Tag Eric Cantona

Tag Eric Cantona

When the seagulls followed the trawler

January 25, 2015 Tags: Opinion 11 comments
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Wednesday 25 January 1995. Alex Ferguson kicks open the door to the away dressing room at Selhurst Park and executes one of his infamous rants. “Manchester United does not settled for a draw against Crystal fucking Palace!” After a few carefully selected obscenities directed at his players 53-year-old Ferguson turns to Eric Cantona, who  had been sent off after 61 minutes of the game: “And Eric!” the gaffer pauses, his players expecting their boss to hand down a first ever hairdryer treatment to the maverick Frenchman, and then calmly says, “you can’t do that.”

The famous night at Selhurst Park, when Eric latched onto racist hooligan Matthew Simmons was, in truth, a dire one all draw. David May scored United’s sole goal after 57 minutes. An in-form Cantona had already scored 12 in the league that season and three in United’s last four games before the encounter with Palace. One of these goals was a match-winning header in the ‘goal of the season’ category at home to would-be Champions Blackburn Rovers. It was just three days prior to the Selhurst Park incident.

Cantona wasted some decent chances at Selhurst before the sending off and had a good attempt on goal from the half-way line that hit the crossbar. Some 18 months later, 21-year-old David Beckham successfully copied his hero against Wimbledon – another team who used to play at Selhurst Park. “When Eric Cantona came up to me afterwards, and said “good goal”, that was more important to me than scoring it,” Beckham later said.

Eric was kicked from pillar to post 20 years ago with the referee, Alan Wilkie, taking no action. Defender Richard Shaw, later voted Crystal Palace’s player of the year, was given the task of man marking Eric – and used every dirty trick in the book, with the ref turning a blind eye. In the tunnel at half-time Eric calmly asked Wilkie “no yellow card then?” whilst manager Alex Ferguson – not yet a ‘Sir’ – was less than diplomatic when he urged Wilkie to do his “fucking job!” Wilkie ignored them both.

Ferguson didn’t actually see Eric jump into the crowd because he was too busy plotting how to set up his team’s tactics with 10 men, but was later told what had happened. Not impressed with the officials, Ferguson blamed Wilkie for letting the game get out of hand, and tore into the ref after the game. “This is all your fucking fault!” Ferguson screamed. He was right of course. According to author Michael Crick Ferguson was so incensed that a police officer had to intervene and drag the manager out of the referee’s quarters to stop the Scottish tirade of abuse.

Cantona didn’t play again that season. He missed six games in the FA Cup and 16 in the Premier League. United finished in second place, a massive 11 points ahead of third placed Nottingham Forest, but agonisingly one point behind Henning Berg’s Blackburn. That United sorely missed Eric was the understatement of the year – the club should have won the double. Of the six seasons Cantona spent in England, including one at Leeds United, the 1994/95 season was the only campaign in which he didn’t win the league.

“I honestly believe that we would’ve won the league that year, were it not for the suspension,” Eric later said.

“But I would have said it if another player had been suspended. If, say, Schmeichel, Bruce or Pallister had been suspended, it would have affected us massively too. We had a very balanced side. As soon as a player was injured or suspended, we struggled. That is the reason why I believe we should have won the European Cup too. We were one of the best sides in Europe, but UEFA had this rule about maximum of three foreigners in the squad.”

Eric never really revealed why he remained so calm, so many times, with all the abuse he received in England only to lose it with Simmons. According to Luke Beckley, then eight-years-old, Simmons shouted “fuck off, you motherfucking French bastard!” Eric received plenty more of the same on many occasions, but this time it was too much. Adding to the anxiety, perhaps, Cantona’s father Albert was sick and had been hospitalised for several weeks in Marseilles.

Shocking as the incident had been, no one could have predicted the near hysterical reaction by the country’s fourth estate, especially Sky. The difference, of course, being that the top division was now called “the Premiership” and Rupert Murdoch’s marketing men knew how to milk the most out of Cantona’s kung-fu kick. New subscriptions to the channel have never been higher, in shorter amount of time, than after 25 January ’95.

