x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

All the misdemeanours should be set in stone

The brouhaha over that Zinedine Zidane statue in Paris reminds me of a joke I cannot possibly tell properly in a respectable newspaper, recalls Will Batchelor.

French-Algerian born artist Adel Abdessemed's sculpture immortalises the
French-Algerian born artist Adel Abdessemed's sculpture immortalises the "head butt" given by French national star Zinedine Zidane to Italian player Marco Materazzi during the 2006 World Cup final in 2006. Critics say that is not the image that people should remember Zidane by.

 

The brouhaha over that Zinedine Zidane statue in Paris reminds me of a joke I cannot possibly tell properly in a respectable newspaper.

Suffice to say it involves an ageing city alderman complaining bitterly that his nickname does not reference any of his great achievements in life - "I built them dozens of bridges, do they call me Jones the bridge-builder?" - but the ONE time he ... well, I believe the current expression would be "made an embarrassing error of judgement which I now deeply regret".

It is the same for Zidane. He may have won a World Cup, a European Championship, Primera Liga, Serie A and innumerable personal honours - but for millions he will be remembered as Zidane the headbutter, the flawed hero whose violent temper probably cost France the 2006 World Cup.

So I have a great deal of sympathy for Adel Abdessemed, the Algerian artist who chose to capture in bronze Zidane's bizarre assault on the Italian defender Marco Materazzi. Why wouldn't he choose the most indelible image of Zidane as his template?

I also applaud the management of the Pompidou Centre in Paris for having the guts to display the 16ft statue, despite huge and organised opposition from the National Association of French Football Districts.

My support for this statue is partly philosophical: I believe in the freedom of expression, particularly when it accurately depicts real life.

However, it is also partly practical. Football statues are invariably awful and the entire genre, which has been booming for the last decade or so, desperately needs a shot in the arm.

For a sport which trades on its intense passion and drama, footballer statues are surprisingly bland. The legendary Chelsea striker Peter Osgood, for example, was an impish and skilful ballplayer - yet his statue (unveiled in 2010) outside Stamford Bridge has him standing with hand on hip, ball tucked under his arm, staring into middle distance like a catalogue model. Is that how the Chelsea faithful remember him?

Likewise the Bobby Moore statue (unveiled in 2007) outside Wembley Stadium, which sees the England icon with his arms folded and his foot on the ball, like he is waiting for the referee to allow him to take a free kick on a rather chilly day.

As for Alf Ramsey, Moore's international coach, his likeness (unveiled in 2000) stands outside Ipswich Town's ground like a weary commuter waiting at a bus stop.

It pains me to see such genuinely beloved folk heroes honoured in such a staid way, apparently aping the old order of stony generals and noblemen who sprang up in British towns and cities during the Victorian age. Surely the beauty of football is its human drama. Zidane's butt was a dark chapter for him but a moment of jaw-dropping wonder for the rest of the world.

It prompted a global gasp.

So, to a lesser extent perhaps, did Eric Cantona's kung-fu kick of 1995, the Rudi Voller-Frank Rijkaard spat (pun intended) of 1990, Paolo Di Canio's shove on the referee Paul Alcock in 1998, Vinnie Jones's eye-watering "marking" of Paul Gascoigne in 1987.

I say capture them all in bronze!

Of course they were not the game's most edifying moments. Of course the players and football authorities would probably prefer to see them swept under the carpet. These moments speak of shameful emotions: rage, vindictiveness and loss of control.

But aren't those emotions far more familiar to most football fans than the brief moments of glory? And, as fans, do we not prefer to see our heroes sharing our ordeal than staring vacantly down on us? Or, even worse, looking like they are advertising T-shirts.

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