Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Monday, October 02, 2006

Capsule: Zidane - A 21st Century Portrait

"Aqui, aqui-". It's the thing that Zinedine Zidane says most frequently in this portrait of him by Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno. And the word 'here' is the clue to unlocking the portrait.

1) Here as in me, the physical self.

But there are only a few moments that delineate his physicality. The sphere of sweat glistening on his left ear like a diamond stud. The way that he is not conscious of this; as it pours off him, he does not pause to wipe it off him. The inverted triangle of the body: thin, delicate legs where his beautiful touch comes from; the thunderously proportioned thighs where his power comes from; a broad muscular chest for drive. He looks for all the world like a monk hellbent on revenge, except for one moment when he smiles a smile that spilts his face horizontally in two, pulling his deepset eyes forward to reveal a battery of crows' feet.

2) Here as in now, about consciousness and time

The cliche that great players of all sports do stop time is true. But the film provides an insight into the way that they do it. It is touch, control and precision, which means, yes, killing the (foot)ball dead, making it do what you want. But a deeper, sub/un conscious anticipation which means that the leg/foot/head is perfectly positioned to accept the offering. It is a nano-second that equals advantage; and an actual slowing down of the universe.

And the film gets as close as any motion picture has ever done to showing this sensation, which athletes call being 'in the zone'. In his comments on the film, Zidane says that he only remembers fragments of games, and it is clear after watching this why this is so: passages of play, directions of play are not linear. And following this, blocking out the crowd (noise consultant Kevin Shields makes them the most visceral participant), and simultaneously being part of and anticipating the action means that the idea of time as a progressive flow breaks down.

Time is instead a series of sometimes connected, atoms of moments.

He seems to subconsciously recognise this: after every significant snatch of play that he has been involved with, he inadvertently scrapes his boots back on the turf, and taps his toes vertically. The tools are clean; time to begin again.

He begins again by sometimes hearing the commentary of French games that he watched on TV in his youth: La carte verte is the sandbox again, where dreams are started again.

3) Here, as in give me the ball

Because of how he plays(ed), he doesn't go foraging, but asks instead for the ball to be delivered to him. Most times it is, and a small task is the subsequently completed: a flick, a shuffle, a small touch on. And then you notice that, in addition to his ability to bend time, his other sporting value is this - he fails in what he sets out to do athletically less often than other players.

The stats if passes not delivered, runs not completed are high for all player, both Real Madrid and Villareal. But his are slightly fewer. This means there is less need of exhortation - he is of few words during the course of the match - but also less need of his supporting cast, team mates and opposition alike. They are there, they are recognised, but they are not here, even when he rushes into the bundle that ultimately gets him sent off, even when he idly receives disinterested congratulations after setting up Real's equaliser (a run down the left hand side of the penalty box which showed him assuming the characteristics and body shape of a traditional winger).

There is one aqui missing from the film. The insight into the here of the soul beneath, which all good portraiture should do. The eyes are hooded, face mostly blank, so it is only those feet, those nervous, twitching cradles which provide a glimpse of the real no 5 under the shirt.

But here is the biggest insight. There is no script. Even if there was a game plan, it gets up ended. That's why sport is the ultimate drama. But also why a man blessed with the ability to bend the world a little to his will will always succeed: in the absence of words, he will know the right words to say, and the right actions to complete. And always in the right time of now, aqui, aqui.

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