It wasn’t even the first time something like this had happened; 35 years earlier Busby Babe and Munich air disaster survivor Harry Gregg beat up a fan who stormed on to the pitch. In fact list of sportsmen doing something similar goes all the way back to Dixie Dean who struck a fan who insulted him in the early ’30s. Birmingham City’s Alberto Tarantini got into a fight with his own fans after a game against United in ’78. No punishment ensued in case. And everyone just laughed at Craig Bellamy when he struck a Manchester City supporter who stormed onto the pitch against United in 2009.

Eric was an easy target though. Foreign, French and a United player. Just the mix that the FA and the ‘anyone but United’ clique loved to hate. Even a sober newspaper such as the Telegraph published two editorials on 28 January – one about the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The other about Eric. Perspective.

Amidst the outcry and the disgracefully duplicitous FA – chief executive Graham Kelly privately said that a punishment from the club would be enough – few said it better than comedian Danny Baker. “Why the moral outrage?” he asked. “Most football fans just found it incredibly funny.” It still is, 20 years on.

Competition: Win Cantona and Rooney Ts

November 17, 2014 Tags: , , Shorts 19 comments
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That one second that changes everything. The sudden rush of ecstasy. The complete loss of inhibition. The wild celebrations. There is no better feeling than a stoppage time goal.

The Art of Football’s crafted designs emulate the beauty of those moments never forgotten, capturing the energy, passion and euphoria that erupts from that one magical goal. Limited in number, each design, like any good piece of art, is completely original.

Rant has two T-Shirts to give away in this week’s competition. First prize is “All Hail the King” – a moment of Eric Cantona beauty. Second prize is “Winning in Style” – Wayne Rooney’s last minute overhead against Manchester City.

To win tell us about your favourite Manchester United moment. Comment below or on Twitter (@unitedrant #rantcast) to enter. The best answer, as chosen by Rant Cast presenters Ed & Paul, gets the Cantona T. Competition closes Saturday 22 November, 12 noon.

The Art of Football Manchester United collection can be found here.

Wayne Rooney Eric Cantona

Rooney seeks to emulate King Eric’s inspiration

October 11, 2012 Tags: , Opinion 14 comments

For those Reds able to tolerate the international game – there are, Rant is told, a few – Wayne Rooney’s England début may still be remembered as the sparkling entrance of a 17-year-old wunderkind. Nearly a decade on from that substitute appearance against Australia at Upton Park, Rooney has become a senior member of Roy Hodgson’s dysfunctional side. Not the star of the international scene many had hoped, but a player who has found a new maturity – at least according to the Croxteth-born striker.

Indeed, Rooney now hopes to emulate a latter-day Manchester United hero, Eric Cantona, and become an inspiration to a new generation. It is a role for which Rooney has long seemed unsuited, but one which may define the second half of his career.

Now a senior player for club and country, Rooney has appeared 370 times for United and earned 76 England caps. It eclipses Cantona’s tally both for the Reds and at international level. In that the former Evertonian has become an experienced campaigner; a player far removed from the scruffy youth fresh off the Liverpool streets who broke onto the world scene.

But seasoning is where the comparison ends; Rooney’s brilliance has too often been tempered by frequent injuries and inconsistencies in a career that has hit many heights, but perhaps never of the world’s élite. Nor, crucially, has Rooney become the role model Cantona would eventually become at Old Trafford, inspiring the ‘Class of 92’ to a generation of unprecedented silverware, long after the Frenchman had retired.

Cantona did not always excel. In spells with seven clubs before arriving at Old Trafford in December 1992 the errant Frenchman fell foul of Fédération Française de Football, club coaches, team-mates, the national manager and the media. Banned, dropped, castigated and frozen out, Cantona’s career was every bit as controversial as Rooney’s and far more.

Not until Cantona was 26-years-old, as Rooney is today, did L’Enfant Terrible find peace and the comforts of home at Old Trafford. Transformed from the player no manager could trust, to Ferguson’s lieutenant in a crusade for success and home and abroad. In that there is also a lesson for Rooney, and the hope that fortune favours a player who could remain at the top for another decade.

“I hope it is time for me to show I am a senior player and that I can lead the team,” claimed Rooney ahead of England’s match with San Marino on Friday.

