Eric Cantona was recently named as the most valuable signing in the history of the Premier League – See link below.
Nobody but nobody can possibly argue with that assessment, 1.2 million pounds in return for FOUR championships in five seasons. What more can any manager possibly ask for?
This interview is now over 2 years old but it still provides an insight into the man who together with Sir Alex Ferguson transformed Manchester United into a monolithic, silverware winning monster.
King Eric – 10 Years On
The Sunday Times, 13th February 2007
In a rare interview to mark a decade of retirement, the French superstar explains why he quit and gives his verdict on Cristiano Ronaldo, Sir Alex Ferguson and Zinedine Zidane
You finished your football career 10 years ago, at only 30. Do you feel any nostalgia for the time when you were playing?
It happens, yes. Nostalgia can be a pleasant feeling. Childhood memories, music, a smell can make us nostalgic. In football it is more an overall ambience than a game or a special stadium. The game, the dressing room, the field . . . When I went back on the pitch at Old Trafford for [the French television station] Canal+, it reminded me of memorable moments that I cannot live any more. However, we must not talk about that forever. There are other things in life.
What memories do you have of your last official game, on May 11, 1997?
It was against West Ham. I had swapped my jersey with a guy. I heard that he sold it at an auction, probably for a charity. (He smiles)
What did you feel when you left the field?
Nothing. Because I wanted to quit. I had had enough. And I was telling myself that I could come back if I wanted. I thought “You are young. You train two months and you are back”. I kept on thinking that for a long time. Then, six months ago, I realised that even if I trained for two months, it would not be enough.
Why had you had enough of the game?
I did not have the flame any more. Football was my life, my childhood passion. When the flame disappears, why continue? To go to the Middle East for 300 billion? I was not interested in that.
Did the fact you were not selected any more for the French national team hasten your decision?
With the World Cup coming up in 1998, I certainly would not have stopped in 1997. If we had won the European Cup with Manchester that year, I probably would not have quit either.
Did you ever think of staying in football, becoming a coach, an agent or a TV commentator?
For a long time, thinking I could come back as a player helped me. So today I think I can come back as a coach. I know the doors are still open. Therefore I will never come back. If they were closed, it would probably make me want to break them down.
When the flame was blown out, was it because of the game or the environment?
The environment contributed a lot. Manchester was a lot about merchandising. Sometimes they need you to do a tape, give interviews, write books, take pictures . . . To avoid my image and name being used all over the place, I signed precise contracts with the club. I gave them the exclusivity on my pictures. However, they did not respect it. I went to see [Sir Alex] Ferguson, then the chairman [Martin Edwards] to talk about it. I told them: beware, things are happening.
One morning before a game, on my way to eat breakfast, I saw myself on the front page of a paper. Some people do not care being on a tabloids front page. They are even proud of it. Well, it destroys me, even if I am on my way to play, it becomes more important than the game. I live it as treason. So on the day I said I was quitting, I told the club: Okay, I quit, but you should know that I am still suing the merchandising.
Did you go to court?
Of course. And I won.
You did not want to become a product?
No. I asked them to take everything away. And it is gone now.
If you played today, it would be more difficult, wouldn’t it?
The problem in Britain is that we cannot control anything. The country is great for many things, but is really ugly concerning everything linked to image, the press. It is not that it is hard to bear. I did it for five years, but it is sick.
When you quit, did you have a precise idea of what you would be doing 10 years later?
I wanted to become an actor. However, I was not sure about anything. Ten years later, it makes me proud to be able to do films.
What room do you leave for football in your life today?
None. The only room is in my head and memories.
What was the last game you went to see?
It was last year at the Nou Camp for Barcelona v Valencia.
And on television?
(He thinks for a while.) I remember seeing Roma against Lyon for the Champions League. But I do not like to watch games because it makes me want to play. And I do not want to depend on that feeling.
What do you think of Manchester United now?
There is the football Manchester and the merchandising Manchester. These two worlds coexist, but for me Manchester United is the club, it is football. A culture of the â€œbeau jeuâ€?, a philosophy that has been existing for years. How to win with class. I am still madly in love with it.
What do you think about your successor in the legendary No 7 shirt, Cristiano Ronaldo. Is he worthy of it?
Last season he did not score any goals. We had the impression he did not care. Something was missing. Now he scores and he is a new player. World class. One of the 10 best players on the planet. In modern football, playing as a team is very important, but we always need that kind of player who is going to strike out, to provoke.
Like Ronaldinho at Barcelona?
Exactly. If the opposition can control your tactics, you need to be able to count on one individual who can make the difference.
Is Ronaldo a different No 7 from the one you were?
Yes and no. For me, it was important to score, but I did not look for it at all costs. If I had a 51% chance to score, I would give it a go. If the team had a 51% chance to score, I would pass the ball. Because it is a pleasure to pass a good ball, it is like a gift. On that, Ronaldo and I are not very different. But we are different in the style. He carries more the ball.
What was the move you liked the most?
I loved putting the ball where nobody expected it, on the condition that it was efficient. Everybody expects you to pass the ball to your left, and you do it on your right. The ball is in the running trajectory of the player, the game becomes more fluid and surprising. When you know how to do that, you have 10 times more opportunities because the players around you know you can throw the ball anywhere at any moment. So they spread out on the field.
Did you have favourite teammates to pass the ball to?
