How did I not know this already?
OK, so we all know it’s Bob Dylan’s birthday today (and I went on an epic ramble here), but I had forgotten that May 24 also marks the birthday of another hero of mine from another era, Eric Daniel Pierre Cantona.
Eric was born in 1966 to immigrant parents in a converted cave in Marseille. He started his career at Auxerre, floundered at Marseille and moved to England where he made 15 appearances for Leeds United as they won their first league title in 18 years. A few months into the 1992/93 season, legend has it that it was a cursory phonecall by the Leeds chairman about the possibility of buying Denis Irwin from Manchester United that ended up with Cantona moving across the Pennines for a ridiculous £1.2m.
The rest, as they say, is history. He became the catalyst for Alex Ferguson’s first great team, bringing the title to Old Trafford for the first time since the days of Best, Law and Charlton.
Four years later, after some kung-fu kicks, baffling poetry, pole-dancing and his far share of special goals, he called it a day. He was 30 years old. To put that into perspective, Ryan Giggs (yes Mr. Yoga / adulterer) has signed up to continue playing next year past his 38th birthday, while goal-keeper Edwin Van Der Sar will retire next week at the age of 40.
There’s often quite lot of debate over Cantona’s value as a player. He played in a strong side with extremely talented players, and never really performed for the French national side or for United in their early years in the Champions League. But the fact remains he won 6 league titles in his final 6 full years of playing professional football (Marseille 1990/91, Leeds 1991/92, Manchester United 1992/93, 1993/94, 1995/1996, 1996/97). I say “full season” and discredit the 1994/95 campaign as he was suspended for his infamous kung-fu assault on a Crystal Palance “supporter”. Matthew Simmons had walked down from his seat to the touch-line and is believed to have “crudely insulted” Eric Cantona’s mother. Tut tut. As Marco Materazzi found out in the 2006 World Cup Final, you should never insult a Frenchman’s family.
Since retiring, Eric has shown up in various films, plays and Nike advertisements. He also manages the French beach soccer team and is the new Director of Soccer for the New York Cosmos.
In a wonderfully self-referential move, Cantona played himself in Ken Loach’s 2009 film, Looking for Eric. The film tells the story of Eric Bishop, a football fanatic postman whose life is descending in to crisis but is redeemed by some life coaching by the famously philosophical Eric Cantona. It is a really touching portrayal of both the distraction and emotional release that can be provided by football. And it’s got Cantona playing the trumpet.
Below are some quick quotes, photos and videos hastily thrown together lest anyone forget Monsieur Cantona, my first footballing hero. Happy Birthday etc. And sorry that old Bobby D is stealing a bit of your thunder today. it’s going to some fight when he hits 100 and you’re 75.
“My best moment? I have a lot of good moments but the one I prefer is when I kicked the hooligan.”
“Often there are players who have only football as a way of expressing themselves and never develop other interest. And when they no longer play football, they no longer do anything; they no longer exist, or rather they have the sensation of no longer existing.”
– motivation for leaving at the height of his popularity in 1997.
“I prefer to play and lose than win, because I know in advance I’m going to win.”
“I am not a man, I am Cantona.”
– said to Eric Bishop in Ken Loach’s Looking for Eric.
“The ball is like a woman, she loves to be caressed.”
– advice dispensed to Manchester United midfielder Paul Ince.
“When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.”
– Cantona speaks to the media in his first press conference after the Kung-fu attack.