“I understand the scrutiny I’m under and I have no problems with that. Hopefully in the near future we will be coming out of a tournament and you will all be praising me because we have won a trophy. That would be great for everyone.

“It’s especially important now, when we have a lot of young players in the squad. I always try to speak to them and offer advice. I always remember what Sir Alex Ferguson says about how Eric Cantona was such a big help to the younger players at United.”

In that Rooney must now take responsibility not only on the pitch, but off it where injuries and concerns over fitness have too often disrupted a career blessed by unlimited natural talent. Nor has the former Everton forward found Cantona’s consistent brilliance, or iconic status – the ability to inspire a generation and lead a team to greater glories.

If Rooney is yet to match Cantona’s legend, he is increasing mirroring the Frenchman’s role on the pitch, becoming the creative focal point in Sir Alex Ferguson’s team. On Saturday Rooney shadowed Robin van Persie at St. James’ Park, drifting between the lines as United’s iconic number seven did in 185 games for the club.

This is a role Rooney is likely to replicate for the national side this week, with expectations of an English victory high and Rooney determined to finally excel on the international stage. Manager Hodgon says Rooney’s time is now.

“Every time Wayne Rooney goes on the field people expect him to be magnificent,” said Hodgson.

“We all know he is a magnificent player but football doesn’t give you the opportunity to be magnificent every time you step onto a football field. I’m looking forward very much to the next couple of years with Wayne, he’s going to be an important person as each team needs that person up front who can make a difference, who scores the goals or sets them up.”

United’s number 10 is also likely to reprise Cantona’s role as an international captain, by taking the arm-band against San Marino at Wembley on Friday night. With Frank Lampard injured, Steven Gerrard suspended, and Rio Ferdinand not considered, Rooney will lead the Three Lions in his 77th international.

In form, fit and set to be a father once again, Rooney has few excuses left for failure. Whether the player can make a step forward and inspire a generation is cause for debate. Indeed, Rooney now has every opportunity to drive a new Old Trafford generation to glory, not simply as part of the whole, but its leading figure.

Long after Cantona’s retirement the Frenchman is revered – an iconoclast now lionised for his performances on the pitch and his unremitting aura off it. So much so that a chance meeting with the 46-year-old recently turned this ageing hack into a groupie, briefly reminded of a teenage crush.

“I’m so proud the fans still sing my name, but I fear tomorrow they will stop,” Cantona once said. “I fear it because I love it. And everything you love, you fear you will lose.”

In setting lofty goals the Englishman has much to gain, and little love to lose. Rooney has earned none of that. Not just yet.

FA Cup heroes

January 7, 2012 Tags: , , , , Opinion 8 comments

Ahead of Manchester United’s visit to Eastland on Sunday, Rant presents the third in a series of posts about the FA Cup.

Manchester United supporters have witnessed dozens of glorious cup moments over more than 125 years in the competition. Some stand out, for the people involved, the moments they created, and the stories told. Here’s a selection of the many that you might recall with affection. Leave your own favourites in the comments below…


William ‘Billy’ Meredith – 1909. Manchester United 1 – 0 Bristol City

Welsh wing wizard Meredith was caught up in one of the great sporting scandals of the early 20th century, after being suspended by the FA for being involved in a bribery scandal. It was alleged that at the end of the 1904-5 season Meredith bribed Aston Villa player Alex Leake £10 to lose.  Then at Manchester City, Meredith moved across town while still serving out his ban. It proved to be one of the most astute transfers in early United history. Meredith, one of the early proponents of a Players Union, helped drive the Reds to First Division glory in 1907-7, scoring the goals that claimed United’s debut championship. A year later and Meredith starred in the FA Cup final against Bristol City at Crystal Palace, 24 April 1909 to win United’s first ever Cup. While Scottish forward Sandy Turnbull scored the only goal, Meredith was named United’s star by all who witnessed the game.

Meredith remained with United until 1921, scoring 36 goals in 335 appearances, before returning to Manchester City. He played until aged 47, often with a trademark toothpick between his teeth.


