Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Read my lips: the taunt that made Zidane snap
BY Matt Hughes

Our correspondent finds out what may have caused a great player to lose his head in such spectacular style

Watch video reports at Times Online TV

WITH his monkish mien backed by a sense of brooding menace, Zinédine Zidane has always been something of an enigma, so it is perhaps fitting that the final act of his career should be the source of such mystery.

Just why did a man blessed with complete control of a football lose his head in such a violent manner at such a crucial moment, boring it into the chest of Marco Materazzi?

As L’Equipe summed up the moment of madness with a headline of “Regrets Éternels”, a day of endless questioning began. With many conflicting versions of events circling on the internet and in the world’s media, The Times enlisted the help of an expert lip reader, Jessica Rees, to determine the precise nature of the dialogue that caused Zidane to react in such a manner.

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.

As the son of two Algerian immigrants, the 34-year-old is proud of his North African roots, dedicating France’s 1998 World Cup win to “all Algerians who are proud of their flag and all those who have made sacrifices for their family but who have never abandoned their own culture”, so such a slur would certainly explain, if not justify, his violent response.

When asked about the allegations on his return to Rome, Materazzi issued a vehement denial, while sources close to the player emphasised that he had not been accused of racism before, pointing to his close friendship with Obafemi Martins, the Nigeria and Inter Milan striker.

“It is absolutely not true,” Materazzi said. “I did not call him a terrorist. I’m ignorant. I don’t even know what the word means. The whole world saw what happened on live TV.”

Zidane was understandably keeping his counsel, but his agent, Alain Migliaccio, indicated that he had responded to extreme provocation. The Real Madrid midfield player is expected to break his silence in the coming days, with his dark mood at least temporarily lifted by yesterday’s news that he had won the Golden Ball as the player of the tournament.

“I know Zizou well and even though he hasn’t told me exactly what Materazzi said, I know that he was provoked,” Migliaccio said. “Materazzi said something very grave to him, I don’t know what it was.

“When he is calmer, he will speak. When I saw him at 2am he was very sad, he didn’t want to end his career like this. He was simply very sad. He was very sad for everything that happened, but this is life. He is a human being, not a god.”

With little in the way of hard evidence, Giovanni Melandri, the Italian Minister for Sport, was still urged to investigate, although such demands seem to be down to political opportunism rather than anything else. “If it were true, it would be a reprehensible act, which would not reflect the fair play that Italy and Materazzi himself showed during the tournament,” Riccardo Villari, a centre-left MP, said. “It would risk uselessly inflaming passions and creating tensions.”

With the racial allegations particularly sensitive, the other speculative suggestions as to Materazzi’s offending words were no less offensive, also focusing on Zidane’s father, Smaïl. Zidane is close to both of his elderly parents, who live in a house he bought for them outside his native Marseilles, and is thought to have phoned his mother every day during the tournament.

Another explanation being widely circulated yesterday was that Materazzi had insulted the memory of one of Zidane’s closest confidants and former coaches, Jean Varraud. The former AS Cannes coach died of cancer shortly before the tournament.

With Materazzi denying all such charges, sources close to the Italy defender even claimed that he had been insulted. Several Italian newspapers claimed yesterday that Zidane had insulted the Inter Milan player’s mother, with Materazzi retorting that the Frenchman “made love to his sister”.

Giuseppe Materazzi, the Italy player’s father, added to the intrigue by insisting that his son had been provoked. The 32-year-old is thought to be sensitive when it comes to the memory of his mother, who died when he was a young boy.

“Marco told me to enjoy the moment and put off all explanations on the incident until he returns,” Materazzi Sr said. “He just told me he had been provoked, the way he often has in recent years. It’s as if they have it in for him. In the last two seasons, Marco has always been on the receiving end, as you can see from his injuries.”

Fifa insisted that video replays played no part in Zidane being sent off. The incident was missed by Horacio Elizondo, the Argentine referee, and his assistants, but spotted by Luis Medina Cantalejo, the fourth official from Spain. "The fourth referee saw the incident with his own eyes and told the referee and the assistant referee through their headsets," Andreas Herren, a Fifa spokesman, said, adding that the fourth official had no access to video replays.

Amid the furore, one unpalatable truth has been lost — that Zidane has acted in this way before - as a record of 14 sending-offs in his career testifies. And as Varraud has recalled, his protégé’s first weeks at Cannes were spent mainly on cleaning duty as a punishment for punching an opponent who had mocked his ghetto origins.

Perhaps the only person unsurprised by Zidane’s final fall from grace was the French rock singer, Jean-Louis Murat, who prophetically encapsulated the essence of one of his heroes, a street fighter from a Marseilles council block who could play football with god-like grace.

“Nobody knows if Zidane is good or bad,” Murat said several years ago. “He smiles like Saint Teresa and grimaces like a serial killer.”

An enigma to the very end.

Additional reporting by Charles Bremner in Paris and Martin Penner in Rome

Step-by-step guide to the France icon's ignominious end
4.50pm: Leaves city-centre hotel on team bus.

5.25: Arrives at stadium to hero’s welcome.

