In his heyday, legendary French playmaker Zinedine Zidane, known to his friends as ‘Zizou’, was the epitome of grace and elegance. However, it should not be forgotten that he also had a hard, no-nonsense edge and was perfectly willing to transgress the laws of the game, if and when the need arose. In fact, he was sent off 14 times during his career, more often than not, he later reflected, as ‘a result of provocation’.
Fittingly, Zidane played his final professional match, as captain of France, against Italy in the FIFA World Cup Final at the Olympiastadion, Berlin on July 9, 2009. He scored a memorable opening goal, too, a Panenka penalty after just seven minutes, but will always be remembered for delivering a powerful headbutt to the chest of Italian centre back Marco Materazzi, which resulted in his dismissal in the second half of extra time.
Following the opening goal, Materazzi had been assigned by Italian head coach Marcello Lippi to mark Zidane. The pair subsequently had a few comings-together in the penalty area, after the third of which Materazzi frowned at Zidane, who responded by saying, ‘I’ll give you my shirt later’. Materazzi replied with a disparaging remark, along the lines of ‘I’d rather have your sister than your shirt, although he may, or may not, have also included the word ‘whore’. Either way, Zidane lost his composure and smashed his head into Materazzi’s breastbone so hard that he knocked the 6’4″ Italian off his feet. Argentinian referee Horacio Elizondo had no hesitation in producing a red card and Zidane was gone, for good, his side eventually losing 5-3 on penalties.