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Zinedine Zidane is a legend. He has proved over and over that he is one of the best players of his generation, and potentially of all time. Zidane’s resume consists of two Serie A titles with Italy’s Juventus, and two La Liga titles and a Champions League with Real Madrid. Maybe most importantly he was part of a French national squad that won the 1998 World Cup. As if all this was not enough to include him among the greats, he was voted FIFA World Player of the Year four times in 1998, 2000, 2003 and 2006.

Why, then, is it that after one incident in the 2006 World Cup final in Germany – where Zidane famously head-butted Italian defender Marco Materazzi – books, magazines, reporters, fans and critics alike are suggesting that this incident has spoiled his career and his reputation?

Let me tell you something: for the most part, these people have no idea who Zidane is; these people don’t entirely appreciate what he has done for soccer; and these people haven’t taken the time to completely understand what transpired in that World Cup final game between France and Italy in 2006. Zidane is a hero and, in my eyes, did the right thing that day.

Zidane, nickamed “Zizou”, was born 1972 is Marseille, France. From a young age he was a natural talent and quickly propelled to the top of every team he played on. He played for the likes of Cannes and Bordeaux in France, Juventus in Italy, Real Madrid in Spain, and for the French national team. One of the reasons he is considered so great is because of his ability to find a way out of any situation. The balance he maintains while running with the ball or making a move is quite simply one of the most amazing features I have ever seen in a soccer player. Although balance sounds like such a lame reason for his greatness, it is anything but lame. He is never caught flat footed and is always ready to make a move when he see’s an opening. Watch here as the magician showcases some of his skills. Play close attention to how he always maintains his balance:

Zizou stands out in a game in his own specific way. Unlike other players who stand out for reasons of fancy tricks or who are very fast, Zizou simply dominates a game – he takes it over. One of his teammates from the French team in the 1998 World Cup can be quoted as saying: “when we don’t know what to do, we just give the ball to Zizou and he works something out.” — Bixente Lizarazu

Baring the stats, the video and the quote in mind, how can one incident taint a career of this magnitude? Some of you may ask, what incident? Here it is: a head-butt to the chest of Marco Materazzi. To set the stage, it is the 20th minute of injury time with 10 minutes before penalties in the final of the World Cup…it doesn’t get any bigger than this. Then this…France goes on to lose the match in penalties.

After having watched this video I would like to bring a few things to your attention. Referee’s always punish the reaction, but never the provocation. Unfortunately, often times it’s all they can do because it’s all they can hear or see.  as many of us know, a lot of things are done/said out of a referee’s view. Some fouls are not a result of provocation, but others certainly are. Do you honestly believe with 10 minutes to go, in what Zizou announced as the last game of his professional career prior to the game, he would turn around and do something of this measure because he felt like it?

Zizou’s actions were rightfully punished and are not tolerated in soccer or any other arena of sport. For all the young students and teachers of the game, this is exactly what you don’t want to see happen. However, put into context, Zizou’s reaction as a man of honor becomes commendable. Materazzi is known as a pest; he is known as a player who commits ugly fouls and awakens the worst in every player:

So what really happened? Materazzi pulled on Zizou’s shirt which provoked Zizou to sarcastically say that he will give it to him after the game if he really wants it. Materazzi went on to say words against Zizou’s mother and sister repeatedly. Zizou explains:

“Things happen on the pitch. It’s happened to me many times. But I could not stand it that time. My mother was sick. She was in hospital. This people didn’t know.… But it was a bad moment. More than once they had insulted my mother and I never responded.”

Put yourself in his shoes, would you react? I would certainly react. In life you always have to stand up for what you believe in and for what you love. Teaching this to kids and players instills a foundation of value that they will carry with themselves for the rest of their lives. If this exact situation occurred on a school playground you would be punished as well but, as a parent, would you whole heartily be mad at your child knowing how everything transpired?  Because it was the final of the world cup, Zizou’s reaction is considered stupid and foolish. On the playground he would have been praised for standing up for his family and against the school bully. And so it is for this reason that I conclude that what Zizou did was the right thing to do.

He is clear in his apology to the fans and soccer students of the world. Over and over he apologizes to people who had to witness it. He immediately assumed responsibility after the game and expressed this to his team: “when the game was done, I went into the dressing room and told my team, ‘Forgive me. This doesn’t change anything, but sorry everyone.”

Zizou is not proud of what he did, but he does not regret what he did. He is always the very first one to explain that he screwed up, but he maintains that what he did was for his honor and that of his family. In an interview with leading Spanish daily El Pais, Zizou explained: “but to [Materazzi] I can’t apologize. Never, never. It would be to dishonor me. … I’d rather die.” He added, “of course I reproach myself, but if I say ‘Sorry,’ I would also be admitting that what he did was normal. And for me it was not normal. If it was Kaka, an ordinary guy, a good guy, of course I would have apologized. But to this one! If I ask forgiveness of him, I lack respect for myself and for all those I love with all my heart.”

Zizou has my respect as a soccer player, but more importantly as a man. He is an icon. After having read this blog I hope that  fans, parents, coaches and playersa like realize that Zizou is a role model worth emulating…

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