No doubt some footballers have chosen to make some dubious decisions, but does their ability on the pitch determine what they are remembered for? Does world-class status in the footballing world mean absolution? For Zidane it did.
Anyone who grew up in the nineties or naughties idolised Zinedine Zidane. Zizou to his contemporaries, he revolutionised the midfield position and is unquestionably the greatest attacking-midfielder of all-time.
Just look at this:
A goal of that calibre in the Champions League Final no less – and with his weaker foot – would see Zidane lift the 12th of 16 trophies during his accolade ridden domestic and international career.
This tally even neglects to include personal honours such as World and League Player of the Year. No doubt a diverse trophy cabinet, Zizou achieved league titles for Serie A and La Liga, the Champions league and both the intercontinental and super cups. If that wasn’t enough, a World Cup and a European Championship also featured during his playing career.
Zinedine Zidane lifts the 1998 World Cup trophy. pic.twitter.com/nLLjhMQYqP
— 90s Football (@90sfootball) November 9, 2015
He is and will always be a footballing God, but lurking in the shadows while recalling his great career is a gigantic Marco Matterazzi-shaped elephant in the room. Zizou’s last game for club and country was, almost miraculously, in the World Cup Final for France against European neighbours Italy. Upon comments from Matterazzi, he unleashed a headbutt into the centre of the Italians chest and was subsequently sent-off. France later lost on penalties.
For this offence Zidane was fined the equivalent of £3260 and handed a three-match ban, a ban converted to services to FIFA due to his impending retirement. Hardly seeming like a harsh punishment, this feeling of leniency was worsened by the similar fine levied on Materazzi, charged £2170 for his comments.
Additionally, Zidane also received the Golden Ball for best player in the 2006 tournament in Germany. FIFA spokesman Andreas Herren confirmed that no discussion was even considered relating to stripping Zidane of the honour.
“It’s scandalous to suspend a player for having said something. It’s the first time it’s been done and it’s only….. because they wanted to justify the action of a great champion (Zidane) but who was in the wrong.”
Such absolution for Zidane following violent conduct wasn’t an isolated incident. He received a two-match ban while playing for France for stamping on a Saudi Arabian player in the group stages of the 1998 World Cup. Which was then promptly followed by two goals in the Final and led to his image being projected onto the Arc de Triomphe.
Similarly, in his last season at Juventus before his record breaking £46.5million move to Real Madrid, Zidane faced a five-match ban for headbutting Jochen Kientz during a Champions League game against Hamburg.
Though such incidences may checker his glamourous and undeniably successful career, Zidane’s actions are largely left in the shadow of his greatness. An unforgettable headbutt indeed, but an action transcended by an eighteen-year career that most footballers can only dream of. A memorable incidence which history tells us was not uncommon for Zidane, yet his trump card was his beautiful, almost elegant ability on the pitch.