Before even starting to talk about the unhappy events that marred what should have been a glorious exit for one of the gods of the game allow me to thank you. Thank you for the thrills and magic that you have provided through the years. Thank you for frequent examples of humility and gamesmanship in a world where gentlemen are becoming as scarce as good football. Thank you for the years dedicated to my favourite club and for gracing the pitch in Turin with your remarkable talents. Thank you for the good victories and even for the sad losses.
I am at a loss however when I try to understand and reconcile your actions in the past few days to the hero I had grown to admire and adore. I can only just begin to understand the build up of stress and emotions that must have accumulated in your mind before the World Cup final. I can probably barely estimate how these grew as cruel time passed on and there seemed to be no ending to this final adventure and the disgraceful lot of penalty shoot-outs loomed. I can imagine the umpteenth taunt that you must have endured from players who were too mesmerised and humiliated by your moves and tried to resort to psychological attacks in order to find a fault in your personality and weaken your majestic approach to the game. I can only begin to imagine…
I can also try to understand how irritating a walking lawn-mower like Materazzi can be on a day like this. A defender who at the most is capable of scoring one of the best own goals ever seen in the Campionato suddenly taunting one of the greatest can be a terrible ordeal. If I make an effort I can feel the hundred little shoves and kicks that Materazzi must have reserved for you as special treatment on this day. I can only think that the shoulder injury only served to exacerbate the pain of over ninety minutes of football and tough tackles and that it made you begin to see red through the build up of the metabolism fighting to alleviate the excruciating pain in the shoulder.
And then he spoke. Or rather it seems that you spoke and he replied. I tend to believe Materazzi. That he invoked your sister's name in not too courteous circumstances. That he did not mention mothers or terrorists. And both you and I know that football is not politics. That an insult on the pitch is not to be taken literally but as a provocation. That "son of a bitch" could just as well be "asshole", "shorty" or "fart". That the intent is not to slander whoever is mentioned but to irritate. It is part of the ugly bit of the game that is best left on the pitch and forgotten, that is over once the final whistle goes. For as long as football has been played the insult is as much part of the game as the tackle and the elbow in the ribs. I envy the ethics of rugby which include the acceptance of the rough part of the game – insults and all – only to pass on to a communal booze-up drinking legendary amounts of lager.
So that is why I cannot accept first of all that you reacted violently. I have never respected persons who explode into violence when something is wrong. There is ALWAYS a better solution. There is always a way that reaches out further. You should have known that Materazzi is of the kind who provokes. A professional and a human but always a professional – you should have stood firm and gave your answer with a magnificent play…. maybe a shimmy and a tunnel through the lanky defender's legs and a goal in the top right hand corner.
Instead we had the head butt. In worldvision. Unbelievable. But what irks me more than that is the fact that after you had sufficient time to reflect, and while the world was busy speculating on what insult could be so grave as to force Zizou le Maestro to headbutt Macellazzi you still did not learn the lesson. For Zizou, I expected you to forgive and forget. To tell the children that what you did was wrong (as you did) and also that you forgave the man (as you did not). That your reaction should never occur and that you DID regret it. I expected the gentleman to prevail.
You know these are difficult times. You know that fanning the flames of speculations about racism and terrorism does not help anyone. Except maybe yourself. Because as a victim you might hope to restore some of that dignity that was lost in the seven seconds of blind rage. I am sorry I do not see it that way. I would have elevated you even higher on the pedestal that is already as high as I could imagine had you decided to forgive and forget. Had you decided to tell the people that violence can NEVER be a solution. Had you decided to tell everybody that such incidents are ALWAYS regrettable.
There was no need to make Materazzi sound more of a villain. Did you think that the world did not assume that your reaction was provoked? Did you have to fan the flames of division by adding the spice of terrorism into the equation? Why? Haven't we had enough Danish cartoons and 9/11's? Do we need the entire Maghrebin population and immigrants to continue to be incensed? Would it excuse the World Cup final loss that was in the end due to a coach that was not courageous enough when necessary?
I do not want to end our relationship in this manner. I am prepared to forgive and forget. I am still ready to believe and remember in the Zidane who shines from the pitch, who loves kids and who will forever be an emblem for future generations after having gained his rightful place in the footballing Pantheon.
After all we are all human and we all err. It is the forgiving part that we tend to forget more and more nowadays.
Merci Zizou et bon chance!