David Herd – 1963. Manchester United 3 – 1 Leicester

David Herd, FA Cup final 1963

Football runs in the blood of Scottish forward Herd, who is the son of former Manchester City player Alec Herd, and the nephew of international Sandy Herd. David would bring one of the finest moments of another Scot’s managerial career: Sir Matt Busby. Busby said that it would take United five years to recover from the Munich Air Crash in 1958. How prescient the great manager was, with United trophyless until the 1963 FA Cup – a 3-1 victory over Leicester City at Wembley.

Herd’s career began in far less glorious fashion though at Stockport County, where he briefly played as a forward alongside his father. The striker’s performances brought a move to Arsenal for £10,000 in 1954, although he made few appearances for the Gunners in his first two seasons. However, 1956-57 proved a breakthrough campaign, with the forward scoring 18 goals in 28 games. He was the club’s top goalscorer between ’57 and ’61 but failed to win any silverware with the London club. That frustration brought a move north to United in July ‘61 for £35,000, with Herd making his debut against West Ham United in August that year.

Two years later and Herd would play a pivotal role in United’s first post-Munich trophy, scoring twice at Wembley to ensure United lifted the 1963 FA Cup. United legend Dennis Law opened the scoring on 30 minutes, before Herd added a crucial second just before the hour. On 56 minutes Bobby Charlton’s shot was only parried by Gordon Banks into the path of David Herd who tapped into the empty net to the job , to the job of most in the 99,604 crowd. Leicester pulled a goal back with 10 minutes to go when Frank McLintock’s shot was met by Ken Keyworth to score with a diving header.  But if the goal momentarily brought Leicester back into the game, Herd ended all doubts with five minutes remaining. The Scot capitalised on Bank’s fumble to fire past two defenders on the line and bring the cup back to Manchester!

Herd also helped United to First Division titles in 1965 and 1967, before breaking a leg in March 1967. It was an injury from which the forward never really recovered, and was not selected for the European Cup triumph a year later. In total Herd scored 114 league goals for United before leaving Old Trafford for Stoke City in July 1968.


Norman Whiteside – 1985. Manchester United 1 – 0 Everton

Norman Whiteside, 1985 FA Cup Final

Big Norm’s curling effort against the Merseysiders in ’85 remains one of the great FA Cup strikes. Cutting in from United’s right, Whiteside curled a stunning effort past the great Neville Southall in the Everton goal with 10 minutes of extra time remaining. Big Ron Atkinson and the United bench exploded in joy, with the league champions beaten against the odds.  The match was memorable not only for the Northern Irishman’s goal, but Kevin Moran’s 78th minute dismissal. The first ever FA Cup final red card.

Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Whiteside was a genuine child prodigy having played in the 1982 World Cup finals aged just 17. As a player he has (almost) everything: a sublimed first touch, the ability to beat a man with ease, a ferocious shot and maturity beyond his years. There were only two things that came between Big Norm and true greatness: a yard of pace, and an injury record that ran pages deep by the time Whiteside call time on his career. A penchant for late nights did not endear the forward to Sir Alex Ferguson, who shipped him out of the club to Everton in 1989. It was a sad end for the man who had spent his entire career at Old Trafford to that point.

Whiteside scored 67 goals in 274 appearances for United, but few will be remembered with more joy than that Cup final strike.


Lee Martin – 1990. Manchester United 1 – 0 Crystal Palace

Lee Martin, FA Cup Final1990

By Ingar Rostvåg Ulltveit-Moe – Wherever Lee Martin goes he’s reminded of his most famous goal playing for United: the 1990 FA Cup final winner against Crystal Palace. It was a goal that ended Manchester United’s five year long trophy draught after the 1985 FA Cup triumph. Four and a half years with Alex Ferguson (no “Sir” back then) had failed to bring the visible progress of a trophy for the “sleeping giant” until the 1990’s cup success laid the foundations for the following decades.

United fan Martin made his club début against Wimbledon at Old Trafford on 5 May 1988 and went on to play over 100 games for United, scoring just two goals. Martin was a pacey defender who slotted in well either at right or left-back. Quick, versatile and with a fine first touch, Martin’s career was unfortunately blighted by severe back trouble that he never fully recovered from. After a promising start to his United career he lost his place to the international defenders Denis Irwin and Paul Parker.

