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Sticks, Stones and Monkey Business
15 July 2006
And so the World Cup came to an end, not with a bang, but with a big bald thug head-butting a defender's chest like the half-witted, slightly brain-damaged donkey he truly is. Ghastly, for sure, and yet in its moronic, infantile self-destructiveness, the attack seemed an appropriate denouement for a tournament marred by disappointing football, foul play and ape-like thuggery. Who could forget for example, Wayne Rooney's embarrassing ball-stomp and tantrum-push combo, Christian Ronaldo's poisonous provocation of some of same, or Thierry Henri's obscene histrionics? All of these of course, paled into mundanity next to the mighty Zinadine Zidane and his gob-smacking transformation into a six-year-old.
Naturally the papers have been full of speculation all week. Why exactly was Zidane smiling one second and billy goat barmy the next? What could Italian defender Marco Materazzi have said to have so deftly tipped him over the edge into full berserker mode? What could possibly be so hideously upsetting as to make a grown man with a certain degree of intelligence, or even a footballer, react so violently?
But then you have to remember, footballers are not like ordinary human beings - they're essentially trained monkeys - so the insult in question (we presume it was an insult, rather than a slightly over-saucy compliment) was most probably a commonplace contumely, rather than a bespoke bon mot aimed squarely and deliberately at Zidane's Achilles' Heel. Whatever that may be. But then why the refusal, at least on Materazzi's part, to own up?
Ironically, it was the two tabloids whose readers generally move their lips when they read that took it upon themselves to hire lip readers. The Sun and The Mail were that determined to get to the bottom of this powerful red mist word magic. Why, they'd even make stuff up if they had to. If the lip readers actually existed, you can imagine the conversations they had to endure:
Lip reader: It's not the clearest of pictures, but there - when he turns toward the camera - that looks like 'puttana'. Yeah, I'm pretty sure he called him a 'son of a bitch'.
Hack: Not massively offensive, is it?
Lip reader: Well, no. He's a footballer though. They're basically trained monkeys.
Hack: Couldn't it be 'whore'?
Lip reader: Sure. 'Whore' is a perfectly acceptable translation. I know, because as well as being a lip reader, I'm also a translator.
Hack: OK, what about 'terrorist whore'? Couldn't Materazzi be saying 'son of a terrorist whore'?
Lip reader: Well, no. That's not what he says.
Hack: Excellent. 'Son of a terrorist whore'. I think we've got ourselves a front page. Hold on. Are you sure he doesn't mention al Qaeda?
But let's say it's true. Let's say all of our worst suspicions are confirmed and Marco Materazzi, fully aware of Zidane's Algerian roots and sick mother, did in fact use the words 'son of a terrorist whore'. Let's say he also made the alleged jibe about swapping shirts with Zidane's wife. And let's say, just for the hell of it, that he said some other uncomplimentary stuff about Zidane's family. His sisters, his grandmother, even his kids. Let's even imagine that for the few seconds they communed, Materazzi let rip with the most sickening stream of anti-French, anti-Algerian, anti-Zidane invective that human ear has ever borne. Let's say all that. Then, you have to ask yourself... so fucking what? Sticks and stones, Zidane, you big fucking child.
Zidane is 34 years old. He is a grown man who is paid millions and millions and millions of pounds to play football and act like a professional, just as anyone else with a decent salary and a shred of dignity might, and not to rise to playground provocation like a big daft twat. As was hinted at by various commentators at the time, the man clearly has a screw loose. He needs treatment, or maybe he should be made to attend anger management classes. Actually, maybe all he really needs is a hug from David Cameron.
Jacques Chirac gave him a good deal more than a hug earlier this week when on Sunday he paid tribute to the man's strength of character. 'I don't know what happened,' he said, 'or why he was punished.' Non! Oui. 'But I would like to express all the respect that I have for a man who represents at the same time all the most beautiful values of sport, the greatest human qualities one can imagine, and who has honoured French sport and, simply, France.' Unbelievable. Chirac is *so* in love with Zidane. On Monday he got the chance to get his hands on him in the flesh, squeezing his hard buttocks as he whispered, 'You are a virtuoso, a genius of world football. You are also a man of heart, commitment, conviction. That's why France admires and loves you. And that is why I personally am in love with you. I love you.'
And so it goes. Since then, Zidane has apologised but refused to say he regrets his reaction. He has also refused to say exactly what Materazzi said, as he feels the repercussions would be 'very serious'. 'They were very hard words,' he explained. 'Words that are so much harder than just gestures. I would rather have been punched in the face than hear those insults. I heard it once, twice and on the third time it was too much. I'm a man first and foremost.' No, Zidane, you're an arse first and foremost. Men with balls and brains rise above. He also had the buck-passing chutzpah to say, 'The guilty man was the man who provoked what I did.'
Meanwhile the guilty man with the magic words claims to have said nothing racist, religious or remotely connected with Zidane's family. When the 'terrorist atrocity' was put to him by Fleet Street's top lip readers, he replied, 'I did not call him a terrorist. I'm ignorant. I don't even know what the word means.' An incredible claim in this day and age, and yet, you must remember, these are footballers we're dealing with. In the case of Materazzi of course, we are dealing with a champion footballer, rather than a retired red misted loser, so this hoo-ha is all just a bit of fun for him. A nice bit of press attention between hanging out on stage with the Rolling Stones and going somewhere nice for his holidays.
At the time of writing, both players have been summoned to a meeting with FIFA officials on July 20th, where presumably Sepp Blatter will bang their heads together. Meanwhile, Football still sits in the corner, wearing its dunce cap, having a good hard think about what it's done and planning its next multi-million-pound sponsorship deal.
It's been said before and it'll be said again, but this World Cup brought it home in nasty stark detail: football at its highest levels is populated by stupidly overrated and hideously overpaid children with overeager fists and underdeveloped imaginations. There should be a salary cap of £40,000 put in place immediately.
Same for film stars.