The Turbulent Times of Marco Materazzi

The whole game for which the one-time Everton defender became infamous epitomised the controversy that followed Materazzi throughout his entire career.

Danny Harvey 10/01/2022 29comments  |  Jump to last

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How often do you fantasise about having your own statue? Even if the answer is ‘not that often, I'm not an egotistical weirdo', I want you to picture it now. It would be a big giant thing wouldn't it, visible for miles around. People flocking to it, getting selfies in front of it, perhaps even leaving you a little gift or two. God, you must have done something great to deserve that. It's not just anybody who gets a statue.

It's very rare to do something so brilliant you are immortalized in bronze. Did you lead your country to a heroic victory in a gruesome war? Did you cure a disease that was hellbent on wiping out mankind? Or did you, simply, infer that a bald man's sister was a promiscuous lady of the night and receive the most famous headbutt in human history?

Standing at over 16-foot the statue is, for want of a better word, fucking massive. Capturing the split second that Zinedine Zidane; French captain, hero, legend, idol and demi-god committed his final act as a professional football player, butting Marco Materazzi square in the chest causing him to almost pull off a full backflip.

It has been described as being ‘as timeless as Greek mythological works of art' by Jean-Paul Engelen, who as the director of Public Art at the Qatari Museum Authority is much better qualified to judge the statue than me. Seen by the French as being ‘an ode to defeat', it was sold to the Qatari's for an undisclosed fee in 2013.

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The headbutt itself, of course, was a moment of madness from a flawed genius, and ultimately cost France the World Cup, which Italy were to win on penalties. The only thing in recorded history to be more powerful than the opening of ‘Up', it was one of those famous moments that you know exactly where you were for it.

Little 12-year-old me was at a family party at my Nan's while my brothers, dad and uncle watched the game, and the more distant, slightly stranger side of the family stood in the kitchen engaging in riveting conversation about (I imagine) motorbikes, cars and Top Gear, or something else none of us had any interest in.

I remember us all looking around at each other as it happened, a sort of non-verbal ‘what the fuck?' look around the room. It was just utterly incomprehensible that what we had just witnessed happen had really happened.

The head-butt that propelled Materazzi, or “Matrix" as he was known to the Inter Milan fans, to global infamy is common knowledge, has been seen so many times that it is burnt into everybody's retinas. However, that whole game epitomized the controversy that followed Materazzi throughout his entire career.

Giving away the penalty, scoring the equalizer, goading the opposition captain into getting sent off before calmly slotting his penalty into the bottom corner during the penalty shootout. Just your average game for our anti-hero.

There is also the small fact of the treble he won at Inter in 2010 under the footballing equivalent of his soul mate, Jose Mourinho. Epitomizing Mourinho's style of play as a player who was willing to do whatever it takes to win, it is no wonder that they became so close despite Materazzi's injury-plagued two seasons under the Portuguese genius.

Despite only featuring in a short 2-minute cameo during injury time to secure the victory in the 2-0 Champions League Final victory against Bayern, the scenes after the game spoke a lot about the relationship between the two. As the team bus set off back to Milan, Jose jumped into a private car, later saying it was due to making up his mind to go to Real Madrid, and that the journey back with his celebrating players would have led to him doubting his decision.

However, whilst making his great escape, Mourinho noticed the Italian's figure lurking in the shadows and jumped out to embrace him. Materazzi then proceeded to castigate his boss, shouting “You're a shit. You're going and you're leaving us with Benitez. I'll never forgive you for it” before breaking down in tears in Jose's outstretched arms.

What less is known of, however, is how Matterazzi became Matrix. To steal a phrase from the Marvel nerds; What was his origin story? How did he evolve from a lanky, angry, average defender, that I imagine you're never more than 6 feet away from anywhere in Italy, into the cynical master of the dark arts that dominated strikers whilst being more than capable of playing progressive football out from the back?

The son of former Sporting and Lazio manager Giuseppe, young Marco briefly considered a switch to basketball after an argument had led to him quitting Messina at 18 and turning out for amateur side Tor di Quinto. He then proceeded to bounce around the Italian lower divisions for a couple of years, including a loan spell at Serie C side Carpi where he scored a quite frankly ridiculous 7 goals in 18 games from centre-half.

