In a single explosive moment in July 2006, Marco Materazzi’s name entered football notoriety. It was deep into extra time of the World Cup Final – a game in which Materazzi had already played a significant role, conceding an early penalty before heading an equaliser – when in an off the ball confrontation, Zinedine Zidane, playing the final game of an illustrious career, was provoked into launching a crazy head butt into the Italian’s chest. Zidane was sent off, Materazzi scored in the penalty shoot out that brought Italy their fourth World Cup victory, and the whole planet pondered the same question: just what did the Italian do to provoke such a violent reaction?
If watching Evertonians were surprised that Materazzi had scaled such footballing heights, that he was at the heart of controversy was less of a shock. Signed by Walter Smith for £2.8 million in the summer of 1998, Materazzi was a tall, hard centre back, who was in the mould of such classic Italian hardmen as Claudio Gentile. A good footballing player, he defied the notion that central defenders merely had to hoof the ball at the first opportunity. However, he was let down by an abysmal disciplinary record as Premier League referees baulked at his aggressive style of play. Three times through his solitary season at Goodison he was sent off; after his final dismissal, against Coventry City, he sat besides an advertising hoarding and wept.
This was the final glimpse Evertonians had of Materazzi, who, as a financial crisis gripped Goodison, was sold back to Perugia that summer. However, controversy did not leave him there, and Everton became involved in a lengthy legal dispute after Perugia reneged on an instalment of the transfer payment. In 2001, he joined Inter Milan for €10 million, and at the San Siro his career blossomed with multiple Scudetto wins and the World Cup victory.
But just what did he say to Zidane? All through the game, the Italian had shadowed the Frenchman, and Zidane, in a pique of frustration, told him that if he wanted his shirt so badly he would give it to him after the game. To this Materazzi said that he would prefer Zidane’s ‘whore of a sister’; the Frenchman snapped and Materazzi entered football history.