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Commentary on Zidane's gesture by Dany Laferrière   Comments: 3  Post comment Printer friendly versionMore notes

Commentary on Zidane's gesture by Dany Laferrière
“If there were any doubts about the fact that Zidane was one of the best players in the history of football, after the final there can be no more!”
football, sport, racism, music, France, media, television
Thursday, July 13, 2006 10:40 GMT

Dany Laferrière is a francophone novelist from Haiti now living between Montreal and Miami. His commentary on the Zidane "header" - the head-butt attack on Italian player Marco Materazzi in the World Cup final - which I found on the blog of Alain Mabanckou, a great Congolese novelist, is fantastic, so here is a rough, and slightly edited, translation.

I didn't sleep much last night, trying to understand Zidane’s action, especially since all the opinions I heard resembled each other so much it was as if only one person had watched the match. The more there are of us, the more we seem to have the same opinion. I am always suspicious of a crowd that speaks with one voice. And it seemed that everyone was feeling sorry for Zidane: an unworthy end to the career of a great champion. It’s strange, but this version seemed just too bourgeois to me. In fact people weren’t really sorry for Zidane: they were only sorry for themselves. Zidane was just a character from the fairy story they told themselves each night before going to bed. Hardly a month ago, Zidane was only an old, tired player. Now he’s a fallen knight.


In the old, bloody fables of the Brothers Grimm, it was acceptable to have a red card ending. But today, in this strange epoch when everyone seems to have drunk Disney milk in their infancy, no one tolerates anything but rosy endings. Everything must finish happily. Our heroes must be loveable so that we can file them away in the cupboard of our happy memories. So where does that leave Zidane? The exemplary father, the man of discretion, the sportsman with a faultless career? Such are the epithets people have pinned to him.

Maybe it’s true, but what gets lost? What bitterness did he have to swallow before that fateful moment? What did he have to endure silently before deciding to seize control of his life again? Before becoming once again the proud young boy who played in the streets of Marseille? The one you could never insult with impunity about his mother or his race?

Marseille is not a joke. The National Front is not far away. And Zidane is a child of that epoch. He has always known there would come a moment when he would find himself looking into the eyes of a man he abandoned long ago for money and fame - and that man is himself. I don’t believe that the Italian player said to him anything that he couldn't stand to hear. He simply felt that this was the moment. His last match, the finale of the World Cup, at the very end. It was now or never. Otherwise, he had sold himself for good.

Don’t speak to him of lost dignity. This gesture was precisely about dignity, and he made it to recover some of his honour. He had already given everything to his team. Now it was for himself. Eight seconds out of a career of nearly twenty years. Because if he didn’t do it then, it would all be over. Anyway, he was exhausted, and the team could do without him.

I think that there are some moments in life which belong only to those who live them, and to no-one else. The moment when one refuses to play always appears stupid in the eyes of others. But what value has the pride of the collectivity when compared to the intimate pride of the individual? Just because there are many people watching a game, they all believe that it’s only a game. Zidane’s act was the intrusion of weighty reality into the game. Zidane is not playing anymore. He breaks the codes with a blow of his head.

I remember the moment of Charlebois’s death-blow, when he threw his drums at the French public. In France, everyone was astonished by such behaviour, and yet in Quebec, Charlebois instantly became a counter-cultural icon. They sensed something liberating in his gesture. For Zidane, it will be the same thing. Young rappers will surely introduce into their video clips the eight seconds where Zidane left the game to re-enter their stifling reality. For once, Zidane, who was legendary for never allowing his temperature to rise, embraced all those who do not know how to behave in public. His brothers from the street whose blood is still boiling.

Comment by "Sami"

“If there were any doubts about the fact that Zidane was one of the best players in the history of football, after the final there can be no more!” wrote the popular Russian daily, Komsomolskaya Pravda, before adding, “Only an epic hero, a titan, a Hercules could depart like that.” Dany Laferrière’s very personal commentary echoes that of many journalists around the world. Nine seconds which make an absolute human out of a being whose shoulders would have been crushed by the image of a god hung on him. The beauty of that gesture and its deep meaning are worth more than a gold trophy. For me, this entire World Cup could have been organized only so that we could see this astonishing culmination: this header that sought not the goal but a chest from which poisonous words flowed. For that alone, Zidane deserves the immortality that had already been predicted for him. As for the disappointment of others, they can do with it whatever they wish. They are truly some moments when others come after yourself, for they are not the essential. Especially when you understand their talent for condemning their instrumentalised heroes to absolute solitude.