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Colin Randall wrote here on France, things Anglo-French and more......but has moved

January 02, 2007

Zizou: the ifs and butts

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It does not take much insight into the English way of seeing and doing things to imagine the repercussions had one of our World Cup squad ended his career in Zinedine Zidane fashion.

An English Zidane would have been torn to pieces by press and public, hounded from pillar to post and left feeling he alone had cost his country victory.

In time, he would have been able to shrug off Most Hated Public Figure status. But he would never have been allowed completely to forget the moment of shaming stupidity.

And he most certainly would not, less than six months after the event, have been named his country's most popular personality in a respectable opinion poll.

But that is what has happened in France. Zidane's act of violence, butting the oafish Italian Marco Materazzi under some verbal provocation, has not so much been forgotten as ignored or understood or even applauded by the French public.

Zidane was one of my two favourite footballers of his time, another Frenchman - Thierry Henry - being the other. But my admiration for his consummate skill did not lead me to overlook his appalling disciplinary record - 13 red cards, more than a few of them for behaving as a lout.

On the morning after the last dismissal of Zidane's career contributed greatly to the wrong team winning the 2006 World Cup, the French sports daily L'Equipe gave front page prominence to a stern, headmasterly piece asking how he would explain his coup de tête to millions of youngsters who looked to him as a role model.

That is about as long as Zizou's humiliation lasted.

Later the same day, President Chirac cleverly sensed and exploited what was quickly becoming the public mood, and welcomed the French squad back to Paris as returning heroes and making light of Zidane's disgrace.

Before long, a jolly pop record glorifying the assault on Materazzi was all over the radio and in the charts.

An interview in which Zidane explained himself - a bit, and with regret but not apology - was to become the most-viewed Canal+ programme of the year. And someone in Italy began marketing sweatshirts showing two figures simulating the incident.

So which approach is right? I tend to agree with those who feel the British are far too quick to build 'em up and bring 'em down.

David Beckham did not deserve the abuse he received for the petulance that brought him a red card in France 98. Football is a game of passion and a player should not be consigned to eternal shame for a sudden loss of control.

But nor does Zizou deserve to be hailed the people's hero so soon after setting such an appalling example.

The French who voted for him acted like those parents from hell whose idea of supporting little Darren and Jason in a school match is to jump up and down on the touchline urging children to replicate the excesses of millionaire superstars they see on the telly.

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At January 02, 2007 4:04 PM, Anonymous SH said...

Bonne Annee, Colin Randall, and thank you for your piece on Zidane. I agree that the British press generally over-hypes the chances of British teams and individual sportsmen and women and then condemns them for not fulfilling illusory hopes. Poor Tim Henman has suffered this for years, and I hope Andrew Murray will be tough enough to ignore it. Can British journalists not stop their hysterical expectation-rousing and write in a more measured tone? As a Scottish supporter I have learned to live with disappointment. Looking at the English national rugby, football and cricket teams just now, I think others will have to do the same.

At January 02, 2007 6:01 PM, Blogger roadsofstone said...

Thanks, Colin. As a Hammers fan (0-6 yesterday to Reading) this really shouldn't be a day for thinking about football, but they so rarely are.

Eric Cantona was the French player I always loved to watch. Such simple genius, really - good positioning, clever anticipation, and clever flicks - yet he made the teams he played in complete.

Cantona was widely vilified after his attack on a Palace fan at Selhurst Park in 1995. The goon had been baiting him remorselessly, but there was simply no excuse for such behaviour.

And yet, somehow I found it quite easy to forgive him, and very much looked forward to the end of the long ban he received from the FA. By then he had been reclassified by the media, and consequently by me, as a 'flawed French genius', acquiring much more sympathy than a yobbish Rooney ever would, despite the level of violence involved.

It's double standards, I agree, but no doubt that's exactly how, as Cantona's natural successor, Zizou will be regarded, too.

At January 02, 2007 7:00 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

Is there no excuse? I wonder. I could never hold it against Cantona for being human and cracking under insufferable pressure. The same with Zizou - his red-card notwithstanding. I still regard them both very fondly.

At January 02, 2007 10:39 PM, Blogger richard of orléans said...

I think the French condemned the act but not the man. Certainly not that strongly either. But then it was seen as a rash of temper, an outburst under extreme pressure. An expression of human emotion, which is acceptable to a culture which finds the outward expression of human weakness normal. The wording I heard the most often was, ‘I don’t approve but I understand’ i.e. under that pressure I would have cracked up too. Zidane’s sheepish attitude towards his act was worth a thousand words and to ask him to give a hypocritical apology would have been seen as too Anglo Saxon. It’s that combination of modest pride, humanity, genuineness and extraordinary skill which makes him so popular. Henry , on the other hand, who is getting a reputation for selfishness is sliding down the popularity charts. He’s spent too long with the survival of the fittest Brits.

We know who Zidane is and his weaknesses for too long, this act was consistent with previous outbursts; it didn’t change our opinion. Sometimes he lost his temper, dribbled through the opposition, and scored a goal. It was the same man, we accept both aspects. There was no mileage in blaming him for anything; he has given us too much pleasure for too long. Besides the French press is civilised, nobody wants the Murdoch lot over here.

At January 03, 2007 12:11 PM, Anonymous Smiley said...

Interestingly, although some people still have never forgiven Becks for his 'kick' a few years ago. Christian Ronaldo seems to have been forgiven for his antics at the last world cup. I wonder if this is because he is not a Brit.

Good old Andy Murray seems to have a bit of a tetchy side which will undoubtedly enliven his relationship with the press.

Regarding Zidane, the collective French response to his act sums up why I would love to hate the French, but instead end up admiring them!

At January 03, 2007 6:10 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

This may be an appropriate place and time for Colin to offer his thoughts on the Sunderland sex scandal, which he has assiduously avoided up to now.

At January 04, 2007 11:28 AM, Blogger Colin Randall said...

About the Sunderland "roasting" scandal, I know little. Even Kevin Kyle, recently transferred to Coventry City, is in the dark despite asking around former colleagues. "I read it in the paper and had a right chuckle to myself," he told the excellent fanzine a love supreme. "If a bunch of friends did what they did, no one would give a s***. But 'cos it's a bunch of footballers, it's a massive scandal."

At January 04, 2007 11:46 AM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

Do you at least know anything of the word "roasting" as a euphemism for these activities?

At January 04, 2007 2:02 PM, Blogger Colin Randall said...

What's this, a request for a glossary of footballers' bad behaviour? It seems to mean the consensual equivalent of a gang bang, the girl being passed around from one man to another. Whether capturing the atrocious spectacle on a mobile phone is de rigueur, or optional, is beyond my knowledge.

At January 04, 2007 4:56 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

I merely sought some lexicographal guidance, nothing more. Logic would seem to lead us from "roasting" to "spit" (and not in the sense of great expectorations) but perhaps it would be better to leave that direction unexplored.


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