The 1989/90 season started with Michael Knighton juggling a football on the Old Trafford pitch, showing off as United’s potential  new owner before the season opener against Arsenal. Knighton’s  bid failed, and the club remained with the Edwards family. On the pitch, fan favourites Norman Whiteside and Paul McGrath were shipped out of the club the summer before, while new recruits Paul Ince and Danny Wallace joined from West Ham United and Southampton respectively. It was neither a promising, nor memorable campaign, with a 5-1 loss to City at Maine Road as one of the many lows. In the end United barely avoided the drop, finishing just three points above the relegation zone.

The 1990 FA Cup final against Crystal Palace on 12 May was a thriller of a game ending 3-3 with goals from Mark Hughes, twice, and Bryan Robson. The replay, scheduled five days later, marked the first of Ferguson’s trophies with United, starting the myth that Martin saved his manager’s job by scoring the match-winner. The match also demonstrated Fergie’s ruthlessness when the manager axed his keeper Jim Leighton for the replay, opting instead, for on-loan keeper Les Sealey. Leighton, it is said, never recovered from being dropped.

The replay was nothing like as entertaining, with chances few and far in-between. The games finest attack came after 72 minutes when 22-year-old left back Martin when on a marauding that was Neil Webb spotted from the right. Webb’s cross was perfectly executed for Martin to control on his chest under pressure and then hammer into the top-corner with his right foot. Manchester finally had a trophy to celebrate again and Ferguson could offer his players Champagne on the train back home from London to Manchester the following night; his job was safe!

For Martin it was the highlight of a short-lived United career. Ex-Red Lou Macari brought Martin to Celtic in January 1994, where the player appeared 19 times. After two years with Celtic, Martin had short stops at Bristol Rovers and Huddersfield before hanging up his boots at the age of thirty.


Eric Cantona – 1996. Manchester United 1 – 0 Liverpool

Eric Cantona, 1996 FA Cup final

The Frenchman’s 86th minute strike against Liverpool in the 1996 FA Cup final remains one of the most iconic moments of an iconic player’s career. In truth it was a dreadful final, memorable more for Liverpool’s disgraceful cream cup final day Armarni suits than the game itself. But with extra time approaching, David Beckham’s corner was punched to the edge of the box by Liverpool goalkeeper David James, only for Eric Cantona to volley home a stunning winner. The United bench exploded with joy, as did Cantona’s team-mates and the United supporters in the Wembley stands.

There, of course, were dozens of fantastic moments involving Cantona at United, many of them burned into the collective memory of a generation. But the 1996 Cup final goal remains special among many for the late late show against bitter rivals. The Cup final goal wasn’t Cantona’s last strike in a United shirt, nor his finest, but within a year the Frenchman had retired, aged just 30, to the great sadness of millions of Reds.

Magic and marketing for Scholes’ testimonial

June 10, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 1 comment

So Eric Cantona returns to Old Trafford, not this time as player, nor matinée idol but manager of a team with no talents, a club with no stadium, the New York Cosmos. And with Cantona’s newly reformed Cosmos will come a tranche of ringers, drawn from some of the finest recent football talent to be found in the Frenchman’s contacts book, in celebration of Paul Scholes wonderful career.

Scholes’ testimonial, to be played at Old Trafford on Friday 5 August, will be an occasion for the midfielder’s fans and contemporaries to put the notoriously media-shy former United player in the spotlight. However, with United facing a team that is little more than a marketing exercise, some will question whether the match is a fitting end to Scholes’ playing days. After all, the Salford-born midfielder always placed loyalty to the club and time with his family ahead of cash in the bank.

Still, with more than 20 years at the club, 17 of them in Sir Alex Ferguson’s first team, Scholes deserves nothing less than the shower of accolades and praise he has received since retiring 10 days ago, whomever the opposition.

“It’ll be fantastic for the fans to be able to bid farewell to this exceptional footballer,’’ Ferguson told ManUtd.com in a statement.

