The Tragedy of Zidane

Those who the gods may destroy, they grant their wishes. Zinedine Zidane may be pondering that bit of ancient Greek wisdom today. Having announced that he would end his professional career with the World Cup, Zidane had his wish fulfilled. After France barely survived the tournament’s first round, Zidane performed at the top of his game and led the team to the brink of a second World Cup championship. But instead of finishing his career in triumph, or at least with an ovation, he was ejected from the final for head-butting an Italian player. There have been few such tragic moments in football history.

Whatever the provocation that led to Zidane’s behavior (probably a racial comment), his violent act, seen around the world, has tarnished his image. The sad paradox is that while the world had been learning of and celebrating his legendary kindness as a person, he will now be distinguished for all time by an act of aggression.

Indeed, Zidane’s status as an emblematic champion of the world’s most universal and popular sport does not fully explain why people have been so obsessed with him. His human qualities, as much as his talent and technical feats on the field, counted equally in establishing his popular acclaim.

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