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Mais Pourquoi?!?

This French broadcast of le headbut is much more expressive and cool than the one I saw this afternoon on ESPN.

Now for the question du jour so to speak. Why do sports commentators always have to be such goody two-shoes about this stuff? Obviously, if you're broadcasting the game as a France partisan you're going to want to bring across some shock and horror. Here's your legendary player, the leader of the team, getting himself kicked out of the game for no apparently good reason. And if you're broadcasting as an Italy partisan you need shock and outrage. That scum, how could he do that! But from the perspective of an American broadcaster, who knows perfectly well that his audience is composed overwhelmingly of people intrigued by the World Cup spectacle but also sort of bored by soccer, would it be so unthinkable to point out that the head but in question was sort of . . . totally awesome.

The headbut to the chest is a move I've never seen anyone even attempt on film or in life. And Zidane executed it perfectly, apparently knocking the wind right out of his foe with a well-placed blow. What's more, it's so totally perfect that a star soccer player would be skilled at that sort of move, while a veteran of America's hand-using sports would need to throw a punch to knock someone down.

And yes, yes, yes it's sad to see a great career end on an ethical low note. But what did the other guy say to him? This doesn't seem properly reported anywhere.

July 10, 2006 | Permalink


Zidane has awesome neck muscles. The two header goals he scored in the 1998 final were equally ferocious.

It was back before your time, but Bob Hoskins head-butted somebody in practically all his movies in the 1980s.

Posted by: Steve Sailer | Jul 10, 2006 12:39:57 AM

also insufficiently emphasized is that the ref didn't see it and the linesmen probably didn't see it either and just relied on the the video screens, which is improper. if anything, zidane should get credit for managing to execute the maneuver while no one was watching and the impending end of his career prevented fifa from doing anything to him. that's the gamesmanship of a craft veteran.

Posted by: jmt | Jul 10, 2006 12:43:59 AM

And yes, yes, yes it's sad to see a great career end on an ethical low note. But what did the other guy say to him?

We were discussing this on Ezra's blog and couldn't come to any good conclusions. Possible hypotheses:

(1) The Italian guy said something racist/xenophobic to Zidane, who's not a continental. "Go back to Africa" or something like that.
(2) something about the hold/interference previous was very painful.

See also the discussion on Steve Gilliard's blog if your still curious.

As for the spectacle, do you think the Knicks-Heat fights make for good television, or are they a black eye in the middle of a basketball game? I think the answer to that question reveals how one thinks about the headbutt.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Jul 10, 2006 1:22:43 AM

Maybe it will be the new most emulated soccer move. Instead of ripping off their shirts when they score a goal or yelling goooooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaallllllllllllllllllllllllllllll!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!, highschool soccer players will be trying to lay eachother flat with their heads.

Hell, compared to defenders pinching the backs of post players or linesmen hammering the testicles of the running backs after tackles it's almost respectable.

What did he say anyway?

Posted by: B | Jul 10, 2006 1:24:09 AM

He probably questioned Zidane's orientation. Great video. American announcers try too hard not to offend sponsors and tea tottlers

Posted by: jr | Jul 10, 2006 1:53:43 AM

Yeah, regarding what Materazzi said, the first thing I thought was that it must something racist. Zidane was red carded in '98 for something he did after an (alledgedly) racist comment, so it's not like it would be unprecedented. That said, if that ever comes out, would be an absolute debacle for FIFA, given that there was SOOOOO much emphasis on the whole "say no to racism" theme. I mean, did you see the giant banners against racism that they put on the field before all the matches? And the embarrassing readings by various players? So if the Italians won the World Cup because (basically) of a racist comment, it would be the ultimate in hypocrisy.

Hell, if Zidane waanted to try to get his reputation back (now tht it's been ruined), and he had no scruplpes, he could always accuse Materazzi of a racist comment anyway.

I'm also surprised, like Matthew, that we don't know by now what the hell was said. In any decent sporting event, all the top players have to come to the interview room afterwards to answer a few inane questions from the reporters. Does the World Cup not follow this practice?

Also, can anyone think of anything else like this - where the best player gets kicked out of Game 7 of the NBA Finals or World Series, or gets ejected from the Super Bowl? Has that ever happened?

