The outsider

The ancient aphorisms to which we are in the habit of referring to explain events and modes of behavior often lead to unfair judgment: «Every advantage in the past is judged in the light of the final issue,» said Demosthenes and this saying has been used ever since, often in a generalized way, as a measure of people’s lives, careers and so on. Using this yardstick in the case of Zinedine Zidane would be totally unfair. If we put «the final issue,» i.e. his headbutting of Italy defender Marco Materazzi on one side of the scales, the balance would be deceiving and a brilliant soccer career would be irreparably tarnished. That is especially true if the scales watchers have little knowledge of soccer, mistaking it for a stage show featuring robot actors who play according to the rules of savoir vivre and some notion of soccer correctness tailored to the needs of FIFA and private sponsors. Regardless of the Italian’s verbal provocation, traditionally part of the beautiful game, Zidane appeared to obey his brain or reputation for five to 10 seconds before finally following through with a physical response, one that is bound to become part of soccer mythology just like Maradona’s «hand of God.» It was not that Zidane lost his cool, as most people are saying. It was just his own way (so rough but so straightforward at the same time) of showing exactly the opposite: that he is still himself, a kid playing out in the streets, a kid that is subject to endless provocation and reacts instantly; that, just like the other children of migrants playing for the French national team, he remains an outsider, despite the trophies and glory that make him an equal part of a greater whole but only at the level of rhetoric and image. This World Cup was Zidane’s World Cup. The «final issue» in his career will be a mad gesture underscoring that soccer is played by humans, not wind-up dolls or the smiling puppets of sponsors and advertisers.