He began to make a name for himself as he led Perugia to a return to Serie A after their relegation the season before. Being hotly pursued by Lazio who saw him as the perfect cover for the prodigious Alessandro Nesta, Perugia wanted to sell him abroad rather than risk selling him to another Serie A side which could potentially come back to bite them in the arse.

This was music to Walter Smith's ears, as the former Rangers manager made Materazzi his (joint) first signing for Everton, along with future Inter team-mate Olivier Dacourt, ending John Collins's exile to the continent and signing Steve Simonsen from Tranmere Rovers, after his summer switch following the end of Howard Kendall's disappointing third and final spell in charge of the club.

Smith had a major rebuilding task on his hands, with Everton having only survived relegation on goal difference thanks to a final-day 1-1 draw with Coventry City, and he clearly felt that the eternally irate Italian was what he needed.

Describing him as being “tall, aggressive, can pass the ball, having a good shot from free-kicks and being good in the air at set-pieces”, it was obvious that Smith felt he had got himself a defender with untapped potential. Somewhat surprisingly, he made his debut for the Toffees just 4 days before his 25th birthday, considerably older than you would have suspected from his naïve displays. I suppose; however, it is common for defenders, and especially Italian defenders, not to hit their peak until later on in their careers and this was certainly the case for Materazzi. The first of four Italians to ever play for Everton, Materazzi paved the way for future legends Alessandro Pistone (extremely handsome, actually quite good), Matteo Ferrari (13-game loan spell — bald) and Moise (aim for seven goals, score four) Kean.

After an inconspicuous start during a pre-season tour of Belgium and the Netherlands (during which he suffered a broken nose after a clash with Sint Truidense), doubts began to grow over the defender's turn of pace and many wondered whether he was up to the required standard to replace the ageing Slaven Bilic, who had been the also-ageing Dave Watson's main partner during the previous season. Watson had actually had a spell as player-manager of Everton during the 1996-97 season, managing them seven times (and only winning one of them) before the return of Kendall.

After an average performance on his debut, a 0-0 stalemate with Aston Villa, his second game was a proper disaster-class, getting booked early on against Leicester City and being dragged off at half-time by Smith who must have been wondering how he had been persuaded to part with some of his limited funds on a defender who seemingly couldn't go into a tackle without leaving at least four studs impaled deep inside an opponent's shin.

Clearly struggling to come to terms with the system of three at the back that Smith was trying to implement, it was obviously a relief to Materazzi when the switch back to 4-4-2 occurred in early September, coinciding with him beginning to blossom into something resembling a player.

Until, that is, Huddersfield in the League Cup. The quintessential Marco Matterazzi experience. What a performance from the big man. 1-1 from the first leg, Everton found themselves one-down a minute in. Not ideal. Enter Matrix. A free-kick was whipped in by John Oster and was met by the head of the Italian and it looped over the keeper. 1-1. Or so he thought, until the ref disallowed it for an offside he'd spotted somewhere. Cue a mouthful from Materazzi and the familiar sight of an outstretched arm with a yellow card clutched at the end of it.

Dacourt then scored an equalizer before a scuffed effort saw the ball roll to Materazzi who finished with a sort of back-heeled flick. Not content with scoring the winner, Marco then felt he needed to ensure he got the headlines by absolutely nailing Marcus Stewart with 20 minutes to go, getting the first red card of his fledgling Everton career.

Straight back in the side the following week for a Premier League game against Blackburn, the Italian attracted plaudits from many Evertonians for his commanding display at the back. Finally, after a tricky start, he was starting to find his feet and resemble the player they had hoped they were signing.

Despite a stellar Man of the Match performance, and acclaim from the Goodison crowd, one man who left the ground less than impressed with Matrix was Martin Dahlin, who alleged the Italian had spat at him before taking matters into his own hands and earning himself a straight red card for clattering Materazzi with a brutal elbow that The Rock would have been proud of.

As his stock continued to rise due to his combination of physicality, poise and having an excellent range of passing, it was unfortunate that his penchant for picking up cards had led to him serving two suspensions by the end of November. Now widely established as Everton's best central defender, his unexpected dropping against Southampton in December was a major talking point in the build-up to the game. It later emerged that a training ground bust-up on the Friday before was the reason, although who the argument was with, or what it was over, remained a private matter.

