamming", but one can easily make the argument (as Falstaff does here) that no matter what Materazzi said (racial insult, family-directed abuse, whatever), ZZ shouldn't have responded to something verbal with physical violence. It's one of the unsaid rules of living in a civilised society (personally I'm not sure that we are, and I'm always pleased on some level when I see people's primal sides come to the surface - but oh well...)

    I'm happy to leave it at this: ZZ had a moment of madness (call it red mist, call it the dark side of being a sporting genius) and did something that he himself in all probability regretted just a couple of seconds after it was done. He got red-carded for it, as he should have. The matter should end there. My problem is with people getting sanctimonious and judgemental about the whole thing - especially these high-horsed remarks about how this incident will dwarf all the good things about his career. That's plain nonsense, especially since most of it comes from people who will themselves never achieve at anywhere near the level that this guy has (at whatever they are good at).

  24. Two Lessons From WC 2006
    1. Cheats always prosper. The most polished cheats won.
    2. You have to be a fucking idiot to be provoked into physical reactions when that is exactly what the other guy is hoping for. ZZ put his team into a hole because of his anger management issues. He almost certainly lost out on major financial bonuses which would have come the french team's way in the event of their winning.

    He could have controlled himself, tried to win the match and then slugged MM afterwards or humiliated him publicly with reference to the incident.


  25. The lesson to be learned from all this is that lip-reading is a sham.

  26. The only lesson to be learnt is that there are no lessons and life is meaningless.

    As a final personal aside: if I ever got that close to Zizou I would certainly try to touch his nipple. (Heterosexuality quotient -3 and sinking.)

  27. Bernard Levy settles the Homeric connection of Zidane's headbutt really well here.

    Achilles had his heel. Zidane will have had his--this magnificent and rebellious head that brought him, suddenly, back into the ranks of his human brothers.

  28. More on the Homeric connection: Bernard-Levy should read his Iliad more carefully. If this really was a Homeric incident, then the real reason for the head butt would be that Hera was on the Italian's side and Zeus made a deal with her saying that he would let Zidane play and win all the glory through the tournament (plus the golden bootlace or whatever it was he won) and then make him lose it all in the final moments to satisfy her and Aphrodite and Poseidon. And Zidane wouldn't be head butting to prove himself human all too human, he would be acting out of hubris - the belief that he was invincible and that everything was permitted him, forgetting that he was still mortal and could be red-carded.

    Bernard Levy's much closer to the truth when he picks on Dostoyevsky. You can imagine Raskolnikov sitting in the wings and nodding his head in understanding.

  29. Stumbled on this post and liked your analysis of it. Gives a nice feeling of having the license to think in terms of ctegory 3! I guess I belong in the middle-of-the road category too. You might want to read the last para of my latest post, which is a 'destiny' perspective on the whole thing. Cliched it may be, but it's a perspective all the same.

  30. An hilarious sms doing the rounds:

    The mystery is finally solved.

    Materazzi asked Zindane, "bhai, hum chlor mint kyo kaate hain?"


  31. Chlormint queries, mother-insults, sister-jibes, this and that and this and that - simply ridiculous.

    We might think that we're having the most fun out of Zidane's folly, but you should see the French. People say they dont have a sense of humor. This should prove them wrong.

    Doing The Zizou!

  32. I would've dozed off during the extra-time if not for the timely butt. The match was better than I expected though. It's sad when two european teams meet in the finals. Predictably, Henry was the only exciting striker around.

  33. Boss, you are a prince among men...but even you need friends like this. I agree with him--as we like to say--200 percent. He is right about Zidane and, more than that, alas, about us.