Zooming in on Kurt Zouma

I had a 5am call with a university in Russia’s Far East, so I was up before 4:00 to shower, grab a mug of tea, enjoy my porridge and prepare. As you do, when downing some Lyons Tea of a morning, I had a scroll through twitter to see if Russia was invaded by NATO overnight, or the Russians had taken the rest of Ukraine.

Instead I was met with a stream of hatred towards Kurt Zouma and saw the video provided by The Sun. In those pre-dawn Moscow hours I watched it one more time to get the full take as I knew this had legs. The football world had long forgotten about an abusive Manchester United player and would be united against West Ham soon. Yet by the time this is published, it’ll be yesterday’s news.

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Culture

I had a back and forth with a friend from the English Midlands about the topic of culture. He correctly pointed out that there is no excuse for animal abuse, which I fully agree. I would personally take a hurl to the Zouma brothers’ testicles (if they have them) and make sure their line would not continue. However that is an emotional reaction and lowering myself to their level. Even in writing in such a manner, I am no better than such an abuser.

I need to step out of my own ego and look at the culture from which the Zouma’s emerged and inhabit. They are children of immigrants from the Central African Republic, where the average wage is $400 a year, life expectancy for male/female is 45/48 years and female genital mutilation is common (according to the WHO, a quarter of women have suffered it). I deal directly with four students from the CAR and yesterday before Gaelic Football training had an opportunity to ask the two who train with us, the reaction to the Zouma’s behaviour.

He’s a hero, they all are. Of course it’s not nice what he did. He shouldn’t have done it.

Above I’ve mentioned the life of an average CAR citizen, yet Kurt and Yoan are French-born and living in England. They are both pleasant, engaging characters. Kurt has helped the land of his parent’s birth, appealing for peace to prevail in the country in 2014. As a 19-year-old, newly signed for Chelsea, he asked his compatriots to give peace a chance.

Peace in a country where 417 of 436 mosques had been destroyed in a series of vicious and genocidal civil wars. His parents escaped to have their children in Lyon, though raised them in a tightknit community from their homeland. Guy, their Father, is a strict disciplinarian and devout Muslim who has invested Kurt’s money in a number of businesses in France. When Kurt was suspended for a clumsy tackle that effectively ended Sochaux player Thomas Guerbert’s career, Zouma Senior was front and centre to defend his son with – “he’s not a violent player.” In that he had a point, the tackle was textbook, He was off the ground when he went in, however played the ball cleanly. It was an accident. Papa Zouma later confided in a friendly journalistic ear that it was this tackle that got him the move to Chelsea.

Tough love

Guy Zouma was a hard taskmaster for his children. Life was not easy for the family of eight and he did what he could to bring in money, while his wife worked as a cleaner and waitress amongst other jobs. The friendly journalistic ear works with a French media outlet in Lyon covering sports from football (association to rugby to Gaelic) and has known Guy almost two decades. How would he describe Papa Zouma?

Strict, very strict. Very traditional. The boys all know who is the boss. He’s an imposing figure and not shy. The boys would be terrified of stepping out of line and what would happen. Guy always said he bred them to be athletes, he has pushed them every step of the way and four playing professionally is quite remarkable. One, two, ok. But four and two of them are internationals.

When Kurt was moving to West Ham I was curious as to why the deal was moving in spurts. For Capital Sports I turned to a French colleague who was able to tell me that Guy Zouma was in dispute with an intermediary (agent), who was processing the deal, over a payment Guy said he was due of somewhere between half and a million pounds. Guy Zouma is the de facto agent of his four professional footballing sons. I verified this yesterday with the journalist who’s known Guy for so long.

Yes, that’s correct. It’s not unusual, no? He has always had the hand in deals, especially for Kurt. He had always been like a money manager. They have done a lot in the CAR too and donating to charity here in Lyon, in England you will see too this.

