Defending the indefensible is a tough calling.

To most, the actions of ZinedineZidane were an act of gross stupidity, recklessness or selfishness. Mounting an argument against each of those views is difficult.

With your team, your nation, ahead on points in the biggest match of your career, discretion is always the better part of valour.

Instead, the man widely acknowledged as the greatest footballer of his generation succumbed to school-boy posturing and head-butted his admittedly annoying Italian opponent to the chest with the vigour of a Spanish bull.

For his moment of madness, Zidane will forever be, pardon the pun, the butt of jokes and his place in football’s hierarchy will forever be scrutinized with the Materazzi caveat.

Football’s Stairway to Heaven reads like a Highway to Hell. Those players eulogized by lovers of the fine football can often be the games biggest sinners.

Maradona, Cantona, Zidane- the greatest of the great all burdened with a capacity to implode in ways that very few footballers can. This trend extends beyond the round-ball. In our own indigenous game, players like Tony Lockett, Dermott Brereton, Gary Ablett and even the great Leigh Matthews are guilty of on-field acts that perplex us all. Throw John McEnroe into the mix if you like.

Zidane, and indeed many of these people, are not evil.

The almost suffocating protection afforded Zidane indicates a man garnering universal admiration and respect.

From the French President Jacques Chirac to national coach Raymond Domenech to the team-mates Zidane let-down, each to a man won’t hear a word against the captain.

Equally, the hallowed halls of Manchester United call Eric Cantona their greatest ever. When it’s most successful ever manager Sir Alex Ferguson speaks of Cantona, he does so with an awed reverence reserved for those long dead. This for a man who once scaled a fence to karate-kick a fan.

Although the extreme acts of the Zidanes and the Cantonas of this world can never be justified, they can be rationalized.

Each player has a strong sense of justice. This sense of justice drives them. The results can often be misguided and violent but it’s the poison that comes with the chalice they carry on behalf of their own pride, their team and even their people.

They won’t let those they consider beneath them get away with actions that belittle them.

Only Zidane and Materazzi truly know what precipitated the Raging Bull. The footage clearly shows Zidane reacting to a Materazzi comment. The exchanges may never be known, but it was enough for Zidane to jeopardize a reputation made over 15 years to strike the blow he thought he needed to get even.

This suggests a level of goading from the Italian that went beyond a sporting contest. It went to the heart of Zidane’s values as a person and he felt compelled to act. To get even. To show Materazzi that he will not be spoken down to.

By reacting the way he did, the irony is that Zidane did himself, his team and his nation a gross disservice.

His reaction though does not make him a bad person. It shows him as a person burdened with the weight of a nation but unable to defend himself from the taunts of another by turning the other cheek.

He wanted justice and he pursued it- to his ultimate detriment.