An insult about Zinedine Zidane's sister from Marco Materazzi is understood to have provoked the Frenchman's extraordinary headbutt for which he was sent off in Sunday's World Cup final. The Italian was also forced yesterday to deny he called Zidane, whose parents are Algerian immigrants, a " dirty terrorist".
While Zidane is expected to clear up the debate within the next week by revealing what was said to him at the Olympiastadion in Berlin on Sunday the clues are now pointing towards a remark about the Frenchman's sister, Lila. It was a confrontation that began with Materazzi grabbing Zidane's shirt.
It is alleged that Zidane responded by sarcastically telling Materazzi that he could have his shirt as a souvenir at the end of the match. The Italian is alleged to have responded by saying that Zidane could keep it for his sister and then made an extremely derogatory comment about her that version is backed up by lip-readers from the Brazilian TV channel Globo. They claim Materazzi called her a "prostitute".
Materazzi attempted to head off any controversy yesterday by releasing an official statement with the blessing of the Italian football federation after he was accused of making the "dirty terrorist" remark by an anti-racism group in Italy. The SOS Racism group said "very well informed sources from the world of football" had told it that Materazzi had called Zidane a "dirty terrorist".
Materazzi said: "It is absolutely not true, I did not call him a terrorist. I'm ignorant. I don't even know what the word means."
Yesterday Zidane, 34, who made the most graceless exit imaginable from a glittering career on Sunday night, had lunch with the French President, Jacques Chirac, along with the rest of the France team defeated in the World Cup final in Germany.
Zidane will tell a disbelieving French nation over the next week why he bowed out in his last game before retirement in disgrace, only the fourth player to have been sent off in a World Cup final.
Materazzi had refused to comment on the incident and left the stadiumwithout uttering a word to reporters. The judgement upon him will be harsh if it is alleged by Zidane that he did make a racist remark about the player's parents, who moved from Algeria to settle in La Castellane district of Marseilles.
The family of Zidane, an icon for multicultural France, are not Arabs but Berbers from the Kabylie region of Algeria, a people who have been in conflict with the Algerian government. Zidane describes himself as a " non-practising Muslim". His father, Smail, left the village of Taguemoune in Algeria in 1953 to find work, first in Paris and then Marseilles.
But the complications of race and belonging run deep in Zidane's personal history. In 2001, he was forced to deny publicly that his father was a " harki" the Algerian term for their countrymen who collaborated with the French during the war between those two countries. That statement came after the abandonment of a match between the two nations at the Stade de France in October 2001 following a pitch invasion by young Arabs chanting in favour of Osama bin Laden.
If Materazzi did describe the Zidanes as "terrorists", then he has a very tenuous grip on recent French history. The same young pro-Bin Laden French Arabs displayed banners denouncing Zidane as a "harki" a western-French sympathiser.
Yesterday, Zidane's agent, Alain Migliaccio, said the 34-year-old was simply "very sad" about the way his career, in which he was twice voted Fifa world player of the year, had ended. Zidane was also voted the Golden Ball winner the 2006 World Cup's best player although the poll was taken before his red card.
"He was very sad for everything that happened," Migliaccio told BBC Radio Five Live. "He is a human being, not a god. He hasn't told me exactly what Materazzi said, I know that he was provoked. Materazzi said something very grave to him, I don't know what it was. I know Zizou [Zidane] will, in one or two days' time, explain his reaction.
"When I saw him at 2am he was very sad, he didn't want to end his career like this. He doesn't say much but bottles it up and then one day explodes."
Zidane's previous record for head-butting is damning. He was given a five-match Champions' League ban in 2000 for doing the same to Jochen Kientz of Hamburg when he was at Juventus. He was sent off during France's victorious 1998 World Cup campaign for stamping on Faoud Amin of Saudi Arabia.
He was known for a shortness of temper at the start of his career in Cannes when he reacted badly to taunts about his race or origins. There is a story in France attributed to a scout who watched Zidane as a young boy that fits Sunday's events. In the game in question Zidane was crudely tackled, picked himself up before walking over to his assailant and knocking him out with a head-butt.
In Italy they have another explanation. In Italy, Internazionale are mocked as an overspending, poorly run side doomed to failure. The joke is that Materazzi's provocation was simple: he just asked Zidane if he fancied playing for Internazionale.Reuse content