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6.3 The Zidane head-butt

The case study to be considered is an incident from the 2006 World Cup Final between France and Italy. The two players involved are Zinedine Zidane, playing for France who head-butted the chest of Marco Materazzi, who was playing for Italy.

Copyright Popperfoto/Alamy
Figure 13: Zidane

Activity 12: The incident

Timing: 0 hours 15 minutes

Read the following description of the incident, and note down any thoughts you have about what happened.

The incident happens in the second period of extra time (around 110 minutes into the match). Materazzi moves to stand behind Zidane and then holds onto him with an arm round his chest. Both players are looking in the direction of the ball. Materazzi lets go of Zidane and Zidane looks towards him. Materazzi says something and pats Zidane on the back. Both players start to move down the field in the direction of play while talking to each other and then Zidane begins to jog so that he is in front of Materazzi. Materazzi is still speaking in the direction of Zidane. Zidane turns to face Materazzi and then steps towards him whilst lowering his head. He then head-butts Materazzi in the chest. Materazzi drops to the ground.


What notes did you make about what you read above? Did they include some interpretations of the behaviour? Did you wonder why the players were behaving as they did? Imagine you were actually watching this incident happen rather than reading about it.

It is very tempting when observing behaviour to go beyond what you see and start to make inferences. For example if you watched someone being told a joke by another person and then laughing it would seem reasonable to describe the situation by saying that the person found the joke funny and laughed. The laughing is an observable action but the suggestion that they did so because they found the joke funny is an inference. We don't know they found the joke funny we just think we know. There could be a number of other reasons for the laughter. Some people laugh when they feel nervous or the joke may have caused feelings of anger which the person was attempting to disguise or they may even be laughing at something else they can see or something else they are remembering.

There is nothing wrong about making inferences and trying to interpret or explain behaviour – much of this course has been concerned with attempts to interpret behaviour by looking at different possible explanations. However it is important to distinguish between what you observe and how you might interpret this behaviour because several different interpretations may be possible.

In the Zidane incident, now that we have a description of what happened, the next step is to attempt some explanations for this behaviour. However, first it might help if you have some more background information about Zidane.