“The accolades he’s received have been well deserved, but for me, Paul is one of those players who turns up, plays his football and it’s that natural ability that makes Paul unique and revered by many, including myself. Now from one great player to another, Eric Cantona. I am going to relish this touchline showdown, one Gaelic mind to another. Neither of us will want to lose this one, it is sure to be a great night and a well-deserved recognition for Paul.”

Scholes slipped away on a family holiday before retiring, leaving the official announcement to United’s PR department on 31 May. How typical of the man, who spent a career avoiding the media glare, marketing campaigns and trappings of celebrity, which the 36-year-old has always considered nonsense.

Yet it is marketing that will bring the Cosmos to town with, one can expect, a rash of star names joining Cantona’s team. After all, those who have lauded Scholes the player have included the greats of the European and world game from the past 20 years: Zinedine Zidane, Francesco Totti, Xavi Hernández and many others.

Scholes’ last appearance as a United player will guarantee a full house at Old Trafford, with United having restricted initial ticket sales to season ticket holders only. The 75,000 sell-out crowd will generate more than £3 million in revenues, with Scholes’ Testimonial Committee as yet not having declared whether the midfielder will pocket the cash or, as is now customary, donate to a range of good causes.

“This is going to be a big night for me and my family, but one which I intend to enjoy and I will savour every moment,’’ said Scholes, presumably from a beach somewhere in the Caribbean.

“I have spent my whole footballing life at Manchester United, so this will be an emotional farewell. This club is special in many ways, but the fans are the best and I have always appreciated their support throughout my career. I hope they enjoy the night, especially seeing the Boss and Eric battling it out in front of the dug outs.”

Fans will, of course, come to see Cantona as well. The 45-year-old took up a position as Director of Soccer with the Cosmos in January. The newly reformed outfit is hoping to win a place in Major League Soccer in the coming years but in the meantime is little more than a logo and a youth team.

Cantona was last reunited with his former club in Spring 2010, touring Carrington and taking in United’s fixture against Liverpool. The Frenchman had previously returned for the Munich Testimonial fixture in 1998, leading an all-star European XI at Old Trafford.

But it is Scholes’ night, and Cantona, who played with the flame-haired midfielder in the late 1990s, will do nothing but add to the glamour, which will also include Cosmos’ Honourary President, Pélé.

“I wish to congratulate Paul for such an incredible career at Manchester United,” said Cantona, who played 185 games for United before retiring in 1997.

“I am looking forward to returning to Old Trafford in my new role with The New York Cosmos. This will be a significant and memorable match for all.”

Scholes is set to take up a coaching position with United when pre-season training begins in July, although it is not yet confirmed exactly what role the former player will take on. Warren Joyce has been working alone with the reserve team since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s departure for Molde last November.

That is for the future though. Today, fans will clamber to get hold of the most sought-after testimonial ticket in recent memory. Magic.

It’s up to you, New York, says Cantona

January 19, 2011 Tags: , Opinion 10 comments

Publicity stunt it might well be but Eric Cantona’s signature with the once defunct New York Cosmos certainly caught the headlines today. The club unveiled the 44-year-old former Manchester United striker as its new Director of Soccer, with, “overall responsibility for all soccer-related matters, including the proposed first team.”

It is of course a telling line – proposed first team – as the Cosmos has neither a ground, coach, team nor any fixtures to play. Re-formed in 2010, the club is a revival of the original New York Cosmos, which played in the North American Soccer League from 1971 to 1984.

Little more than a branding exercise until the ‘franchise’ – in the awful American parlance – is potentially granted a 20th MSL license in 2013, the Cosmos has built much of the club’s internal structure anyway.

Save for a team that is.

But in one sense the vision is a romantic one. The club of Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and former Manchester City ‘star’ Dennis Tueart, naturally appeals to Cantona’s maudlin tendencies.

“I am very honored to join the legendary club New York Cosmos. It’s a big project, a wonderful project,” said Cantona, who scored 82 goals in 185 games for United.

“The Cosmos are very strong, beautifully made, with a great past. It’s kind of a mix between football and art.

“In addition to my artistic engagements, I will do everything that I can to help us first find our way to regain the number one position in the United States, and then for us to become one of the best clubs in the world over the coming years.”

