Glenn Moore: Materazzi, from Everton reject to world champion

'Those who know me know I'm a good lad, others don't think so.' The Italian is a man of contradictions, with a career to match
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The Independent Football

Marco Materazzi, the central figure of Sunday's World Cup final, has long been one of those footballers around whom things tend to happen. He can be a menace in both penalty areas with his impulsiveness in the tackle, and power at set pieces. In his brief sojourn at Everton he received three red cards in 32 matches. After the third, which followed a second booking prompted by a Darren Huckerby "dive", he sat by the side of the pitch on the advertising hoardings and cried.

Seven years on, at the age of 32, any tears to be shed would be ones of happiness. In a tempestuous evening, even by his standards, Materazzi gave away a penalty, scored the equaliser, provoked the dismissal of the game's best player in two decades, and scored his penalty as Italy won the shoot-out.

It was all in a night's work for a man who is beloved by the Ultras at Internazionale but, until Sunday night, hated and feared by supporters from most other Serie A clubs.

Much of this stems from his style of play. Hard defenders are nothing new in calcio but Materazzi's aggressive approach stands out. He may have attempted to pull out of the tackle which brought down Florent Malouda in Berlin but it was typically impetuous. Earlier in the tournament a similarly rash challenge against Australia brought him a harsh red card.

There is also a brutality about some of his play. In the Champions' League quarter-finals this season he viciously elbowed Villarreal's Juan Pablo Sorin, escaping dismissal only because the referee did not see it. No surprise then, that after he scored against the Czech Republic in the World Cup, he dedicated his goal to Daniele De Rossi, who was serving a four-match suspension for an equally violent elbow on the USA's Brian McBride. Among his tattoos are one which says Lion. Another has his birthdate in Roman numerals.

Yet he is also a softie. He wears the No 23 shirt, for Inter and the Azzurri. It is the date of his wedding day and his son's birthday. He is popular among team-mates. While at Everton he was known to invite local reporters to his house to conduct interviews. His celebrations in Berlin were the most joyous of all the jubilant Italians. On his website he says: "Those who know me, know I am a good lad, the others don't think so."

Among the "others" may be Craig Bellamy, who was sent off for retaliating after tangling with Materazzi when Newcastle played Inter in the Champions' League. And, now, Zinedine Zidane. We may never know what Materazzi said to the French captain, but whatever it was, Zidane's furious reaction did not appear to prompt any remorse from the 32-year-old Italian.

Materazzi came from a football family. His father, Giuseppe, coached a string of Italian clubs, including Lazio, as well as Sporting Lisbon in Portugal and a spell in China. Marco was a late developer, playing predominantly in Serie C until he was 24. After a season in Serie B with Perugia, Walter Smith spent £2.8m to bring him to Everton but even Premiership referees balked at his aggressive play.

Nevertheless, his ability on the ball and in the air impressed and there were mixed feelings among the Everton support when he returned to Perugia for £3m after a season. Everton needed the cash, and he had not settled, but one wonders now what might have been. Back in Umbria he blossomed, winning his first cap in April 2001 at the age of 27 and joining Inter for £6m a few months later.

He has been a regular at Inter, through various managers, and with an unusual shortage of top-quality central defenders in the Italian game, became the accepted understudy to Fabio Cannavaro and Alessandro Nesta. When the latter was injured against the Czechs, Materazzi stepped in, and was man of the match. He was banned from the quarter-final win over Ukraine but returned for the semi-final and kept his place in Nesta's continued absence.

Although Inter have not been embroiled in the match-fixing scandal, Materazzi may be on the move. Even before the World Cup, he had been offered to English clubs and he was yesterday linked with ambitious Villarreal. He will take with him a fearsome appetite for the game, a checkered reputation, and a World Cup winner's medal.