Camus in his essay, ‘The Rebel’, writes: “What is a rebel? A man who says no: but whose refusal does not imply a renunciation. He is also a man who says yes as soon as he begins to think for himself. A slave who has taken orders all his life, suddenly decides that he cannot obey some new command. What does he mean by saying ‘no’? He means, for instance, that ‘this has been going on too long’, ‘so far but no farther’, ‘you are going too far’, or again ‘There are certain limits beyond which you shall not go’. In other words, his ‘no’ affirms the existence of a borderline.”
In every act of rebellion, the rebel feels heartbreak at the infringement of his rights. Zidane knew what would happen once his head crashed into Materazzi’s sternum. But he also felt the complete and spontaneous loyalty to certain aspects of himself. And this is what has given the ‘disgraced’ 34-year-old from Marseilles the sheen of the anti-hero.
The banal comments from certain sections about Zidane’s ‘ugly act’ spawning a million head-butts in thousands of school fields misses two points: he hadn’t planned it this way, and that he doesn’t really care. Television commentators, never mind Fifa prefects, can’t comprehend why a grown man, a celebrated genius, has to ‘throw it all away’. By reacting in an ‘unprofessional’ manner — both in terms of description as well as judgment — Zidane chose one set of values to be more important than the other. In other words, he became a ‘stupid’ footballer and a heroic man in the eyes of one — himself — at the same 109th minute.
Zidane’s ‘stupidity’ is only matched by that of another mortal, the tragic hero of Homer’s Iliad, Achilles. Instead of playing it by the rules of war and the norms of decency, Achilles avenges the death of his closest friend Patroclus by tying the slain body of his killer, Hector, to his chariot and dragging it around. He knows that this ‘foolish’ act is bound to earn the wrath of the Gods, whose favourite he had been till that moment, and which will quickly lead to his own death. “Achilles... cares not a jot for public opinion, to which most people bend the knee for better or for worse... He had better beware of our wrath, great man though he is. What is he doing in his fury but insulting senseless clay?” Homer makes Apollo the Sun God say.
The sense of how to act (or not act) against wrongs varies from person to person. It is the social man, living according to the ‘rules of the game’, who knows how to act and how to practise restrain, no matter what the provocation. But as with Zidane on Sunday night and Achilles on a different field, Camus’s rebel stubbornly insists that there are certain things in him that are ‘worthwhile’, even if it ends in personal shame.