The French press have found it difficult to reconcile the beauty of Zinedine’s Zidane’s football with the the act of thuggery which tainted his farewell appearance in Sunday’s World Cup final.

Zidane was sent off after violently headbutting Italian defender Marco Materazzi in the chest during the second period of extra-time.

“The Blues’ broken dream,” headlined the Figaro daily in its editorial, saying Zidane’s “final and odious headbutt” had tarnished the final of a “magical” player.

“We were left speechless by such stupidity,” the paper wrote, before adding it had to “thank Zinedine Zidane all the same for all the kicks of pure beauty he has given us over more than 100 matches with Les Bleus.”

“Thank you!” blared the front page of Le Parisien. But the paper could not understand why Zidane chose to self-destruct.

“How cruel to stumble so close to the goal,” it wrote. “This exit from football is unworthy of him”.

“The hardest thing is not to try to understand why Les Bleus lost a World Cup final match that was within reach,” the sports daily L’Equipe wrote, but “to explain to tens of millions of children around the world how you allowed yourself to headbutt Marco Materazzi.”

“It was a “stupid” and “irreparable” gesture, L’Equipe added.

“How could this happen to a man like you?” it asked in disbelief.

“We still can’t quite believe that the last act of an artist’s career should have been an assault,” wrote Le Parisien.

“Zidane botched his exit,” wrote L’Est republicain. “He snapped, as he has done several times over his career. And the French football world is shaking with reproach, incomprehension and sadness.”