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Zinedine Zidane's head-butt
The crowd are whistling. Something has happened. Marco Materazzi is on the ground. The match commentators are confused. They think David Trezeguet has had something to do with it but they are just guessing. Their eyes, and the eyes of hundreds of millions of people around the world, were on the other end of the pitch. They did not see it.
Gianluigi Buffon did. He races to the officials on the sideline, remonstrates and points fingers. By now the rest of the players have cottoned on. On the sidelines, Marcello Lippi has to be restrained. In the midst of it all one man is calm. Zinedine Zidane just stares ahead. Having talked with his assistants, the referee, Horacio Elizondo, approaches the French captain. A red card is waved. Zidane, with an arm around his shoulder, tries to explain that he had been provoked. It is all to no avail.
What many people
forget is that Zidane was not supposed to be there in the first place. The shock exit at the hands of Greece in Portugal at Euro 2004 had signalled what he called “the end of a cycle” and had convinced him that he should retire from international football. It was no longer for him. On 12 August 2004 he released a statement on his website. “I have thought long and hard over this decision. I think that at a given moment you must say ‘stop’ … There have been some great players who retired in 2000 and 2002, other players are doing it and now I’m doing it.”
Almost exactly a year later Zidane would use that very same website to announce his return. There had been rumours that he would do so but Zidane had publicly denied them. When asked by L’Equipe for his reaction to the news, Christophe Dugarry, a former World Cup-winning team-mate of Zidane’s, instructed the paper not to run the story as he thought somebody must have hacked the website. There had been no piracy involved, however, Zidane was back. “For the very first time in my life I have decided to go back on my word which is very important for me,” read his statement. “When I made the
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decision to retire I was
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very serious – today I have made the same decision but in reverse.” Zidane had listened to the voice.
“One night, at 3am, I suddenly woke up and I then spoke with someone,” he said, explaining his reason for coming out of international retirement. “Until I die I will never tell [who that person was], this is just too crazy. This is someone that you will probably never meet. During the hours that followed I was on my own with that person, at home, and I took the decision to come back. I had never experienced that before, I felt pushed by this force which dictated my behaviour. It was a revelation for me, I had to obey that voice that was advising me.”
The manager of France, Raymond Domenech, publicly declared himself to be “extremely happy” that Zidane – as well as Claude Makélélé and Lilian Thuram – had decided to come out of retirement and so he should have been. Domenech had done very little to persuade the three players, who had a combined age of 98, to stay on when he took over from Jacques Santini in 2004 but his France side were struggling through World Cup qualification and in need of experienced professionals. The manager looked out of his depth. Writing about France and Zidane’s return for the Observer a year before the tournament, Darren Tullett quoted one French World Cup winner as saying: “Domenech is a prat and we haven’t got a clue what he’s going on about half the time.”
The results at that stage in the qualification process backed up the player’s claim. France may have been undefeated but there had been too many unconvincing displays in a weak enough group. That was especially true at home where they had racked up scoreless stalemates against Israel, Ireland and Switzerland
(Cyprus and the Faroe Islands made up the rest of the group). That left Domenech’s side in fourth place, three points behind the group leaders, Ireland, with just four games to go. Their hopes of making Germany looked set to be dashed. However, with Makélélé, Thuram and Zidane
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restored to the squad France won three matches, drew the other, finished top of their group and the country could let out a sigh of relief.
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