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Zidane and Guti embrace on Tuesday. The Real Madrid advantage was short-lived. (AP photo)
The first thing I notice about Zidane is that for a player of such commanding elegance on the field, he is, in person, rather awkward, even gawky. He even sits delicately, like a girl, legs together, hands folded in his lap. My second thought is that he probably is genuinely shy.
A number of cultural scholars and poets have taken their stabs at Zidane, enough that "Zidane lit" is becoming almost a subgenre. See also the New York Times Magazine profile from 1999 (John Vinocur, "Just a Soccer Star, After All," 14 March 1999), where Zidane's Berber heritage and talismanic status for a "new France" were well exegeted, and Mounsi's 20-page prose poem ("Zizou Zidane—The World's Best Player," in Le Foot: The Legends of French Football, ed. Christov Rühn [London: Abacus, 2000], 94–113): "In the stands, on the terraces, everywhere the crowd yells this exclamation: / 'Zizou! Zizou!' / The diminutive makes a circuit of the stadium. / Your comrades clasp you to them. /You kiss Emmanuel Petit."
He is one of those players that make our intelligence happy. When he touches the ball, things happen in a way that links football with common sense. He is not very quick, not very strong, not a great goal-scorer; and not much of anything really. He is different because he uses football's classical values: he knows when to stop, when to think, when to clarify a move, those things that give breathing space to today's football, a game everyday more scatter-brained.
Zidane's iconic status is secure in the city where he was raised, a shy son of Algerian immigrants. "He'd spent his childhood playing on the concrete pitches of Marseille's impoverished La Castellane district," the Associated Press writes. "Zidane attributes his remarkable sense of balance and nimble feet to the highly competitive matches played on the concrete dust bowls—where falling down hurts a lot more than it does on grass." His face looks warmly from an Adidas poster painted on the back of a Marseille restaurant (see above). The poster's legend reads, "Made in Marseille." François Thomazeau ("Homecoming of Zidane Is the Real Deal," The Scotsman, 24 November) quotes deputy mayor Serge Botey, who links the poster's popularity to that of the city's talisman, La Bonne Mere (The Good Mother), the Roman Catholic edifice looking down from a hilltop. "The Good Mother was especially good to us when she gave us Zizou." | back to top