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    Butthead Zidane Headbutted Materazzi

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    Skallet Zidane skallet til Marco Materazzi (in Norwegian)

    Zidane's head butt, Wayne Rooney's testicle trample, and Daniele de Rossi's surgical opening of Brian McBride's face, Germany 2006 was a real thing—a cruel, violent test of wills.

    Although replays of butthead Zidane's headbutt were not shown to fans on the big screen, they were witnessed on the hundreds of televisions in the Olympiastadion's media seats - and by millions around the globe watching on TV at home.

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    On arriving in Marseille, in the mid-1960s, Zidane's father, Smaïl, worked as a warehouseman, often on the night shift. But he was an attentive father and was disturbed to discover that his son often had ightmares when his 'Papa' was away. He remembers Zinedine as a 'gentle little boy' but one who was still energetic
    enough to smash all the lights in the apartment with his ball (not his head, YET!).

    It's easier now to imagine Zidane as the precociously talented teenager, nicknamed 'Yaz' by his brothers, practising his intricate footballing touches in the gravel of Place de la Tartane, the central square in La Castellane. Yet photographs from this time show an anxious child, eager to please, self-conscious but determined. 'Yazid was a very modest, humble lad,' says his childhood pal Doudou. 'We used to tease him about this. But we also knew if one us would succeed it would be him. He was always very sure of winning.'

    One of the theories about Zidane as a player is that he is driven by an inner rage. His football is elegant and masterful, charged with technique and vision. But he can still ERUPT into SHOCKING VIOLENCE that is as sudden as it is inexplicable. The most famous examples of this include head butting Jochen Keintz of Hamburg during a Champions League match, when he was at Juventus in 2000 (an action that cost him a five match suspension) and his stomping on the hapless Faoud Amin of Saudi Arabia during the 1998 World Cup finals (this latter action was, strangely enough, widely applauded in the Berber community as Zidane's revenge on hated Arab 'extremists'). The same seems that is happening NOW!

    Zidane's first coaches at AS Cannes noticed quickly that he was raw and sensitive, eager to attack spectators who insulted his race or family. The priority of his first coach, Jean Varraud, was to get him to channel his anger and focus more on his game. According to Varraud, Zidane's first weeks at Cannes were spent mainly on cleaning duty as a punishment for punching an opponent who had mocked his ghetto origins.

    By the time he arrived at Juventus, in 1996, he had become known for his self-control and discipline, both on and off the pitch. He had developed these traits during a spell at Bordeaux under Rolland Courbis, a fellow marseillais and one of the craftiest heads in French football. Courbis understood immediately that Zidane was an untamed talent. He described the player's two years at Bordeaux as a period when he most needed direction. It was at Bordeaux that he acquired the nickname 'Zizou' and learnt to keep his emotions under tight control. 'You could see he was an extraordinary player straight away,' says Courbis now, 'but it was a moment in his career when you couldn't afford to do just anything with him. For example, you couldn't just give him his head and burn him out in a season.'

    And yet in his early days at Juventus, particularly in big matches, some of his temperamental faults would RESURFACE, and there were doubts over his ability to lead from the center of the pitch. The coming years in Serie A hardened him and it was no accident that during this period he emerged as probably the best midfielder in the world. However the Juventus fans, including the club president Gianni Agnelli, were dazzled by his football but baffled by his reluctance to take advantage of the rewards on offer in Turin - the girls, the nightclubs, the cars. Unlike Michel Platini, who been loved by the Juve fans as much for his flamboyant wit as for his football, Zidane was remote, inscrutable, devoted to his Spanish wife Verónica, his extended family and his children, 4 of them - each of them with Italian names (So you know it!).

    Most tellingly, after the 1998 World Cup, Zidane published a book, "Mes copains d'abord" (My Friends First), with Christophe Dugarry, fellow veteran of Bordeaux and the World Cup squad. Zidane was here more explicit than he had ever been before about what the victory had meant for him and his community: 'It was for all Algerians who are proud of their flag,' he said, 'all those who have made sacrifices for their family but who have never abandoned their own culture.'

    No one seemed to notice when this quotation was quietly dropped from the second edition of the book. Nor that, in allowing this to happen, Zidane had committed a minor but telling form of self-betrayal.

    Zidane's occasional violence may well be a product of this internal conflict: the French-Algerian who is for ever suspended between cultures. But it is equally likely that, although in public he presents a serene and smiling face, he is underneath it all every bit the same hard nut he had to be to survive the mean streets of La Castellane. 'Nobody knows if Zidane is an angel or demon,' says the rock singer Jean-Louis Murat, who is himself a fan of the player. 'He smiles like Saint Teresa and grimaces like a serial killer.'

    This much had been in evidence at the match we had watched at the Bernabéu one evening. For most of the game, Zidane had patrolled the center of the pitch with his customary authority and flair, tracking the Sevilla midfield with subtle predatory instinct. Just once or twice his nostrils flared and a boot went in harder than it should have done, or a Seville player was snapped in two by a reckless tackle only an inch or two from assault. 'I may have had a lot of luck in my life, but I still need to find a challenge in the game,' he says the day after the match.

    These are not words that explained or justified his irregular OUTBURSTS OF VIOLENCE, but they do suggest that there is much more to Zidane. 'It's hard to explain but I have a need to play intensely every day, to fight every match hard,' he told a journalist. 'And this desire never to stop fighting is something else I learnt in the place where I grew up. And, for me, the most important thing is that I still know who I am. Every day I think about where I come from and I am still proud to be who I am: first, a Kabyle from La Castellane, then an Algerian from Marseille, and then a Frenchman.'

    So spoke Zinedine Zidane in a revealing interview two years ago. To Zidane, a game of football is an opportunity to practise his art, but it is also a struggle with his opponents and his inner demons.

    It was not even the first World Cup where his street-fighter instincts had spilled over. In France '98 he was sent off and banned for two matches for stamping on Faoud Amin of Saudi Arabia.

    Two years later he head-butted Hamburg's Jochen Keintz while playing in the Champions League for Juventus and was banned for five games. In total, he has been sent off 14 times in his career.

    Perhaps Italy's Marco Materazzi remembered these incidents and pushed the right buttons to send this man, who usually appears such a sensitive soul, over the edge.

    Those who know Zidane believe there are two parts of Zidane's life that he defends fiercely: first of all his family, and then his race and background.

    Zidane's family are Berbers, originally from the Kabylie region of Algeria, a group distinct from Arabs. In a country like France where racial tensions are so wound up that National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen can openly criticize the national team for having "too many players of color", the midfielder deserves praise for his bold stand against racism -just that, but NOT against VIOLENCE.

    Listen to the MP3 audio version of this story here:
    http://media.slate.com/podcast/Slate060711_Zidane.mp3

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