5.50: Inspects pitch, the big stage for his final farewell.

6.25: Team warm-up; casually strokes ball around as if not a care in the world.

6.58: Wins toss of coin. Asks Italy to kick off.

7min: Dinks home penalty via crossbar. Looks sheepishly over shoulder at assistant referee to check that ball crossed line. Nonchalantly raises right arm in triumph.

19: Marco Materazzi equalises.

24: Balked by Simone Perrotta on edge of Italy area. Grimaces, but no foul.

57: Volleys goal attempt against Gennaro Gattuso.

80: Jumps, falls awkwardly on shoulder. Sits up, winces, glances in direction of bench as if to say: “I’m finished.” False alarm.

104: Passes to Willy Sagnol, sprints for return cross and heads powerfully. Holds head in hands after Gianluigi Buffon spectacularly tips ball over.

109: Countdown, ignition. Tangles with Materazzi, apparently harmlessly, going for cross. Play has moved down the pitch when Zidane exchanges words with Materazzi, walks away and smiles wistfully. Continues to walk, but, as Materazzi appears to mumble further remarks, turns and launches forceful headbutt into Italian’s chest.

110: Stands impassively as Buffon races from his area and remonstrates. Horacio Elizondo, the referee, has not seen the incident and neither have many players. Vague look of bemusement on face of “Zizou” as Materazzi receives treatment and Elizondo wanders over to touchline to consult assistant, who has been advised by the fourth official. Argentine official reaches for back pocket, returns to scene of crime and issues red card. Camera cuts to Raymond Domenech, the France coach, sarcastically applauding.

111: Zidane slopes off, passing World Cup trophy.

112: Referee restarts match with drop ball. It has taken 3½minutes to restore order.

115: Conspiracy theorists on television claim Materazzi tweaked Frenchman’s nipple.

9.35pm: Penalties. No Zidane, the spot-kick specialist.

9.37: David Trezeguet misses.

9.41: Fabio Grosso beats Fabien Barthez to win shoot-out 5-3 and World Cup.

9.55: France players collect runners-up medals. Barthez, the stand-in captain, leads them up to podium. Zidane is absent.

10.40: France players start to emerge from dressing-room. Zidane nowhere to be seen. “I haven’t seen him,” Sagnol says. Nor has Trezeguet. “What we have to remember is that he is an extraordinarily good player,” he says.

11.05: Team coach leaves stadium for hotel. Still no sign of Zidane. The inquest rages on. Adieu, Zizou.


What happens when the mist descends

Zinédine Zidane’s brilliant career ended in ignominy when he was sent off in the World Cup final. Here are five famous incidents when the red mist descended.

July 2006: Wayne Rooney is sent off for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho, the Portugal defender, and then pushing Cristiano Ronaldo, his Manchester United team-mate, in the quarter-finals.

June 1998: David Beckham was vilified by England fans after his sending-off in the World Cup finals against Argentina. England lost on penalties after he was shown the red card for kicking out at Diego Simeone.

June 2002: Claudio Caniggia, the Argentina forward, was on the substitutes’ bench waiting to be involved in a World Cup group match against Sweden when he took offence to a decision by Ali Bujsaim, the referee, and shouted abuse. He was shown the red card.

June 1994: With Brazil being held goalless in a World Cup round of 16 match against the United States, the hosts, Leonardo took out his frustration by elbowing Tab Ramos. The blow fractured Ramos’s skull and Leonardo was banned from the rest of the tournament.

June 1990: Frank Rijkaard and Rudi Völler were sent off in a niggly World Cup match between Holland and Germany. Rijkaard had been angered by a challenge from Völler and took out his frustration by spitting at the Germany forward. Völler retorted and the red cards came out.


Zinédine Zidane has been sent off 14 times in his career, two more than Vinnie Jones. Here are those red cards in full . . .

Sep 1993: Marcel Desailly, the Marseilles defender, punches him and the Bordeaux midfield player retaliates in kind.

Aug 1995: Slaps Thorsten Fink, a Karlsruhe player, in the face.

Oct 1995: Sees red for a tackle from behind on Frédéric Mendy, a Martigues player.

Sep 1996: At Juventus, sent off against Perugia after two bookings.

Jan 1997: Punches Enrico Chiesa, of Parma.

June 1998: Stamps on Fuad Amin, the Saudi Arabia captain, during World Cup finals.

Oct 1998: Commits a two-footed challenge on Paolo Sousa, the Inter Milan player.

Oct 1999: Receives a second yellow card for diving against AS Roma.

Sep 2000: Late challenge on Emerson, the Deportivo La Coruña midfield player, in Champions League.

Oct 2000: Butts Jochen Kientz, of SV Hamburg, and receives five-match ban.

Feb 2004: First sending-off at Real Madrid for thrusting hand into face of Pablo Alfaro, the Seville defender.

May 2004: Sent off for second booking after a rash challenge on Djalminha, the Deportivo midfield player.

April 2005: Tries to punch Quique Álvarez, the Villarreal defender.

July 2006: Butts Marco Materazzi in chest during World Cup final

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