Whether that dream is fulfilled depends heavily on entrance to the MLS, a closed shop with neither promotion, nor relegation. It is expensive too, entailing a deposit of $10 million, a license fee of around $75 million and proven funds to build a new stadium in the New York metro area.

It’s a dream that has more than a hint of reality though after a season in which TV viewing figures for the MLS Cup Final fell sharply. After more than a decade of progress, the competition needs another big market team to follow Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps for the 2011 season, plus the introduction of Montreal Impact in 2012.

“The focus is firmly on New York for the 20th MLS team,” Dan Courtemanche, MLS vice-president, told the Telegraph.

“There are multiple potential ownership groups and the New York Cosmos is one of those groups.

“But even if the Cosmos were to break ground on a new stadium tomorrow the 20th team is likely to be three to five years down the road, though.”

The New York Cosmos could well provide the impetus the MLS needs though, with plans for a stadium in Flushing, Queens well advanced providing finance can be raised.

The ‘franchise’ owner, Paul Kemsley, who effectively bought rights to build a club with the Cosmos’ name for $2 million, is upbeat too, claiming stellar names on the club’s executive management.

In addition to Cantona, Pelé is Honorary President and former Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry a Board Director.

“Three years ago, when I first had the idea of reviving The New York Cosmos, I couldn’t have dreamt that we’d be able to attract an icon the likes of Eric Cantona,” said Kemsley, Chairman of the New York Cosmos.

“He was one of my heroes during the 1990’s and is a further endorsement to the tremendous global attraction and power that The New York Cosmos carries. Our name already resonates throughout the world.”

Empty words without a team or playing field of course but the celebrity pull of the Cosmos, who played in front of more than 50,000 in its 1970s heyday, is still strong.

For Cantona’s part it seems unlikely that the new role is a day-to-day post, rather another celebrity name to add credibility to the project.

Even so, anything that brings the great Frenchman back into the football world is a boon. After all, beach football is no substitute for the real thing, even if the former Leeds United, Auxere and Marseille player coached the French national team to a modicum of success in the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup between 2006 and 2008.

Turning his back on the 11-a-side game barely past his prime, Cantona instead found solace, if not fame, in acting. He appeared in, among others, Elizabeth, with Cate Blanchett, and in Ken Loach’s brilliant Palme D’or nominated film Looking for Eric.

In recent years Cantona has also become more politically active, calling for a banking revolution and encouraging customers of the major banks to withdraw their money on 7 December 2010 in protest at the global financial crisis.

But it is the game that brought Eric to the fans and to the game he belongs. New York is simply the latest beneficiary.

The king, it seems, is no longer dead.

Pictures: Cantona returns!

March 23, 2010 Tags: , Shorts 4 comments

There isn’t a day that Manchester United fans don’t miss Eric “The King” Cantona. The Frenchman’s charisma and talent graced the red shirt for 185 games in almost five years at the club. Good to see the footballer-turned-actor return to United for Sunday’s match against Liverpool. He also stopped by Carrington for a photo call with Sir Alex Ferguson.

Eric Cantona Sir Alex Ferguson

Eric Cantona Sir Alex Ferguson

Everybody was kung-fu fighting

January 25, 2010 Tags: Opinion 4 comments

How time flies. It’s fifteen years to the day since Eric Cantona flew into the crowd at Selhurst Park and attacked racist Crystal Palace fan Matthew Symonds. The brutal five-second attack still has the power to shock, despite the now iconic images. Cantona: black shirt, emblazoned number 7, two-feet in the air. Symonds: racist bile, turn to horror in an instant.

25 January 1995. United: Peter Schmeichel, Dennis Irwin, Lee Sharpe, David May, Gary Pallister, Roy Keane, Paul Ince, Brian McClair, Ryan Giggs, Andy Cole and the talismanic Frenchman. Some team, in which just six months earlier Cantona had scored on the same ground as United captured the first half of a historic double.

Cantona’s fuse, so often proven fragile prior to his transfer to United, lit once again. With 15 minutes remaining, the Frenchman reacted to a challenge from Richard Shaw by aiming a kick at the Palace defender. The resulting red card was simply par for the course. That the match finished all-square, denting United’s title challenge, was almost incidental.

