On Zidane

Dear Zizou,

I'll be forever fascinated by this moment. As a matter of fact, I can't stop watching it. The moment, the movement, is breathtaking, and not simply because I feel emptiness in my chest every single time I see it.

You made a choice. You chose tragedy, or something like it, over glory. A conscious, rational, and direct choice -- I believe that. And I have to believe there's a reason for that, and one that you are free to share or keep for yourself. There was venom in that blow, but also conviction; no doubt to your savage motion. Which is why I respect your choice like I respect any other. This does not excuse your action -- nor explain it fully (and, like your reasons for playing your last World Cup, we may never truly know, "Why?") -- but defines it as something freely elected, and not the "moment of madness" that many have deemed it. You may regret the chance to finish your career with your hands wrapped around Jules Rimet's trophy, perhaps also the sorrow of your fellow players at having lost a chance to celebrate as champions, but I suspect that you do not regret what you did.

(By the way, have you read A Happy Death? You may know its author.)

And what did you do? Only the most cold-blooded thing I've ever seen, either in football or elsewhere. A head-butt to the chest. Excuse me? On the world's biggest stage, with billions watching, and watching you -- the most famous man on the pitch and the best player this generation has ever seen -- in a World Cup Final that was yours (and your alone) to win. This was no Figo-esque forehead bump. Those are exchanged all the time, with no ill effect. No, you lowered your head and sprang forward with what seemed like incredible force into the chest of another man. The execution was flawless -- as expert as your free kick to Henry against Brazil, your chipped penalty to go up 1-0, even that supernatural Champions League volley against Bayer Leverkusen in 2002 -- could anyone have imagined a headbutt delivered more correctly, with more power, and with more accuracy, than that? I say again, who else, who else could have done that?

And you laughed a little before you did it.

Luis Felipe Scolari said an incredible thing about you. Something to the effect of: "[And I'm paraphrasing wildly... - Ed.] Zidane has a certain capacity to mesmerize all who watch him, fans and players alike. This quality is so unique and so magical that even those opposing players who are beaten by him with the ball still can take a kind of pleasure from it. The ball never cries when it is at is feet [100%, Scolari said that last sentence, no joke - Ed]."

And you can see it here too. Materazzi, whatever he said or did, was trying to provoke a reaction (And whenever we find out, of course it will not be enough to justify it in our minds...maybe). But who could have expected that? Lulled to sleep after slipping in perhaps the first or the tenth of unspeakable slurs, Marco walked right into that one. Pow. Delivered correctly, that kind of blow can kill a man. And I suspect that some part of you just may have been trying to kill Signore Materazzi. (How is he still alive, b/t/w?) Who knows, it may still happen. Sorcery, especially yours, works in mysterious ways. Don't be surprised if M.M. doesn't wake up tomorrow.

What amazes me most of all, however, is that you have managed, even in infamy, to do something so totally unexpected, so otherworldy, so incredible (in every sense of the word) that it makes the mystique that surrounds you even greater. This was absolutely stunning. Bizarrely glamorous in the same way as Cantona's famous Kung-Fu kick, you've somehow made the brutal beautiful. Violence and vengeance are and have always been sexy, but that move --- it's much, much more important than that.

Unless you tell us, one can never be sure exactly what was said, though it would be difficult to believe it had nothing to do with your parents and their nation of origin (No men of any deeper shades that I know think differently). It certainly wasn't the first time you'd heard something similar, and similarly reprehensible. Public figures from "France" have nearly said the same. If so, then was this you striking a blow for all those slurred against? For the Samuel Eto'os and Thierry Henrys of the world? I'd like to believe that, but perhaps I'm a bit overzealous here. You tell me (Please?) Or was it something more personal? Maybe you just didn't want to trade jerseys with anybody after the match. Ensure that your final jersey was yours and no one else's. It's a joke, it's a joke.

But a sacrifice, maybe? A point made with the crown of the head at the expense of a world championship? Is that worth more to you than any Golden Ball? Was that pure emotion, distilled into one unforgettable motion, more satisfying than lifting some weirdly shaped metal objet? Should we prize that instead? Even if it's rage? Who knows? Whatever was waiting for you down in that tunnel, past the Jules Rimet (in the saddest shot ever captured on sport cameras) is yours, and not for me nor anyone to judge.

Here are things that I hope do not happen, but are surely being thought and written in these next days, weeks, and years. That the "mean-streets-of-Marseilles/wrong-side-of-the-tracks" talk will be used as pretext to define you as a lost cause, a failed hero, a tarnished star. That it is in the nature of those who grew up as you did to revert to their upbringing. One can say this any number of ways: 'Once from the projects, always from the projects.' Which is another way to say even more despicable things. These ideas are even more insidious, more dangerous than any headbutt you could ever deliver.

But in a strange way, I think you've won. And I think you know this. What is it that people will remember about this World Cup, about this game? That Italy won? Maybe. Italians will certainly remember that. But the world will remember you. And that Italy won only because you were not there. That's a certain type of genius. Maybe evil, but genius. And the fact that you would never become a Maradona, a Beckenbauer, even a Platini -- an "ambassador for the game" as they are wont to say, only makes your decision, your action, stand further in relief: perhaps the last, forceful statement from the shyest wizard in the world. A retreat into legend and La Castellane. After all, you're 45th generation Carthaginian. Who did those guys play against again?

You have always been the most unknowable of footballers, of people even. You defined elegance and all synonyms thereof, as much as you did the word 'inscrutable'. I started out by saying that you made a choice, and I think I'm right. People, including me, have thought of you as having alien qualities. Here I think I'm wrong. Maybe you just chose to be human. Who could be mad at that?



P.S.- This guy is an idiot. A blithering idiot. "Dumb, dumb, dumb." You can tell him I said so, but apparently he's heard it already. But I'm sure he's never heard what you have.

UPDATE: See? "Impeccable."

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