Zinedine Zidane, 2006 man of the year
[Opinion] From the viewpoint of  Amin George Forji

As 2006 draws to an end, and we approach a new year, it is traditionall to highlight people who have distinguished themselves during the course of the year. In fact prominent magazines the world over are right now puzzling over who they will nominate as their “man (or woman) of the year”.

As 2006 draws to an end, and we approach a new year, it is traditionall to highlight people who have distinguished themselves during the course of the year. In fact prominent magazines the world over are right now puzzling over who they will nominate as their “man (or woman) of the year”.Since that person must be shown to be above par, it goes without saying that it is never an easy task for any media to arrive at that nomination. Time magazine which first invented the idea of naming the man of the year in 1927 defines that man as someone who “for better or for worse, most affected events during the year”.  This will be my working definition as well, in naming the 2006 man of the year. Meanwhile quite a number of people the world-over definitely made both a name and a difference in what they strongly stood for, one man certainly went a milestone, and that is, Zinedine Zidane of France.

In 2006, he was undoubtedly one of the very few personalities in any walk of life who successfully not only influenced, but completely changed the psychology of nations. During the Germany 2006 tournament, instilling in the French (his country of nationality) and Algerians (his country of ancestry) a new sense of patriotism. Furthermore, his fine play that animated millions of spectators the world-over is one of those elements that made it possible for the 2006 world cup to deserve of the entertainment it deserved.

Having already decided to retire, the 2006 world cup was definitely his last tournament. Maybe that was the reason why all cameras at the competition were focused on him. Interestingly, it was the time when he played perhaps his finest football, inspiring Les Bleus who had lost most of their one time momentum all the way to the finals, which they lost to Italy.

But as far as 2006 is concerned, Zidane will be remembered more not for his contribution to the game but rather for his ugly head butt at the finals which led to his expulsion, not only from the match but from the game forever. This is one thing that made Germany 2006 even more unique.

Zidane, as a football icon

Zidane first came into the international arena during the 1998 world cup in France, won by the host country. Zidane emerged from the tournament as an undisputed force to reason with, scoring two goals against Brazil in the finals, and unanimously voted as the the world FIFA player of the year. Two years later, he again helped France win the Euro 2000 and the FIFA confederations cup. He was again named the world FIFA player of the year in 2000 and 2003.

In 2001, he had already become the world’s most expensive player, when the Spanish giant, Real Madrid bought him from Juventus at a record fee of  $US 63.6 million. Beside the national side, he won three league winners medals with his Italian and Spanish clubs, as well as the champions league in 2002 with Real Madid.

Zidane’s playing style is very unique. In the field of play, he is largely a reserved fellow, hardly ever talking to anyone, neither his team mates, opponents nor referees. When cameras picture him without the ball, he is usually either sweating or spitting . But as soon as he gets hold of the ball, he makes actions speak louder than words. With a bank of  techniques and exceptional ingenuity, as well as his accuracy in front of the goal, Zidane is no less than an icon on its own.

A timely comeback

In 2004, Zidane was so frustrated with Les Blues after they were knocked out of the quarter finals of the Euro 2004, that he decided to retire from international soccer. The team had been struggling for at least two years already to regain it’s momentum. During the 2002 world cup in Japan-South Korea, France, the defending champion had a very disapppointing show, crashing out of the first round unable to score a single goal at the tournament.

In 2005, exactly one year after he retired, and with the 2006 world cup blossoming in the horizon, Zidane made one of the most crucial decisions in the career of a sportsman-to go back to his word and come out of retirement and help his country at the competition. As Zidane himself put it, his decision to come back was definetely going to puzzle the world.
“For the very first time in my life I have decided to go back on my word which is very important for me. When I made the decision to retire I was very serious – today I have made the same decision but in reverse…Of course I am overwhelmed. Yes, I know I have put myself in a position that many people will look at closely and say: ‘Why didn’t he do that earlier? Why now? Why did he wait so long?’,”

If anything, I can only say that he made a timely decision, one that probably changed the whle course of the 2006 tournament. It will be no exaggeration to say that almost single handedly inspired the French team which began the tournament as outsiders, all the way to the finals.

A Spectacular world cup marred by head butt
On the 9th of July 2006, France captained by Zidane played the world cup finals against Italy at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. One interesting thing to point out is that the said stadium was actually constructed by  Adolf Hitler (the controversial Time magazine man of the year,1938). It can therefore not be so strange that some mischief happen there.

In fact, after winning enough glory for himself before he could go on his final retirement from the game, Zidane committed one of the highest blunder in his whole carear at the 110th minute of the game when he head butted Italian Marco Materazzi in the chest, leading to his expulsion.

Although many sympathetic French viewed his headbutt as a mark of masculinity, it must nonetheless be said that despite his fine play, Zidane’s weakest point was rough game. He received at least a red card in every league he played, and beside Rigobert Song of Cameroon, he is just the only other player to have received red cards in two different world cup tournaments.
The headbutt put his illustrous carear in partial shambles as he suddenly descended from grace to grass in the eyes of the media and the general public, with the words “Zidane headbutt” becoming a new acolate. On the following day,  July 10th, two brothers, Sebastien and Emmanuel Lipszyc produced a humerous song titled “Coup de Boule” (meaning headbutt in French) to satirise the situation. The video was largely circulated on the internet. (See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coup_de_Boule). Officially licensed by Warner music, it interestingly hit number 1 on the French charts by August 5. This is illustrous of how famous (for better or for worse) Zidane had become. At the end of the tournament, the world football governing body FIFA voted him as the man of the tournament- a vote which despite his ugly headbutt was largely undisputed. At least, a soft consolation for his well earned retirement, that was almost ruined.

Today, (after the world cup), Zidane has become more popular in France than ever before, or than will ever have been had the finals against Italy end at the 109th minute.
Well, on a personal note, the most I can say is that for better or for worse, I am convinced Zidane earned to be the 2006 man of the year.
Congrats Zizou!!!

[Edited by Simon – well I tried]

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