The Headbutt From Heaven and How Zizou Rocked

It was perfect wasn’t it? The moment that Zinedine headbutted Materazzi the curtain parted and revealed the immigrant’s European journey. I did not have a moment of doubt that Materazzi had made a racist comment: that he had somehow managed to bring up the subject of Zizou’s Algerian origins in a derogatory fashion, which indeed turned out to be the case. And I celebrated wildly that Zizou had chosen to openly and violently refuse to endure such insult. He did not sneakily get back at his tormentor. No, it was his final game and he was going to play it on his terms – using his rules. No more taking of a high moral ground that in reality means self abasement or a turning of the other cheek only to have it struck as well.

He had endured this kind of thing before. Listened to the Jean-Marie Le Pen‘s and other racists deride the team of immigrants he led to victory in 1998. He had grown up with the knowledge of France’s brutal colonial war in Algeria; of the racist limitations to Algerian immigrant aspirations. His millions in income and his fame did not insulate him from the knowledge that his society prized him as a football player and little else. Zizou held hands with any immigrant who has stolidly endured racist insult to try and fit into their new society while trying to achieve their goals. And so when he unleashed that headbutt, the millions who had just taken their commuter trains to whatever nasty neighborhood they live in, under the baleful stare of the police and the sneers and jeers of many of their new countrymen leaned into Materazzi’s chest with him. I felt elated that this man who had bestrode the world stage and received its every honor had chosen instead, with premeditation and commitment, to refuse to take that shit anymore. He did it when it mattered, as billions watched and with the biggest sporting prize within reach. That is why Zizou for me has taken his place with the likes of Mohammed Ali and Joe Louis in being much more than a sporting icon. In his final game he rejected the role we want for him – refused to just play and shut up – and instead decided to be his own man.

But this post really would not be complete without a celebration of the mechanics of that headbutt. The way he jumped into it without hesitation. The decision to aim for the chest and not the head which displayed a brilliant understanding of the mechanics of surprise and forward movement during an attack. If you ever attend a Vee Arnis Jitsu class in New York City (as I did for some years before I left for London), you will realize that you have to move forward on the attack. That in fact your safety, in a manner of speaking, is behind the man in front of you and that you have to get through him to find it. Zizou understood this well. He might have gotten the red card and France did lose the game, but I think that his wellbeing, his sense of having stood for himself, lay behind Marco Materazzi who he went through. Like a hot knife through butter.

What would have happened had Zizou chosen to teach Materazzi some further lessons? Clearly the stomp would have come into play. In fact that was the natural follow through to that headbutt. But let me not get gory or sink too low because in fact Zizou did not want to hurt the guy. It was more to show Materazzi that while he coveted the trophy enough to dishonor himself by making racist comment, he, Zizou, thought that the prize was not worth his honor.

(Check out a delicious post by Daniel Davies on the (sublime headbutt)


About bulletsandhoney
I read my first book when I was three, then my second one a few weeks later. It has carried on this way for decades with only temporary distractions of eating, fighting, loving, heartbreak and other such irrelevant biographical details.

20 Responses to The Headbutt From Heaven and How Zizou Rocked

  1. See, I thought that I was the only one who was more interested in the physics of the actual headbutt than it’s consequences. That headbutt was AMAZING!!! One could easily envision a headbutting championship spun off of the World Cup.

  2. alexcia says:

    This must surely introduce a new word to our vocabulary.

    I will “zidane” you wewe, dont joke.

  3. MMK says:

    another conflict analyst – yes, yes. The headbutt was perfect. It had the element of surprise, it showed committment and left Zizou in a position of strength over his opponent. Notice that he did not loose his balance on impact. It was the best show of athleticism this World Cup. I second your desire for a headbutting championship.

  4. ndutu says:

    Oh my God, yes! You got it. My head swirled. I was shocked, and then surprised at how good I felt. A frisson anew with every replay! That the impact lifted Materazzi off his feet speaks to the perfection of the execution. The sequence of pictures in the papers were, how do you say…textbook?

  5. Adrian says:

    great post, really!

    it took me about 2 minutes to “forgive” zidane for that headbutt. first i was in shock and couldn’t understand how he would do sth so stupid. but after about 2 mins, i realised that materazzi must have said sth really bad to him. and with that in mind, i completely understand him.

  6. Kabinti says:

    Yours is an interesting analysis.Zizou has been judged the world over with both praise and disdain. In my mind I havent doubted his sanity or his action. What cheered me was the support he received back in France after the team returned from the tournament. This event will not not hurt him at all.

  7. Ntwiga says:


    you wrote my post!!!

    I’m happy that there are other souls out there who agree with me.

