Nothing falls down
more easily than an Italian soccer player--with the possible exception of an
Italian soccer player's pants. What is it with the World Cup champions'
eagerness to drop trou? Last summer five greased-up members of the Azzurri set
hearts aflutter (and left little to the imagination) by appearing in Dolce
& Gabbana underwear ads on signboards across Germany. Now, seven months
later, their most notorious teammate is spontaneously stripping into his black
D&Gs before a stunned audience in a stylish Milan studio. It's hard not to
Then again, he wants you to. "See, it's the World Cup trophy!" says
Marco Materazzi, pointing to the eight-inch-long tattoo on his left thigh, one
of the two dozen (and counting) that decorate much of his chiseled 6'4"
frame. "I got it three days after the final."
"I've got one
too!" adds his wife of 13 years, Daniela, rolling up her right sleeve to
reveal a mini-Cup, to say nothing of her own array of body art.
daughter, Anna, giggles nearby. Last July her daddy played a central role in
the iconic sports moment of the young century: the thunderous head butt he
received in the chest after orally provoking French superstar Zin�dine Zidane
during the waning minutes of the World Cup final. A global cottage industry has
grown around the Head Butt Seen Round the World--chart-topping pop songs,
best-selling books, a blizzard of digitally altered YouTube clips--and if
history repeats itself first as tragedy and then as farce, the man they call
the Matrix would rather embrace the farce.
Rodman with Roberto Benigni, and you'd get something resembling 33-year-old
Marco Materazzi. Like Rodman, he's a tattoo-covered hardman whose flamboyant
(some say dirty) antics have often overshadowed his surpassing skills. This is
the same player who scored a goal and converted a penalty kick in the World Cup
final ... but also committed a penalty and instigated the Head Butt. And who
set a Serie A record for goals by a defender (12, with Perugia in 2000--01) ...
but later drew one of the longest misconduct suspensions in Italian history.
And who recently scored on a bicycle-kick goal ... only to garner more
attention for absorbing another head butt, from Sampdoria's Gennaro
Yet like Benigni,
the Oscar-winning Italian comic actor (Life Is Beautiful), Materazzi has also
tried to mine humor from misfortune. Last fall he put out a book for charity,
What I Really Said to Zidane, listing 249 possible provocations. (Sample:
"French philosophy hasn't been the same since Foucault died.")
Materazzi also filmed an ad for Nike spoofing the Head Butt in which he
subjected his barrel chest to an onrushing linebacker, a police battering ram
and a speeding monster truck. Lately, the Materazzi laugh track has given rise
to a new chant across Italian stadiums: Tutti pazzi per Materazzi! (All mad
he can't hide his frustration--not to mention his fear--over the lack of
closure to the Zidane episode. Among Materazzi's manifold tattoos is an Italian
saying that begins on the back of his left arm and ends on his right: IF YOU
CAN SOLVE A PROBLEM, WHY WORRY? AND IF YOUR PROBLEM CAN'T BE RESOLVED, WHAT'S
THE USE OF WORRYING ANYWAY? But what if the resolution to his most public
problem remains elusive? What if Zidane never accepts his invitation to meet in
person, exchange apologies and finally lay their feud to rest?
Eight months after
that fateful night in Berlin, the Matrix can't shake his sense that history
will remember the Head Butt more than any other event of last year's World Cup.
"The United Nations wanted to take separate pictures of us and then bring
them together, but I'd be even happier to do it for real," Materazzi says
through a translator. "I've apologized to those I have offended. I think
[Zidane] should also apologize for what was done, and for what I have gone
through as well. If we were to do it through the U.N., everyone would see it.
I'm more than willing to do this as a real act of communication for the world
and for peace."
"It's in the past," he told French television's Canal Plus last fall.
"Things happened the way they happened. We have to live with it."
Materazzi, however, has one big advantage. While Zizou has retired, the Matrix
is still out on the field--and thriving.
The scene at the Stadio Domenica in Verona on a gray mid-February afternoon is
a microcosm of Italian soccer. Nine days after a carabiniere died from an
explosive device during a riot outside a stadium in Sicily, the government has
reluctantly allowed Serie A to resume play while enacting strict security
measures that will force many matches to be played behind closed doors until
stadiums are brought up to code. "Very, very sad," Materazzi says,
shaking his head. "Without the fans, no sport is possible."
Has any nation
ever had a more bizarre 12-month stretch of soccer? On the one hand the Azzurri
won their fourth World Cup last July, and Materazzi's Inter Milan has
established itself as one of the world's top clubs, reeling off a record 18
straight wins in Serie A. On the other hand the Italian league has been laid
low not only by the tragedy in Sicily but also by a corruption scandal last
year that resulted in, among other penalties, the relegation of Juventus to the
second division. When Spain's Valencia knocked out Inter in the UEFA Champions
League round of 16 on March 6, it seemed like business as usual when the
Nerazzurri engaged the victors in an ugly hissy-fit brawl after the final