France legend Zinedine Zidane says he “would rather die” than apologise to Marco Materazzi, whom he headbutted during the 2006 World Cup final.
Zidane, playing the last game of an illustrious career, attacked Materazzi in extra-time – an action which saw the France captain duly dismissed.
Italy went on to win the World Cup in a penalty shoot-out and, while Zidane admits he regrets what he did, he insists he will never apologise to Materazzi.
“Of course I reproach myself,” Zidane told El Pais, “but, if I say ‘sorry’, I would also be admitting that what he himself did was normal, and for me it was not normal.
“Things happen on the pitch. It’s happened to me many times, but I could not stand it there. Because moreover … it is not an excuse, but my mother was ill. She was in hospital. This people did not know, but it was a bad time.
“More than once they insulted my mother and I never responded, but there … and it happened. And to apologise for this – if it was Kaka, a regular guy, a good guy, of course I would have apologised, but to this one…
“If I ask him forgiveness, I lack respect to myself and to all those I hold dear with all my heart. I apologise to football, to the fans, to the team. After the game, I went into the dressing room and told them, ‘Forgive me. This doesn’t change anything, but sorry everyone’.
“But to him I cannot. Never, never. It would be to dishonour me. I’d rather die. There are evil people, and I don’t even want to hear those guys speak.”
Zidane is now special advisor to Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, and he has hailed Madrid’s latest crop of expensive players.
He said: “Cristiano Ronaldo wants to be the best and he says so. It’s one thing to say it and another to do it. He says it and then gets up early to go to training at eight in the morning, two hours before scheduled, and he stays there six hours.
“People say he is a show-off, but he’s noble. A good lad and worker. Playing every three days, you can’t do silly things and he knows it. And if they jeer him, he doesn’t care. The opposite – he likes it!”