I know what you are thinking before I have even jotted any words in justification of my decision to award Eric Cantona the runners-up prize in my all-time ‘cult’ world footballers. Many people who I know will be somewhat flabbergasted as this particular footballer could easily romp home to a number one finish. Conversely, there are also many people who would not have Eric on their conscience but I suspect that this is mainly due to the vitriol many attribute towards the club where he made such a monumental impact. In my view, what makes Cantona a true ‘cult’ legend was his uncanny ability to polarise people’s opinions, ‘wind-up’ his detractors and successfully shaft the footballing establishment. Throughout his career he mesmerised us with his footballing abilities yet consistently displayed what a ‘flawed’ character he was by performing some of the most bewildering and shocking stunts ever to be seen in the game of football. You know all about his talents on the field, however I wish to talk mainly about his actions off the field and how this alone elevated Eric Cantona into the elite of my beloved ‘cult’ footballers. I have always wanted to get into the mind of the ‘King’, Eric Daniel Pierre Cantona and now is my chance.
One of the major arguments I have had with my own brain over the years has involved the question; what do I really think about Eric Cantona? He has successfully torn me apart trying to find an answer as to whether I admired him or actually loathed him and I am sure he has many detractors due to his legendary status amongst the United faithful (and not so faithful). MUFC have been a club that has, like Cantona, had a love-hate relationship amongst football fans across the world and in some ways I can see why. Continual success does come with a price, just ask Liverpool fans of the 70’s and 80’s just how detested they were by the majority of the footballing world. In summary, I have regularly concluded that some of Eric’s critics have actually been in the form of ‘success-haters’ who have used their hatred of all things United to form their opinion on Eric. There are however individuals who just hated his guts.
1966 was a good year for English football, Eric was born.
Born in 1966, in Marseille, Eric developed quickly and it became evident that he had the talent to succeed at the very highest level. After a two year stint with Auxerre where he signed his first professional contract, Cantona served one year’s national service before returning to football. His disciplinary problems were beginning to become apparent after punching a team mate Bruno Martini and almost ending Michel Der Zakarin’s career with a pre-meditated challenge worthy of a prison sentence. It was after his ‘big money’ move to home town club Marseille where he rose to notoriety for kicking the ball violently into the crowd and throwing his jersey to the floor for being substituted in a European match versus Torpedo Moscow. Other misdemeanours duly followed, including lambasting the French national coach as un sac de merde, throwing his pair of boots at a teammate’s face, throwing a football at a referee and the pièce de résistance; calling each member of a disciplinary panel ‘idiots’. Upon receiving an extended ban for such an outburst, Cantona retired from football before being persuaded him to resurrect his broken career in England.*
*ten points for the first comment to inform me of the ironic identity who persuaded Eric to play in England.
I don’t feel it necessary to go into Eric’s achievements on these shores as to be honest you must have been living on Mars if you are not aware. The main goal of this post is to highlight why I think he became a ‘cult’ legend and so far I have painted a picture of a petulant, child-like footballer who ‘takes his ball in’ if he fails to get his way. After challenging my own opinions of Eric since childhood I believe that this generalised assessment could not be further from the truth. Eric was a persistent challenger of authority and consistently confronted paradigms that he envisaged as unjust. I believe it was the media alone that painted such an erroneous masterpiece of the man for one sole purpose; to make him into the most effective weapon in the world of modern football, a marketing machine and ‘headline creator’.
“When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea. Thank you very much.” Eric Cantona.
On the 25th January 1995 at Selhurst Park, the game of football witnessed scenes of madness and lunacy through the actions of one single ‘supporter’. Matthew Simmons, clad head to foot in a uniform synonymous with right-wing hate groups launched a barrage of racist vitriol in the direction of Eric. Having been rightly sent off due to an outlandish kick aimed towards Richard Shaw, Simmons took his chance to descend fourteen rows of seats to deliver his bigoted and small minded tirade. We will never know the true mechanics behind Cantona’s decision to launch himself feet first over the advertising boards, burying his studs in the chest of a racist before proceeding to wade in with his right fist to finish the job, but rest assured I would have loved to have been in that situation. It has since been proven by media sources that Matthew Simmons was an active right-wing racist, seen at National Front and BNP rallies and had even been previously convicted of a violent assault on a Sri Lankan born petrol pump attendant. It comes as no surprise that he has recently been in the public eye yet again.
It is Eric’s ability to challenge authority and confront regressive and extremist thinking which puts him firmly in my all-time ‘cult’ footballer list. Regardless of his actions, allegiances and mind boggling quotes, Eric has continually shown to the world that he has a heightened social conscience and yet for all his ‘god-like’ abilities has never failed to show us that he is only human after all. In my opinion Cantona has an approach to life that should be synonymous with us all, but where the majority would shy away from taking direct action against injustice you could bet your last penny that Eric would be at the frontline having his trademark rant. Whether it be launching an attack on the recent Glazer ownership of Manchester United or galvanising support to destroy the banking monopolies in France, Eric will always be there ‘waxing lyrical’ and forever carving out new opinions and fresh ideals. Love him or hate him, I’m sure you will agree that isn’t too bad for a footballer.
“We`ll drink a drink a drink,
To Eric the King the King the King,
He`s the leader of our football team,
He`s the greatest,
That the world has ever seen.”
Some highlights of a footballing genius…