Alex Ferguson, yet to receive his knighthood, stood impassive as Cantona pulled up his collar in the trademark fashion. The Frenchman appeared nonplussed but as kit-man Norman Davies ushered the striker from the pitch he leapt into the crowd with a flying kick and a series of punches. Fast as lightning, the violence ended almost as it began.

In the subsequent days Britain’s media dubbed Cantona “Le Nutter” and the pressure for a lifetime ban increased to a fever pitch. While the club suspended the Frenchman from “all first team duties” for the rest of the season, the duplicitous Football Association reneged on the agreement and extended the ban to more than 25 matches, stretching to September 1995.

Adding insult to Cantona’s sense of injustice, the Frenchman found himself scapegoated by Croydon District Judge Jean Pearch, earning her 15 minutes with a custodial sentence for a first-time offence.

History has been kinder to the Frenchman though.  Cantona, his sentence commuted on appeal to community service, serve no time. Latterly, Symonds did. Convicted of branding the former-Leeds United player a “French c*nt,” he spent a single day in prison. Links to far-right groups excised any pretence that the 20-year-old was an innocent victim of Cantona’s ire. The Frenchman’s reputation duly salvaged. In part, at least.

Cantona responded to the sentence by uttering both his most famous and cryptic words about “seagulls and trawlers,” as the frenzied press fed on the Frenchman’s scraps. If anything the incident sealed the striker’s place in United folklore.

More than a decade on and Cantona now treads the Parisian boards, scheduled as he is to star in Face au Paradis, tonight in Paris, directed by his wife Rachida Brakni. There are few regrets. Indeed, speaking in 2008, the enigmatic star said only that he wished he’d punched Symonds harder.

Symonds, by contrast, is as he was – an unemployed labourer defined by the intolerant charge down the terraces 15 years ago.

United lost out to Kenny Dalgleish’s Blackburn Rovers for the Premier League title. Spearheaded by Alan Shearer, who would turn down Ferguson’s offer to become Cantona’s replacement two years later, Rovers head-of-steam outlasted United’s. It is to this day a tarnished championship win.

And with almost as little fuss as Cantona joined Ferguson’s side five and a half years earlier, the Frenchman retired into acting and beach football in May 1997. Forever missed but never forgotten.

25 January, 1995. 9.10pm

Evra and Cantona on French controversy

November 22, 2009 Tags: , , Shorts 2 comments

Manchester United left-back Patrice Evra defended Thierry Henry following France’s controversial World Cup playoff victory over Ireland. In typical Evra fashion the former-Monaco player challenged John O’Shea’s Republic side to a replay of the match, which sends France to South Africa and Ireland to the beach. But only on PlayStation!

“Titi does not deserve this. Leave him in peace. Who made the mistake? The referee,” Evra told L’Equipe.

Evra dismissed suggestions that the former-Arsenal striker should have confessed his crime to the Swedish official, who missed the incident in Paris on Wednesday night.

“Frankly, had he done that, I would have told to him, Titi, you betrayed us?,” Evra said, who the offered to replay the match but only in video-game format.

“I’ll replay the game whenever you want – on the PlayStation!”

Meanwhile United ledgend Eric Cantona has added to the chorus of criticism levelled at France coach Raymond Domenech. Cantona, who won 45 caps for France, described the coach as the worst for Les Bleus since Louis XVI. The retired Old Trafford hero also said he would have attacked the handball culprit, if the ball had been on the other foot.

“I think that Raymond Domenech is the worst coach in French football since Louis XVI. If it was up to me, I’d put Laurent Blanc [the Bordeaux manager] in charge of the France team,” Cantona said.

“He continues the season with Bordeaux, he wins the league with Bordeaux and he wins the World Cup! I’m not the only one who thinks that… What shocked me most wasn’t the handball, honestly.

“What shocked me most was that at the end of the match, in front of the television cameras, this player (Henry) went and sat down next to an Irish player to console him, even though he’d screwed them three minutes earlier.

“If I’d been Irish, he wouldn’t have lasted three seconds.”