Fast-forwarding to the FA Cup 4th round tie with Ipswich in the new year, Everton were languishing in a disappointing 15th place in the Premier League, and all hopes of achieving anything with their season lay with a potential cup run. The crowd were buzzing with anticipation, buoyed by the prospect of something other than limping to yet another league defeat, which might have got young Marco slightly too motivated. A rash challenge in the 4th minute resulted in yet another yellow card, an extremely familiar sight at this point.

The Toffees went in at the break one goal to the good thanks to Nicky Barmby, so I imagine the half-time team talk went something like this; “Good half lads, now let's try to keep it tight this second half. Let's not do anything rash.” While staring at Materazzi the whole time. “Do I make myself clear? Nothing stupid, let's keep eleven men on the pitch.” Boom. 46th minute, red card. Mike Riley judged Marco to have reacted with a kick out after a push by David Johnson, and that was that.

From this point forward, it looked as though Materazzi had settled into his position in the Everton back four and was beginning to look more and more the traditional Italian defender that the Toffees had hoped they had signed. An element of playacting remained in his game, which divided fans, but they were willing to overlook this provided his performances remained as elegant and commanding as they had begun to grow accustomed to. He had even added free-kick taking to his repertoire, scoring with a low curling effort against Middlesborough in what proved to be a solitary league goal of the season.

A couple of months later, however, came the game that best summed up his Goodison Park career. The Merseyside derby. Giving away an early penalty by tripping Paul Ince, Robbie Fowler then stroked the penalty home before celebrating with one of the most infamous celebrations in football history. A controversial moment involving the timid and withdrawn Marco Materazzi, you say? Well, I for one am shocked. Despite not being the main culprit in this instance, trouble just seemed to follow the poor guy like Andy Gray after Richard Keys. It was the celebration that Gerard Houiller thought was a ‘grazing cow', whilst literally everybody else in the world over the age of 12 saw it for what it was; a stripe of the devils' dandruff, mocking the taunts that Everton fans had been goading him with for the last couple of years. Materazzi then watched a thumping effort from a free-kick ricochet back off David James's post before being substituted at half-time.

Two games later, in a home clash against Coventry, Materazzi would make what proved to be his final appearance in a blue shirt. Well, Everton blue. He might have played once or twice for Italy. Everton sat just 3 points above the relegation zone, and desperately needed 3 points — which they would get thanks to a brace from Kevin Campbell. However, the defining moment in the game would be yet another Materazzi red card.

Already on a booking, Darren Huckerby skipped past the Italian, who slid across his path, but touched neither the ball nor the man. Huckerby went down regardless, Rob Harris brandished a second yellow, and Materazzi broke down into infuriated tears. Overcome with emotion, he slumped into a heap against the advertising hoardings, hands on head, protesting his innocents to any fans within earshot, receiving some reassuring pats from sympathetic supporters as the game continued. As poignant parting shots go, this one of a vulnerable and tortured soul, who would do anything to win, was beautiful.

Spending the last five games of the season either suspended or on the bench, it is rather fitting that his final act was to be shown a red card, one of three in just 30 games across all competitions. He received a very impressive 14 yellows meaning, to coin Roy Hodgson, that ‘the cards were like confetti at a wedding'.

His time at Everton was short and bittersweet, and though there was the promise of the defender he would later become, it was evident that he had not yet hit his peak. Popular with the fans, he was also well-liked by local reporters, who he would frequently invite into his home to conduct interviews. Indeed, such is his pedigree that he remains one of only three former Everton players to win the World Cup (alongside 1966 heroes Alan Ball and Ray Wilson).

Netting Everton a £1M profit when they sold him back to Perugia for £3.7M at the end of the season, it wouldn't be like Materazzi to leave without one last controversy following him. Perugia refused to pay the final instalment of the transfer fee, and Everton had to take their pursuit of the missing £500,000 to Fifa in 2003, demanding that the club be closed down unless they paid it.

Indeed, Everton had apparently forgotten about the missing money until the 2006 World Cup Final, which seemed to re-jog their memory as they initiated court proceedings yet again against the club which had to be re-founded in 2005 and 2010 due to financial irregularities.

All-in-all, whilst his performances may have varied from composed and dominating to rash and wild, and you never knew which version of him was going to turn up, he was always extremely entertaining to watch, and isn't that what football is all about at the end of the day?

