Everything Real Madrid means was on display in Marseille last
Wednesday. Here came the cashbox boys, wielding a budget ($350
million) that dwarfs any other team's and rolling out its roster
of megastars with studied casualness: All was as it should be. Of
course David Beckham bent in his free kick, as the movie says; of
course Ronaldo popped home the game-winner. You don't come to see
Real Madrid play as much as you come to see them pay off.
After beating Olympic Marseille 2-1 they strolled to their bus
like rock stars--Beckham, Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Luis Figo,
Raul, Zinedine Zidane--and when you saw the highlights later, you
could almost be fooled by the predictableness of it all and say,
as Beckham did, "It was obviously just another game."
You had to be there in the damp cold at Stade Velodrome with
eight minutes left to know differently. You had to hear the
whistles that had rained down on Zidane, the sublime midfielder,
fall silent, had to see him wave twice, apologetically, as he
walked off the field, had to feel the crowd rise around you
clapping and chanting, "Zi-zou!" You had to sense that the
cheering for Zidane carried not just pride for Marseille's
prodigal son but also frustration and the residue of an old
shame. In this sense, Real Madrid didn't matter at all. What
mattered was that Zidane, now 31, had grown up worshipping OM and
has a family that cheered for that team even last Wednesday,
Zidane's first time returning home to play since establishing
himself in the late '90s as the great player of his time. "I'll
probably never be an OM player, even though it was my childhood
dream," he said the day before the game. "My contract is too
long, and my career too short and nearing the end. Too bad they
didn't want me when it was possible."
The man who passed on him was OM owner Bernard Tapie, who between
'86 and '93 drove Marseille to four French titles, a Champions
League trophy and eternal ignominy after a '93 match-fixing
scandal. Marseille hasn't won a title since. Recovering
relevance, for city and team, hasn't been easy. Last week
Marseille lost out to Valencia for the rights to host the 2007
America's Cup, and then their Zizou--after being named a player
of the year finalist--helped set up Ronaldo for the goal that
knocked OM out of the Champions League.
He smiled then and hugged Ronaldo because, well, that's what you
do. But when the game ended, Zidane trudged away, his head bowed.
Light glinted off his pate, and 58,600 sets of eyes watched him
go. He didn't look like a winner but something conflicted and
sad. He looked, in fact, like a man from Marseille. --S.L. Price
COLOR PHOTO: GERARD JULIEN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES (ZIDANE) AU REVOIR Zidane, and Beckham, left as winners.
COLOR PHOTO: GLYN KIRK/ACTION PLUS/ICON SMI (BECKHAM) [See caption above]