Posted by: Al | Jul 10, 2006 2:20:29 AM

Okay, you're an Italian soccer player and the best player on the other team has a hair trigger temper and you know he jumped a guy on the field for a racist comment. You're headed for almost certain penalty kicks and it would be really, reall neat if the hair-trigger guy couldn't take them. The play has gone by you and the ref can't hear what you say.

Wouldn't you almost have to say something?

Posted by: collin | Jul 10, 2006 2:33:22 AM

Materazzi generally plays like an ass and I frequently wish he'd get flattened.

Stupid timing though.

Posted by: toast | Jul 10, 2006 3:06:09 AM

A different view from Steven Teles at the Mark Kleiman consortium.

Posted by: Christopher M | Jul 10, 2006 3:13:50 AM

As for the spectacle, do you think the Knicks-Heat fights make for good television, or are they a black eye in the middle of a basketball game? I think the answer to that question reveals how one thinks about the headbutt.

That Knicks-Heat series was a black eye on all of basketball, and the fight was the only good part of it. Zo dropping Charlie Ward on his head, then dragging Jeff Van Gundy around as he tried to chew his ankle...brain-dead Patrick Ewing getting suspended for wandering to the far end of the court and practicing his free throws.

But you're right: I also loved the headbutt.

Posted by: antid_oto | Jul 10, 2006 3:21:29 AM

Well if you look right at the beginning of that video where the guy is reaching around Zidane, I believe he actually pinched his nipple, you can't quite see but I think thats what he was doing. Don't know if he said something as well...

I dunno, I was kind of appalled as well. Not by the violence or whatever, but just by the sheer lack of focus. 10 minutes to go in a world cup final, easily the biggest game for the next 4 years and Zidane does that? I could kind of understand if it was a reflex elbow or something but that was clearly pre-meditated. Hard to say if it changes the outcome of the match but it certainly might have. If I can bring up the dreaded American sports anaolgy it would be a little like a pitcher throwing at a batter in the bottom of the 9th of a 7th game leading by a run.

Posted by: Gabe | Jul 10, 2006 7:11:14 AM

All in all, possibly the worst World Cup ever. No one is defending Zidane's actions so much as trying to understand why. And when he finally decides to explain himself, I can’t see us being less sympathetic. Just imagine what Materazzi said that goes beyond sports and straight to personal integrity. If anything, maybe Zidane was restrained. (I’ve heard of black players who actually just say “fuck it” and leave the pitch)

Posted by: Ron Mashate | Jul 10, 2006 8:08:24 AM

and I think he twisted Zidane's nipple, too, which is almost as bad as Reggie Evans grabbing Chris Kaman's nutsack.

Posted by: Ron Mashate | Jul 10, 2006 8:22:30 AM

Oh it wasn't the worst world cup ever. Everyone said that about the last one as well and I actually thought this one was far more entertaining. Oh and they also said that USA 94 was bad, and Italy 90. I think there is a certain class of people who watch football who hold everything to a ridiculously high standard and then go around squawking about the decline of the sport when we don't see something brilliant and awe inspring in every game. It was a world cup with a lot of tense games and a few great moments.

I also don't understand how Zidane's reaction would somehow be more understandable if Materrazzi's comments were racist. We should certainly think worse of Materrazzzi if that turns out to be the case (and its worth pointing out that nodody has actually said it was) but he's not in a bar, he's on the pitch at the world cup final. It really doesn't matter what he says to you at that point, Zidane still has to have more self possession than that.

Posted by: Gabe | Jul 10, 2006 9:13:08 AM

I finally heard a solution to the penalty shootout nonsense that makes sense to me:

If the game is tied at the end of regulation, you do the shootout then. But overtime play occurs after the shootout. That way, both teams know who'll win if overtime ends tied up. So the team that has lost the shootout is pressured to score.

Posted by: Petey | Jul 10, 2006 9:44:38 AM

Um, and the team that won the shootout knows that if they just pack 11 guys into the box and keep the other team from scoring for 30 minutes they win the game. Besides, talk about confusing...