The highs and lows, his free-kicks and his play-acting, his "win at all cost" mentality made him into the player that he would later become. One thing is for certain: there was never a dull moment while Marco Materazzi, The Matrix, was around.

This article first appeared last year at the Lovely Cushioned Header website

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Reader Comments (29)

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Stephen Brown
1 Posted 10/01/2022 at 17:19:20
Really enjoyed that article. I remember this all so well.
Shame it didn’t work out here like lots of others around that time.
Mike Gaynes
2 Posted 10/01/2022 at 17:25:30
That was a fun read, Danny. Cheers.
Brent Stephens
3 Posted 10/01/2022 at 17:33:00
Danny, a really good article. No if no butts.
Peter Warren
4 Posted 10/01/2022 at 17:41:50
Enjoyed that. Remember him, great character and enjoyed watching him. Going the match the was exciting we had other good player I think around time like Graveson and Dacourte.

Can’t believe he was nearly 25 I’m very doubtful on that but I guess must just have done your research!
Billy Roberts
5 Posted 10/01/2022 at 17:57:20
Excellent article Danny, I will have to Google a picture of that 16ft statue!!
What a topsy-turvy career he had, it still shows though that players can still kick on in their mid to late 20s.
Nicholas Ryan
6 Posted 10/01/2022 at 18:25:01
I once saw him shopping with his wife, in Sainsbury's in Woolton Village in Liverpool; he was huge! His feet were like Thames barges and must have been about size 15!

There were some photographs of him outside Goodison a year or so ago. He was in the city with his teenage son, who was wearing an Everton matchday shirt... which apparently he does all the time!

Danny O’Neill
7 Posted 10/01/2022 at 18:27:46
Good read that Danny. The Villa 0 - 0 was my son's first match. Thanks for the memory!

I always thought Materazzi would go onto better things and I read at the time, there was outcry in Italy that he'd been sold outside of Serie A. I always rated Dacourt as well and was made up when we signed John Collins as I'd always admired him as a player.

Now, onto that one-to-one strip. It surely rivals the Linekar white bib one for me as one of the worst we've had.
Dave Abrahams
8 Posted 10/01/2022 at 18:28:03
I remember that sending off when he pleaded, beseeched and even begged anyone near him who would listen to his claims of innocence to that offence, but like the boy who cried wolf nobody believed him.

Danny he might have been only one of three Everton players to win a World Cup medal but he was the only, without doubt, the complete fruit and nutcase off his rocker to win one.
Peter Mills
9 Posted 10/01/2022 at 18:47:47
I enjoyed reading your article Danny. It’s very strange that it should appear today, as I learned this morning of the death of Peter McFall, the former official Club photographer, a very nice man.

I became friendly with Peter in the 1990s through work. When he found out I was a Blue he invited me, my Dad and my kids to a pre-match photo shoot at Goodison, a thrill for all us. It was in April 1999, and we met Walter Smith and several of the players, including Marco who was a pleasant and polite guy. However, he was obviously overawed by meeting me, as he went on to have a nightmare afternoon against Sheffield Wednesday before having the indignity of being substituted by Peter Degn.

I let my daughter take my old autograph book with her that day. I’ve just checked and in it, alongside the signatures of Alan Ball, Howard Kendall and Brian Labone from outside Bellefield, March 1970, sits the name of Marco Materazzi, Goodison, April 1999.

Thanks for the memory.
Howard Don
10 Posted 10/01/2022 at 19:59:22
I remember the upbeat pre-match atmosphere first home game that season. We'd signed Marco, John Collins, Dacourt and thought we were on our way with Peter Johnson's “millions”, that he never had quite as many of as we thought! Sadly it all went very sour, sound at all familiar?
Paul Washington
11 Posted 10/01/2022 at 20:00:11
Peter #9,

I too also knew Peter McFall through work, he was a lovely man who invited me and my son to Goodison Park before a game. My lad loved it he met players and had photos taken by Peter with players.

God bless him.

