In years to come perhaps they’ll use Zinedine Zidane as a test question at PR school. The question would be this: How do you spin the red card that ended his career in shame so that we remember him as one of the greatest players of all time – rather than one of the biggest idiots?
It would be fun to play the game and no doubt there is someone desperately trying to spin ZZ out of his predicament as I write. But it’s hard to imagine a single thing that Materazzi could have said to him that would exonerate him.
The current theory, as I write, is that it was, to paraphrase the film director Pedro Almodovar, all about his mother – that old stand-by of Latino male culture, guaranteed to inflame every Catholic boy from Bologna to Buenos Aires. Before that the theory was that it’s something about his brother. Or perhaps something about Islam. Or something dating back to French colonial history – pied noir remains a potent insult in North Africa.
But to be honest I wouldn’t want the job of trying to save Zizou’s reputation. It would be like trying to save his hair – too late.
The best thing in a situation like this is to own up, hold up your hands, prostrate yourself before the masses and say sorry. Penitence is best. I’m tempted to feel that ZZ should keep the exact words that Materazzi uttered to himself, because whatever they were, they won’t help him. They will simply vilify Materazzi. Which in turn will make Zidane look as if he’s trying to wriggle out of his situation. By keeping silent he could maintain a smidgeon of dignity.
Besides, the ‘It’s a fair cop guv and I’m sorry’ defence is a tried and tested way back into the public’s affections. It worked for Hugh Grant when he was caught bang to rights. It’s worked for so many politicians that I’ve lost count. It always works.
The public like to see their untouchable heroes brought down to earth. We like to know they’re venal, that they have the same weaknesses as us. It makes us feel that we’re quite like them, really, even if we can’t do stopovers that leave Italian defenders floundering on the floor or chip penalties in off the crossbar.
At the moment Zidane would seem to have ruined his entire career. Right now everyone is talking about how, instead of being remembered as one of the best players of all time, he’ll only be remembered for head-butting an Italian in the chest and getting sent off in the World Cup Final.
It must feel like that to Zizou today as he wonders what on earth he must have been thinking when Materazzi muttered to him. But being despised for the Hand of God didn’t stop Maradona being voted second only to Pele in the BBC’s recent poll of football legends – ahead of our own Bobby Moore.
Talent will out. And ZZ will always be top. Check you tube for the evidence