    – Steve

  8. Kenyanchick says:

    You know what? I’ll have to disagree. There’s an article in today’s Daily Nation that claims that Zidane somehow helped to reclaim black dignity with that headbutt and I couldn’t help but wonder how that works, exactly. I know whatever Matterazzi said must have been awful, but I don’t see how physical retaliation (during the WORLD CUP FINAL GAME!), taking the racists bait and getting your behind thrown off the pitch is a positive thing. Thing is, racist taunts only have the power you give them. What if, to (mis)use Althusser, we just refused to be hailed? A headbutt may be a satisfactory response, but it’s a response nevertheless.

  9. gishungwa says:

    What a way to end his career, viva Zizu and your post that was a great one. am loving this post…

  10. MMK says:

    kenyanchick – since you are the only one who is not admiring of the headbutt that shook the world, let me write specifically to you. I do not think that the headbutt had anything to do with rehabilitating black dignity. I find the Nation’s suggestion confusing at best. I think it was a deeply personal act by a person who had endured a lot of similar abuse throughout his career. He actually seemed to know that he would be kicked off the pitch and thought that it was worth it to finally retaliate with the whole world watching.

  11. Kenyanchick says:

    No, don’t get me wrong: the TECHNIQUE was awesome! I just think that the right way of dealing with puerile racists who have to resort to insults is to (1) win and THEN (2) headbutt the a**hole (while holding World Cup Trophy). THAT would have been justice.

  12. WM says:

    Well bro, no doubt you are right.
    However, ever considered that the Italians could work that out as well? I mean, they GaVE the world the MEDICIs…and others.
    Do not ever underestimate the oppposition, some wise guy once told me.
    So, bro?
    Considered long term, it in fact won the world cup, didn’t it???

  13. Roland says:


    I think I have to throw my hat in the ring with kenyanchick. As you know, I come from USA where the main fault of Zidane is not that he headbutted anyone, (who cares?) it’s that he/they lost. Absolutely no one here has focused on anything else. Maybe I’m just a product of that society but I, like kenyanchick, would have loved to see Materazzi forced to stew in his racist bile for another 4 years having lost. Remember Michael Jordan? Insult him and he made you pay. Remember when Sonny Liston refused to call Ali by his name by using his slave name Cassius Clay? Not only did the jeers look impotent, but the “jeerer” looked like a fool. In Liston’s case he, too, wound up on his backside. Win first, then get everyone else laughing at him.

    Over here in Bushland or Jesusland, however you want to call it, we have been constantly inundated with the fingerwagging moralism of Zidane having cost his team. Are you all getting this attitude from your media 24/7 also?


  14. Anonymous says:

    My 2 cents…coming from an american woman living in Paris, hopelessly in love with an Algerian, a HUGE fan of Zizou, blah blah blah…Shocked the bejeezus out of me, everyone in the cafe just looked around stunned!! But I KNEW -immediately- that the words were SERIOUS…we all discussed it and threw our hands up. Zizou is just not that guy…I freaking adore him. Not only for his ballet-like grace on the field but in fact because he is a good man, loves his family, etc…period. That Italian good hair having gigolo just went too far. Et voila, Je respect his decision. The first words out of his mouth after the butt were…”je sais”…I know. The high road still…no arguement, just respect. Quel match!

  15. Stunuh Jay says:

    Even before I knew the reason why I was on Zizou’s side! He’s the best player in the world right now, so he had a perfectly good reason! And while we’re on the topic, if you’re going to P*ss someone off, you best bend over and take whats coming to you!

  16. KAZ says:

    Delighted to read your comment in the Guardian today. You may like to visit
    I didn’t get a lot of support for my Zidane tribute.

  17. Two points. Firstly there are other ways then headbutting to solve problems. Secondly can anyone teach me how to deliver such a forcefull headbutt.

  18. Well put, and the technique was awesome.

  19. Dag! That was one of the most well written sociopoliticomical peices I’ve read in a while! Big up son! You hit to the core of the issue(s)with just the type of ready-aim-fire one would expect from a blogger with your name. Priceless! I look forward to reading more of your stuff!

  20. bygpowis says:

    as someone who has played football since age three, played for my national team, represented thousands on foreign lands, endured the slings of batteries, monkey names and monkey games, there’s no great political fight in the headbutt. the guy was frustrated, lost his head and cost his team the world cup. a player scarifices with his teammates for a chance to do something special. it’s 22 teammates out there wishing for the same thing. you don’t do what he did. his teammates will forget, but i doubt, in the pit of them, they will forgive. want an image. think jackie robinson getting spit on and showing might with his ability. that’s how zizou could’ve gotten back at the italian. win the italian’s prize despite it all. that’s political action. zizou is an icon and history is now trying to rewrite his recent legacy. i applaud you for that effort. he should not be remembered for the butt, but for the flawless game vs brazil. i’ve never witnessed anything more perfect from a #10. i know nothing of his personal life. he may lead underground protest marches all over france or donate millions to immigrant efforts. don’t know. zizou’s THE football representative. give him that. i’ll wait for his other politics now that he has time.

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