Analysis

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Aisling O'Connor: Why we're all on a winner with 'Zebo Zidane'

Published 05/02/2013|04:00

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02 February, 2013: Simon Zebo controls the ball with this foot in the build up to Cian Healy's try. Photo: Sportsfile

AN international star was undeniably born in the 24th minute of Ireland's opening Six Nations tie at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff this weekend. His savvy flick being lauded as one of the most extraordinary shows of skill in the history of broadcast rugby, hip Munster man Simon Zebo could prove to have what it takes off the pitch, as well as on it.

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Though the world 'legend' is famously bandied about by rugby fans, in this case it just might fulfil its trajectory. Sunday saw a nation singing songs of praise, with its fledgling idol being added to a jovial online Ten Commandments of Being Irish – 'Thou shalt not worship false idols. There is but one God, and Simon Zebo is his name'.

The exuberant 22-year-old's star has been rising steadily since his debut with Munster in 2011. Renowned for entertaining his teammates with his dance moves, the winger has nicknamed himself 'Django', after Jamie Foxx's slave-hero in Tarantino's latest film.

Zebo's flair on the field struck a bell that rang far beyond the pubs and couches of Ireland, and indeed the confines of rugby. The UK 'Independent' hailed him as 'Zebo Zidane' and as a rugby incarnation of George Best in his 1971 Windsor Park glory.

Like Best, Simon is a favourite with the ladies and the fellas alike. It is undeniable that he has the real X-Factor. "What I wouldn't do to Simon Zebo", tweeted one female fan this weekend. This was not the universal reaction to the Cork man's debut (the ubiquitous 'legend' doing the trick in most cases), but it is no doubt a popular one.

PR gurus are still wiping drool off their keyboards after a video surfaced of what appears to be DJ Zebo celebrating his momentous flick with a spin of the decks at Havana House nightclub in Cork on Saturday night. The obvious commercial potential of a gifted young athlete with exotic good looks and swagger knows no bounds. This mix of talent, sex-appeal, and a glint in the eye sucks the audience in.

Beckham's got it. Arguably not even in the top 20 footballers of his generation, David's looks and charisma have made him richer beyond his wildest dreams with endorsements and shirt-sale inflated pay-packets. The former England captain's marketability is chiefly based on non-threatening desirability. It is not often that a package like Simon Zebo comes along – a triple threat with skill, looks and personality. In an era where reality television reigns over current affairs, soaps and dramas, the five-minutes-to-fame model has saturated pop culture with people who are celebrities based upon looks, charm – or complete lack thereof – and the gumption to make a fool of themselves.

But Ireland's latest obsession has real ability in his field to back up his infectious disposition and appearance – a welcome break for anyone who just observed the most recent series of 'Celebrity Big Brother' or the 'Kardashians'. This is a celebrity that parents can actively encourage their kids to idolise.

So Simon could indeed 'brand it like Beckham', forging his own path outside the walls of his beloved sport where he 'flicks it like Zebo'. With his Martinique-born father having narrowly missed out on being an 800 metres contender in the 1976 Montreal Olympics, there is little worry that the man of the moment will be lured by the trappings of fame over his athleticism. Fluent in French, and with magnetism that has rugby sidelines gawping, we're lucky that he didn't leg it off to Paris to sell shirts.

We'll keep our fingers crossed that the wide man doesn't show up at Aviva with a glamour model on his arm and a dyed blond mop on his head anytime soon (we're looking at you, BOD).

Irish Independent

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