Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Portrait of a Legend

A while ago, I began to watch the documentary "Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait". I grew up watching the French-Algerian legend, and it has been too long since I had the pleasure of watching him create art with the ball as his brush and the game as his canvas. In the film, a plethora of cameras follow Zidane through a 90-minute match against Villarreal in July of 2005. The multitude of camera angles, superb sound capture and close attendance to the temperamental genius opens a window into a footballing world I had never known.

Never before have I been able to so closely follow in the foosteps of any player, much less the giant prints of Zizou. With this film the audience is given a window into Zidane's ineffable brilliance, while simultaneously exposing slight quirks that somehow shrink the football giant into someone almost human.

As Zidane saunters around the pitch in the first half, he appears lazy and unconcerned at first glance. He walks more often than not, has the annoying habit of dragging his right foot on the ground distractedly, and appears unhappy at best. However, his poor body language belies the intense concentration visible in his face. Every few seconds he glances around the pitch, taking a mental "picture" of the events transpiring. It quickly becomes abundantly clear that while he does not have eyes in the back of his head as he often made it seem, he does indeed know everything going on within a 50 metre radius.

Amazingly, Zidane spends long periods of the first half with not even a sniff of the ball. When he does receive it, he rarely ever physically exerts himself because of his inestimably sublime first touch and vision. Far from being lazy, the man simply does not have to work corporeally because he has done the work mentally. He rarely ever speaks in the first half, but when he lets his voice be heard he calls quietly in the native language of the ball carrier, again betraying his brilliance, mental acuity and vision.

In the second half, Zizou springs to life. He commands possession of the ball more often and in more dangerous positions, he puts in a more physical effort, and above all, he seems to enjoy his surroundings. On occasion we see his lighter side as he jokes with Brazilian Roberto Carlos.

In a flash of brilliance out of apparent nothingness, Zidane takes on no less than three defenders with a burst of dribbling skill and acceleration and calmly dinks a lofted cross to the unmarked Ronaldo to finish. Less than a minute later, the notoriously short-fused playmaker charges late into a brawl to grab a Villarreal player by the neck. As abruptly as his anger boils over, it seems to dissipate as he calmly walks off the pitch, his job done and the day over. His legendary temper on display once again, he shows the dark side that comes with the grandeur. But the world would have it no other way.

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