No. There are players who are better than others at owning the space. Mark Hughes liked to receive the ball with his back to the goal and put it back in. You could mix different techniques in small spaces. Guys like [Ryan] Giggs or [Andrei] Kanchelskis loved to own all the space. United’s tactic was: we rely on Mark Hughes. I get the ball and, before I even receive it, the two others go.
What do you retain from your experience in Manchester? For example, do you take inspiration from Ferguson’s speeches when you are coaching your beach football team?
Ferguson did not really speak about our style in his speeches. Our game tactic was well-honed, we did not have to adapt to the opposition. He spoke more about the details. If the goalkeeper did not like low balls, on what side a defender would get in trouble . . . But most of all, he always ended saying: And now enjoy the game. Have fun. It is a brilliant speech because you have worked all week and everything is here for you to enjoy. You have fun when you have worked well.
Have you ever heard a speech like that in a French dressing room?
In France you get either, Come on, let’s go! (he hits the back of his right hand with the left). Let’s go, but where? How? Or you get the presidents saying: You have to wet your shirt [with sweat] A little simplistic, don’t you think? You do not go to war on a field. Or you get precise speeches: Act like this, not like that. It makes you forget the notion of pleasure. I think it is still the case today.
More calculation than pleasure?
In France you defend more than elsewhere. If you play with five offensive players, the other team will have cold feet and put out seven defenders. Otherwise, there are at least six defenders. Even if on the other side there is just one attacker. Why not then put five offensive players? The best defence can be the attack. We do not see that in the French championship.
Did it change you when you turned 40? Are you still the French enfant terrible?
Is that how I was called? I do not think I changed a lot. I would still be able to jump on a guy in the stands.
You look calmer.
I still occasionally blow a fuse. Even if I have learnt to know myself better with time. My ultimate goal is to be totally zen. I have always wanted that.
You were at the final of the World Cup. What did you think of Zinedine Zidane’s headbutt?
I did not see it. I was in the stadium with my son. He called a friend who told him. What Zidane did means many things. He goes to a World Cup final as if he was playing outside his building when he was a kid. He takes his penalty with a flick, which is wilder for me than butting [Marco] Materazzi. For him, football is all about the pleasure of playing. He did not plan it. But hold on . . . I do not condone headbutting.
Wouldn’t it have been better to win the World Cup?
You do not like it when one of your players is sent off. But Zidane won a World Cup, a European Championship and led us to the final in 2006. We should not forget that. I would rather say we lost because of [the coach, Raymond] Domenech.
From the beginning of the second half the Italians refused to attack. He should have put on an attacker. When you see Thierry Henry centring the ball and there is no one to get it, what is the point of having four defenders and two central defenders? It is a tactical mistake, worse than Zidane’s butt.
We cannot take all the good and refuse the rest. An artist of that level is weak and strong at the same time. A player like Michel Platini did not need those excesses. He was still a brilliant player. I do not think Platini would have had the craziness to take the penalty Zidane took in a World Cup final.
So, in the big debate on who between the two is the greatest French football player, you would vote for Zidane?
No, it is me. (He smiles.) But I feel closer to Zidane as a player.
Do you recognise yourself in him? You also had a dark side.
I am not defending myself by defending others. But I can understand since I have lived the same kind of situations.
How did you feel after you karate-kicked the spectator at Crystal Palace? Did you feel guilty?
The next morning I did not really analyse the situation. I did not know what happened or what was going to happen. I was not really aware of things. Of course I was not proud of myself. We are just men, with a fragile side. It does not matter if a man suffers. It does not matter if a man cries. That highly strung sensibility might enable you to move mountains later.
Did you need to create these breaks to go forward?
When the hooligan called me a French son of a bitch . . . I had heard it 50 billion times before. However, on that day I did not react as I used to. Why? I never found any answer to that.
How do you explain that your kick was severely judged in France, whereas Zidane was widely forgiven for his butt?
It all depends on what you have given to people and where. I mostly gave to Manchester, so the people there forgave me, like the French forgave Zidane.
What would you want people to say about Eric Cantona the football player in 50 years?
I lived football as it is supposed to be lived. Like a game you have to play honestly. The first thing is to work hard, without losing the notion of pleasure. I hope that is what people will retain from me. With my dark sides as well.
We worried about you at one point. We worried this dark side would take you into the abyss, like other great players such as Diego Maradona or George Best.
Maradona, Best lived for and by football. The day they retired, they had nothing but their memories. I have the chance to express myself somewhere else. I have other passions, other interests. I do not only live in the memory of what I have been.
This article first appeared in L’Equipe’s special tribute to Eric Cantona.
Red with a bit of devil: the career of Cantona
– After a nomadic career in France involving six clubs in eight years, Eric Cantona began his career in England when he made a surprise move to Leeds United in 1992 – and helped the Yorkshire club to the title
– He then signed for Manchester United that autumn for £1.2m, one of football’s greatest bargains
– During his five years at Old Trafford, Cantona won four Premiership winners medals and the FA Cup twice, scoring the winner in the 1996 final against Liverpool
– The only season he finished without a medal was in 1994-95, during much of which he was suspended after his most infamous act – a karate kick at a Crystal Palace supporter who taunted him as he left the field after being sent off
– True to form, the eccentric Cantona told a press conference afterwards: When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea
– He was sentenced to 120 hour community service
– After being persuaded to carry on playing he led United to yet another title in 1996-97 before retiring abruptly aged just 30. His final match for United was against West Ham on May 11, 1997
– He has since become an actor in French films and captain of the French beach football team
Wikepedia Eric Cantona – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_cantona