Dave Abrahams
12 Posted 10/01/2022 at 20:04:47
Peter (9), you should put that autograph of Marco Materazzi for sale on the Italian “Flog It” you’d make a good few Euro’s!!
Peter Mills
13 Posted 10/01/2022 at 20:15:03
Dave#12, any helpful suggestions for what I should do with the autographs from Thomas Myrhe and Scott Gemmill?
Howard Don
14 Posted 10/01/2022 at 20:18:40
Bill Hawker
15 Posted 10/01/2022 at 20:38:41
"Fast-forwarding to the FA Cup 4th Round tie with Ipswich in the new year, Everton were languishing in a disappointing 15th place in the Premier League, and all hopes of achieving anything with their season lay with a potential cup run."

It sounds so familiar but I can't quite place my finger on it...

Jim Bennings
16 Posted 10/01/2022 at 20:49:50
I remember him for having a really cultured left foot, twatting a curling free kick down at the Kop in the derby rattled the post.

That picture for this article, Gary McAllister looks younger now than he did then… lol!

David Pearl
17 Posted 10/01/2022 at 21:08:23
I hated Huckerby after that. He also went off one game with one eye closed after an elbow to the face that was unpunished.
Mike Allison
19 Posted 10/01/2022 at 21:15:26
I loved Materazzi. I'd just moved to Liverpool for university at the age of 18. It was my first season as a Season Ticket Holder.

I sat in the Top Balcony and you could see from there that he hadn't got near Huckerby.

Tommy Carter
20 Posted 10/01/2022 at 22:21:40
That summer of 1998 was really exciting I have to say. And I also rate Walter Smith in terms of his transfer dealings. He could spot a player and when initially backed with funds, he spent. Save for Bakayoko of course.

That team he put together to begin with was just missing a striker. That was all, and when Kevin Campbell was added later in the season, the performances and results were largely outstanding.

He had inherited an abysmal squad really and just as he was building the squad, the money was gone and asset stripping took place. The fact we spent the following season (99-00) completely untroubled by relegation and losing just 2 games at home – to Arsenal and Newcastle was impressive work I felt by the late Walter Smith.

Paul O'Neill
22 Posted 11/01/2022 at 09:26:24
Really enjoyed that article! Great writing (although in that context it’s imply, not infer). Sorry, punch me in the face sometime. Marco was part of my first ever season ticket at Everton in 1998-99. Long time ago!
Andrew Ellams
23 Posted 11/01/2022 at 10:19:10
I was at the Ipswich game and I still insist his reaction to David Johnson for the red card was to more than just a push in the chest. I guess we'll never know.
Kim Vivian
24 Posted 11/01/2022 at 10:52:53
Marco Materazzi -one of my favorite nutters in the blue jersey. Good fun read that. One of the squad when I first started going with my eldest son.
Kim Vivian
25 Posted 11/01/2022 at 10:53:02
Marco Materazzi -one of my favorite nutters in the blue jersey. Good fun read that. One of the squad when I first started going with my eldest son.
Dave Abrahams
26 Posted 11/01/2022 at 11:28:44
Peter (13),come on Peter you know where your bin is !!

Thomas Myrhe wore contact lenses same as George Wood, I think sometimes they wore them and sometimes forgot to, I think one of the times Wood forgot them was the 4-4 draw with Newcastle.
Justin Doone
27 Posted 11/01/2022 at 14:09:28
We have had some crazy players and he probably tops the list.

But his ability to defend, pass and will to win is sadly lacking in the current squad. If Mina could stay fit things could be different.

But overall a lot of my memory has been wiped clean form what was season after season of dross in those terrible dark days.
Justin Doone
28 Posted 11/01/2022 at 14:09:35
We have had some crazy players and he probably tops the list.

But his ability to defend, pass and will to win is sadly lacking in the current squad. If Mina could stay fit things could be different.

But overall a lot of my memory has been wiped clean form what was season after season of dross in those terrible dark days.
Phil Wood
29 Posted 11/01/2022 at 16:03:16
I loved Marco.
Gutted when he left.
Never a dull moment and glimpses of a great player.
Guy Rogers
30 Posted 11/01/2022 at 19:43:58
Wasn't Dacourt a bit of a liability too?
Roger Helm
31 Posted 11/01/2022 at 19:45:53
I remember Graham Stuart writing that he was the type of defender who would let the ball go past him, or an attacker, but never the two together. He tried it once in training and ended up flat on his back wondering what had just happened.

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