The picture painted is of a family of immigrants, led by a strict patriarch who has a business interest in his son’s success and for whom tough love was borne of tradition, culture and experience. It is not totally uncommon among immigrant families and completely normal from my lengthy personal experience with citizens of the Central African Republic. So does this excuse him abusing a domesticated pet?

Pet or animal?

Media outlets were quick to jump on the story of Kurt Zouma abusing a family pet. For the most part social media condemned him as a thug. Regular media lit up, getting quotes from everyone and anyone with a pulse and opinion. World War 3? Nah, back page went front page with a French international booting a cat around the house. Nuance, context, background, morals, even logic went out the window in the rush to go lower with the shock porn. The Joe Duffying of news media meant that every next image or take had to be more horrific and enraging than the last. Then we knew he was about to play for West Ham and the PR magic went into overdrive. The need to 1. distract and 2. get clicks meant that no low was too low to be exploited.

Almost 21,000 likes for publishing a photo of Thierry Henry and Mo Salah with their cats. Nice work. And of course “journalists” got in on the sniggering and collection of likes.

Yet worse was afoot. Sheffield Wednesday’s home match with Wigan was disturbed by a cat running onto the field. Suddenly a new cat video was topping the Twitter algorithm. The PR agency hired by Adidas to do this are well worth their money. Almost as clever as Boris Johnson’s building model buses from wooden wine boxes – which immediately through Twitter off his previous red bus with lies painted on the side.

But did the Zouma boys abuse a pet or an animal? I ask this because back when Michael Vick was being chased out of the NFL for involvement in a dogfighting ring, he had many defending him for being “of that culture”, including Whoopi Goldberg, who said:

“For a lot of people, dogs are sport. Instead of just saying (Vick) is a beast and he’s a monster, this is a kid who comes from a culture where this is not questioned.”

I remembered this in those pre-dawn hours here in Moscow, we have to try understand why grown humans would terrorise a person or animal. To ask the question removes racism and returns humanity to the moment. What allowed them to think they could act with impunity? Was it the culture they were raised and grew up in, or the one in which they have lived in for almost a decade?

In 2013, why did Barry Rogerson think he could just punch a police horse in Newcastle? He got 12 months jail and a six year ban from football grounds. Celtic “fan” Kevin McGuire was jailed for 10 months after punching three police horses and two police officers in 2020 outside Parkhead. Plus a five year ban from football grounds. This was same year as Portsmouth fan Derek Jennings (later jailed for 20 months) punched a police horse outside Fratton Park. And a year after Scott Spurling also punched a police horse after watching England’s FIFA World Cup semi-final loss to Croatia, in Weston-super-Mare. Spurling got 10 weeks community service and a 10 week 7pm to 7am curfew.

Even last year, Hartlepool United fan Peter Mincher was fined for punching a police horse in Bristol before a match with Torquay United. The Horse and Hound magazine were up in arms over the Portsmouth incident. Horses aren’t animals you know for the folks at the horse and hound, they’re pets, valuable pets. Pets who are used for hunting foxes and stags. Apparently those are animals, not pets. And how many reading this will have enjoyed a flutter on a horse race? Or the greyhounds? The latter is closely linked to hare coursing, where an animal is chased to it’s death by dogs who are being prepared for racetracks.

So in our rush to condemn the Zouma boys for their cruelty, we lose. We just lose. Social media laps up our outrage. Nike, Adidas and co get us back on message with happy cat videos. Football clubs don’t give a damn once he performs. And Papa Zouma will take issue with his boys if they cost him money. And we go back to the next outrage and next viral content and sure isn’t the Champions League back on next week?

The Author

Alan Moore

Russian based sports journalist and consultant, working with major clubs including Hajduk Split, Eintracht Frankfurt, Lokomotiv and Spartak Moscow. Current host of Capital Sports FM in Moscow, former international boxer and semi-professional footballer and commentated at the FIFA World Cup 2018.

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