Je ne regrette rien…

French forgive as Zidane explains

By Alasdair Sandford
BBC News, France

It had the makings of an address to the nation from the head of state.

Across the country, families gathered round TV sets; in bars they ordered extra drinks.

The sports daily L’Equipe ran a cartoon of Zidane sitting behind an ornate desk, alongside a French flag – as if about to speak from the Elysee Palace.What France and the world wanted to hear were the precise words Marco Materazzi had said to Zinedine Zidane during the World Cup final to provoke the red mist.

Zidane apologised for his headbutt but said he did not regret his actions, alleging that Materazzi had insulted both his mother and sister.

Zidane’s refusal to repeat the exact words still has everyone guessing.

Even so, commentators were lining up within minutes of the broadcast, mostly to praise the newly-retired footballer.

Non, il ne regrette rien
Headline in France Soir newspaper

The 24-hour television news channel LCI devoted an entire half-hour programme to Zidane’s two interviews.The former French coach Michel Hidalgo described his explanation as “touching, dignified, human”.

Bernard Tapie, the maverick former chairman of Olympique Marseille, said the player had shown lots of courage.

Reverential

Earlier this week, the same sports daily had harsh words for Zidane after his red card.

How could he explain his act, it asked, to the tens of millions of children watching around the world?

HAVE YOUR SAY

He did not have a word for his team-mates, whom he perhaps cost the World Cup
Liberation newspaper

Now that the player has apologised, the paper’s tone is once again reverential.

“Zinedine Zidane has spoken,” says the editorial. It was his “solemn way of saying ‘au revoir’, after the missed chance of Berlin”.

The tabloid France Soir compares the player’s words to those of Edith Piaf. “Non, il ne regrette rien,” says the front-page headline.

Inside the paper, the president of the CRAN, an umbrella group of black associations, draws a parallel with the violence of the “banlieues”, France’s poor suburbs.

For Patrick Lozes, the headbutt was unacceptable but sprang from a similar sense of exasperation.

“Why do we come to understand Zidane,” he asked, “but not the young people in the suburbs?”

Dissenting voice

The left-wing daily Liberation offers a rare voice of dissent to the chorus of approval for Zidane’s appearance.

However deplorable, it notes, insults on the football pitch have always existed.

The astonishing thing was that at 34 years old, Real Madrid’s former playmaker had fallen for what his team-mate Lilian Thuram described as an “Italian trap”.

The paper goes on to compare Zidane’s sending-off with that of David Beckham in the 1998 World Cup against Argentina.

Then, the reaction of the 23-year-old Englishman was contrite, recognising that he had damaged his team.

“Zidane did no such thing yesterday,” says Liberation. “He did not have a word for his team-mates, whom he perhaps cost the World Cup.”

‘Tackle racism’

Some find what he had to say about racism in football just as significant as his account of the headbutt.

Throughout his long career, says L’Equipe, never had Zidane evoked the subject with such conviction.

In the second interview he gave, on France’s main private channel TF1, Zidane spoke of his desire to see Fifa tackle racist comments on the pitch.

He singled out the Italian senator and prominent Northern League politician Roberto Calderoli, who has been quoted as saying that France “sacrificed its identity by fielding a team of blacks, Islamists and communists”.

“Is that not worse than what I did?” he asked. “It shocked me.”

France has not lost its admiration and affection for Zinedine Zidane.

A newspaper poll this week found that 61% of French people had already forgiven him over the headbutt.

Some politicians would dearly love to be so revered after such a disaster.

On Friday, another world-famous figure will address the French nation.

The contrast to the frenzy surrounding Zidane’s television appearance could not be greater.

If another opinion poll is to be believed, two-thirds of French people believe President Chirac’s Bastille Day speech is of no importance.

Published: 2006/07/13 12:05:21 GMT

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