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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." | back to top
Members of Real Madrid form a circle during training on Thursday. Flags at the Santiago Bernabéu were also lowered to half-mast. See the story on Real Madrid's website.
In five or more years of covering wars I have ended up sitting on a variety of [football] terraces, in some of the most blighted parts of the world, all of which seem to conjure traumatic childhood memories of the South Bank at Upton Park in its pre-seating days. I remember filing into the stadium in Freetown, Sierra Leone, shortly after British forces had beaten back a rebel offensive. There I watched the Royal Marines, who had spent most of the past three months on a ship, soundly beaten by a makeshift local side that featured, wearing trainers, half a dozen internationals.
Another curious pairing between sport and self-destruction includes the prominence given the Greek Olympics in ancient times (John Noble Wilford, "When the Games Began: Olympic Archaeology," New York Times, 9 March), for which "nothing was allowed to stand in the way. When it was time for the games, armies of rival cities usually laid down their weapons in a 'sacred truce.' In 480 B.C., while the Persians were torching Athens, there was no stopping the foremost games at Olympia." Sports as diplomacy is often cited as a positive, as in the rapprochement between India and Pakistan, in which cricket is doing its part in a much-anticipated series between the two countries (Scott Baldauf, "Is It Peace or War? India and Pakistan Back at Cricket," Christian Science Monitor, 9 March). Pushpesh Pant, professor of diplomacy at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, says the series includes "a bit of religion, with the hero worship of the players. It's a bit of politics, with two great rival nations seeing who is the better. It's a bit of a lottery, so that with a little talent, even a poor street worker might be able to break away from poverty."
Unclear is where these linkings leave us. As for the bombings in Spain, the perpetrators have been variously identified as the Basque separatist group ETA (Euzkadi Ta Askatasuna, meaning "Basque Homeland and Freedom"), or al Qaeda, or a splinter group. Football has, in part—as Ball has recounted ("Basque Ups and Downs," ESPNSoccernet.com, 22 October 2002)—helped fuel the notion of Basque distinctiveness. Yet there were thousands in Bilbao earlier today, silently standing in protest of the morning's killings. It appears that people have the capacity to compartmentalize sport as a realm of fancy and the carnivalesque, and to turn to it when the urge strikes to feel young, or to state, subtly, that reality could be much nicer.
You don't scream at Zinedine Zidane for wandering across the park, because Zidane probably knows what he is doing. You don't tell Roberto Carlos to mark his man. So the galacticos play their own game, like the mythical children on the sandlots of long ago who litter the essays of Jorge Valdano, Real's sporting director. Zidane is free to dribble as if he were still a 13-year-old on Marseille's Place Tartane. | back to top