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A tisane for Zidane

By Terry Joseph
July 14, 2006

Although advertised as a remedy for unrelated ailments, repetition of Nap Hepburn's 1950s jingle, "Drink Tisane de Durbon" and the timing of mother's spoonfuls, implied it was equally capable of repairing neuroses, which is why I felt a pre-game dose Sunday might have helped Zinédine Zidane.

I am not among those who rushed to condemn the star footballer and French team captain for dropping a "coconut" on Italian defender Marco Materazzi, flooring the target with a powerful blow to the sternum, nor do I condone violence as the primary response to contretemps in any forum but it is useful to remember we do not live in a perfect world.

Fights among exemplars have occurred in some of the most unlikely places, as happened on October 26, 2004 in Taiwan's Parliament, when lawmakers took to throwing chow-mein, rice, assorted noodles and greasy fried chicken parts at each other, after a quarrel in the chamber got physical; hardly an isolated event among legislators in that country.

Not to be outdone, the Red House has hosted unsavoury incidents between local MPs and more recently, we read awful allegations involving an acting commissioner of police. Last month, in Germany, a senior official of a state agency had to be restrained by security guys after he attacked an employee at a fete staged to help promote Trinidad and Tobago.

Football fights are not new to Zidane, nor is butting opponents. He holds the unenviable record of having been sent off the field on 14 occasions during his simultaneously sparkling career. In one instance, he was "sentenced" to cleaning duty for several weeks by club management as punishment for punching an opponent who mocked his ghetto origins.  

His first eviction at professional level came in September 1993, when he retaliated in kind against a punch from Marcel Desailly, the Marseilles defender. Two years later, Zidane not only slapped Thorsten Fink, a Karlsruhe player, in the face in August but in October was also evicted from a game for an unduly rough tackle on Frédéric Mendy, a Martigues player.

September 1996, while with Juventus, a double-yellow saw him back to the bench in a game against Perugia and the following January, he punched Enrico Chiesa of Parma. In June, 1998 he stomped on Fuad Amin, the Saudi Arabia captain, during the World Cup finals and that same October, got the one-way ticket for a drop-kick challenge on Paolo Sousa of Inter Milan and a year later (almost to the day) got double-yellow for "diving" in a game against Roma.

Zidane entered the 21st century in similar style, losing it at a Champions League game against Emerson, assaulting midfielder Deportivo La Coruña and that October, registered the first of his now famous head-butts, targeting SV Hamburg's Jochen Kientz, which earned him a five-match ban.

In February 2004, while with Real Madrid, he was sent off for cuffing Seville defender Pablo Alfaro in the face. Three months later, he was prematurely back on the bench after a brutal challenge on Djalminha, the Deportivo midfielder. Last year, he took a swing at Villareal player Quique Álvarez and was again sent off the field.

The easy conclusion is that Zidane is a high-strung hooligan who, in the same demonstration, is effortlessly capable of playing football with angelic grace, a devout Muslim of Algerian ghetto origin and proudly so, who reportedly called his mother back home every day during his team's month-long campaign at the World Cup Finals. In short, Zidane is the classic enigma.

Off the field, he is said to be no less volatile, although more careful about leaving or avoiding altogether situations that may degenerate into fighting. The nature of football, however, with unavoidable physical contact at every sequence and no shortage of opportunities for verbal or gesticulated provocation, simply doesn't offer similar options.

Evidently, Zidane was trapped into a lucrative career thoroughly incompatible with his personality but one for which his skills rendered him optimally suited, as would a paediatrician who, only after graduation, discovered his inherent dislike for children. Life must have been hell, knowing every next game harboured potential for explosion but, until now, unable to leave his job.

Now in retirement but still robust, Zidane must seek help, perhaps on both professional and spiritual levels as life's irritants, coupled with low tolerance of provocation can conspire to bring him and his family lasting disgrace.

Perhaps in the interim, he might try a little tisane. It certainly helped mother.

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