Picturing Zidane: The Fetishized Footballer
From the book "Football and the Boundaries of History".
Chapter "From Galáctico to Head Butt: Globalization, Immigration and the Politics
of Identity in Artistic Representations of Zidane".
Prior to the infamous headbutt, Zidane’s talent made him one of the world’s most coveted players. Rodolfo de Florencia (b. 1968, Morelos, Mexico) explored the commodification of such footballers by framing Zidane’s record-breaking transfer from Juventus to Real Madrid within the language of commodity fetishism (2002, Image 2.1).
This painting isolates Zidane’s muscular legs while his name and $64 million dollar transfer fee appear in the top right corner. No other features identify the midfielder, yet the blue background and red socks evokes the French national team. In the series Star Players, de Florencia frames athletes like Zidane, Ronaldo, and Batistuta as physical traits and monetary values, fragmenting their bodies to render them as merchandise. While this association is clear, the artist’s rhetorical devices expose the machinations of fetishism in sports marketing and player contracts. By isolating particular anatomical features, such as the legs, de Florencia’s paintings resemble Jean Baudrillard’s notion of the “fetish-beauty,” the abstraction of a sought-after object, in this case the body, into a system of representation.
Since the fetish refers to a surrogate, or proxy for that which is desired, the body becomes separated into partial units, a montage of sorts that Baudrillard considers consumable. The divided body loses agency, and stripped of its totality and power, becomes an object safe for consumption.[i] Without contextual references beyond the transfer fee, the disjointed bodies appear salable, reducing Zidane and others to a code of activity defined solely by physique and price tag.
Where Marx and Engels believed that monetary value typically conceals the social character of labor, de Florencia diminishes his Star Players to a code of physical performance and net worth, reminding audiences of these players’ iconic status and value while criticizing their commodification in advertising and the transfer market.[ii]
[i] Jean Baudrillard, For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, trans. Charles Levin (Candor: Telos Press, 1981): 94-97.
[ii] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Capital, vol. 1. trans. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling; reprorduced in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, ed. Vincent Leitch (New York and London: Norton, 2001): 777, 779; Santiago Espinosa de los Monteros, “Rodolfo de