Issue 11 of excellent football magazine The Blizzard has a very interesting interview with Horacio Elizondo. Elizondo officiated the 2006 World Cup Final between France and Italy, and was the person who sent off French captain (and football legend) Zinedine Zidane for a violent headbutt on the Italian defender Marco Materazzi. Here's an excerpt from the interview in which Elizondo runs through his decision making process.
Q. Obviously, that decision was correct. A headbutt to the chest — no room for doubt there! But discussion has continued about the role of the fourth official in that decision. In 2006, did you get a word in your ear from the fourth official?
"It was all done over the headset. When Materazzi fell to the floor, the ball was up the other end of the pitch and of course I was keeping up with play over there... So immediately I ask my assistant, Darío García, [touching a finger to his ear to indicate the headset] “Darío, did you see anything? What happened? Why’s he on the floor?” He tells me, “I don’t know, I see him there on the floor but I didn’t see what happened.” Then I ask Rodolfo [Otero, the other assistant referee], who was on the other touchline, in the other half of the pitch — without much hope, because he was a long way away — and he tells me, “No, me neither.” And that’s where I start to think... [blows out his cheeks] I had a lot of doubts, clearly something had happened, but if no one saw what it was... and then Luis Medina Cantalejo’s voice [the fourth official] appears in my headset, and he says “Horacio, Horacio, I saw it,” he says to me. “A really violent headbutt by Zidane on Materazzi, right in the chest.”
So obviously, when I get to the spot, I already know Zidane is on his way. I got to the spot, to where Materazzi was, and the Spaniard [Cantalejo] had already told me what I needed to know to make the decision that Zidane was going to leave the pitch. What I then asked [Cantalejo] was, “Why did he headbutt him?” — whether he’d seen whether Materazzi had done anything beforehand — and he replied, “No, honestly I don’t know. I just saw the headbutt.” And when I got there, I realised that the players didn’t know what was going on either...And the noise in the stadium... the crowd just went silent, as if to say, “What’s going on? Why is that player lying on the floor?” And me in the middle of it, thinking, “Right then... how do I make this decision clear? Zidane’s going, he’s standing there calmly.
It didn’t seem very correct, to me, to just BANG! take a red card out like that, as if from nowhere, with the crowd and players all having seen that I’d been in the other half and hadn’t seen anything. So, since the headsets were only new you can see if you watch it on video that I go over to Darío García... I went over to Darío, but I knew Darío didn’t know anything! So, why? Well, because that is understandable. Everyone understands if you go over to the assistant that it’s because the assistant is going to tell you something to help you make a decision. So I get to Darío, and I just say to him, “Focused!” — I say it to him and I say it to myself, to remind us both, “there are still 10 minutes to go, stay focused.” — I turn around and go to Zidane and take out the red card."
Q. Even though he hadn’t been the assistant who told you...
"No, he didn’t tell me anything. How could he, if he didn’t know? When I realised I needed to get the card out I thought, “Right then, let’s see, how can I make this easily understood?” And I say to myself, “If the assistant calls you over, everyone knows that’s because he’s going to tell you something. It was a little bit of a disguise, but it contained some truth as to how the decision was taken".