Posted by: Gabe | Jul 10, 2006 10:02:24 AM

There's no chance that this was a conscious decision to be red carded?

1) He's trying to motivate his team like a coach/manager getting a technical or being thrown out.

2) He was hurt and doesn't think he should be kicking the penalty anyway.

Not to say I really understand it. Just that the logic is not unheard of. The latter is something you're more likely to see in college ball when the star player has four fouls and the team is behind by 25.

Posted by: toast | Jul 10, 2006 10:11:01 AM

1. The Heat-Knicks fight was excellent theater, but not as good as the Pistons-Pacers fight. Steven Jackson really does punch like a girl.

2. There is a story about Vanderweghe in his playing days that says that a coach instructed him to slug his opponent to get a foul, he did, the ref saw it and let it go. The ref's later explanation was the he figured if Vanderweghe was hitting the guy, he probably deserved it. The refs should have no-called Zidane.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Jul 10, 2006 10:58:16 AM

Unfortunately a player like Zidane has probably heard every vicious racist comment you can imagine on the pitch since he started playing competitive soccer. No matter what Materrazzi could have said, I assume Zidane would be smarter than to fall for an obvious goading like that. It may well have been the "nipple tweak" that sent Zidane over the edge, as the gesture is sexually suggestive and disrepectful. Either that or more likely it's true that Materrazzi acually said "Berlusconi wants you out of the match, make it happen."

Posted by: Vanya | Jul 10, 2006 11:02:25 AM

I'm telling you, if the game ends in a tie, make them pull both goalies for overtime. I might actually watch that.

Posted by: Steve | Jul 10, 2006 11:11:32 AM

i don't know what this says about me, but i thought the headbutt was awesome. i have no problem with hot headed jocks -- that's usually a lot of the reason they're good -- and the move was so perfectly executed. somewhat bad for his image, but come on. he will still be a hero to most french forever. this does not rise near the level of doping or roids use, just a momentary slip up that didn't undeniably lose his team the game (leaving aside that maybe he makes his kick and we're in a different universe, etc.). also, the parallelism of the use of his head for a near goal minutes before, then as weapon, makes clear what we're sublimating with support (more direct agression). and it livened up the proceedings. it's kind of like tyson's ear bite. while ridiculous, great theatre (almost camp), i was way glad to have seen it (even if i though the refs should have left them keep fighting so hollyfield could kill him). call me degenerate, but the head butt was one of the highlights of the tourney (and i suspect many people secretly feel the same).

Posted by: dj superflat | Jul 10, 2006 1:05:19 PM

one other thing -- as i recall, hotchkins did the headbutt to the face (much more vicious), not the chest.

Posted by: dj superflat | Jul 10, 2006 1:06:44 PM

Van Damme has also head-butted lots of guys in his flicks, but never in the chest AFAIK.

Posted by: JP | Jul 10, 2006 1:09:35 PM

I'm telling you, if the game ends in a tie, make them pull both goalies for overtime. I might actually watch that.
RIGHT STEVE! But don't try to take credit for my "MELEE Time" innovation. It's my baby!

As for the headbutt, it was AMAZING television first and foremost. He looked like a battering mountain ram, and right for the solar plexus too! Most idiots headbutt a guy in the head, but Zizou just dropped the hulking Materazzi like a bitch.

Don't tell me the nipple tweak was inflammatory, footballers do gayer stuff when they score a goal, like those two dagos humping each other after the shootout straigth-Brokeback steez. Is there some rumor Zizou's a swish or something? It's gonna be impossible to comprehend unless Zizou honestly explains it, and even then he might not remember. Rock stars, footballers, the adrenaline is so intense. Just ask Roger Clemens, who threw a stake at Mike "Dracula" Piazza.

The unpardonable sin? Getting caught and jeopardizing the WORLD FRIGGIN CUP for his teammates. Otherwise it was awesome. And don't give me that "injured" excuse, I'll take a quadruple amputee Zizu over a well-rested, cranked-up Trezeguet any day.

Posted by: Greg | Jul 10, 2006 1:25:00 PM

That head butt was 10x cooler than anything in the main UFC fight that happened the night before.

Posted by: Jeff | Jul 10, 2006 2:08:19 PM

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