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Je suis Cantona: King Eric at United's court

“But are you saying to me…? Are you talking to me ?! " The warm and persuasive voice anticipates a severe silhouette with a prominent profile that is revealed inside an elegant polo shirt with a raised collar. He has the hubris of Travis Bickle in "Taxi Driver" and his story is worthy of an Oscar-winning masterpiece. His name is Éric Daniel Pierre Cantona, for everyone simply Éric.

he He was born in Marseille on May 24, 1966 to father Albert, a nurse with a strong pictorial vein and Sardinian origins, and mother Eleonore, daughter of anti-Franco Catalan refugees, dedicated to the family. The father has a passion for football, plays as a goalkeeper and accustoms his three children to follow Olympique Marseille with a single mantra: "there is nothing more stupid than a player who believes himself more important than the ball".

The first time always hurts

Éric takes his first steps in football in the Caillolais. As a goalkeeper, because his father was “gardien de but” and he pushes him there, even though his son loves Cruijff. A stretch, the little one between the posts does not work and he moves to the wing where, finally, he blossoms with a goal. The news of the flowering of the "enfant prodige" reaches the modest Auxerre. In 1981, Guy Roux, a techno-guru and a proud socialist decides to take him there, to help him consecrate himself.
Cantona has a haughty bearing, a right hand worthy of a Kolinsky marten brush but a character angry man who disqualifies all his qualities. The annual loan in Ligue2 to Martigues, the Venice of Provence, does not calm his irascibility which breaks out on April 5, 1988. Back at Auxerre, during a French Cup match, he hits Der Zakarian of Nantes with a martial art shot . It is the first "blunder" that cost him 2 days of disqualification and the engagement with the AJA.

Is Cantona crazy?

Despite an exploratory phone call from Silvio Berlusconi, who wanted the Van Basten - Cantona duo at Milan, Éric arrived at Olympique Marseille fresh from the success of the Under-21 European Championship. Despite the twenty-two years of age, his maturity was far from being reached due to countless head shots that were very dear to him. Therefore, despite the copious goals and assists as a champion, he was suspended from the club and from the national team for having basically called the Michel technical commissioner an asshole. After these vicissitudes, he was sent on loan first to Bordeaux for the rest of 1989 and then to Montpellier for the entire 1989-1990 season.

Ahh .. Montpellier!

During his loan at Montpellier, he was involved in a fight with team-mate Jean-Claude Lemoult who kicked him in the face. On the same day, Tornatore's "Nuovo cinema paradiso" won the Oscar for best foreign film. In the summer, thanks to his splendid performances, he returns to the OM where he sparks until the end of October 1990, when he breaks his ligaments, thus closing his parenthesis at the "Les Phocéens". Nimes already seemed to be the last resort for the enfant terrible. Also because to buy Cantona, the president of the club, as well as the mayor of the city, used public funds. Despite being nominated as captain of the team, Éric was unable to placate the hot spirits. In fact, at home against Saint-Etienne, in disagreement with the referee's instructions, he threw the ball at him and was sent off. Not happy, in the tunnel that led to the changing rooms, he dropped a right on the jaw of the opposing captain Kastendeuch. Result: two months of disqualification became three following an "idiot" too many addressed to each member of the disciplinary. "I had the privilege of attending my funeral" he declared after the sentence on 12 December 1991, also announcing his retirement from football to devote himself to painting.

“Ooh-aah Cantona!“

Lucio Dalla's hit from the early 90s "Beware of the wolf" seems to be the perfect song for the historic moment of the exile Cantona. Only the new coach of the French national team, Michel Platini, stubborn admirer of him, convinces him to reconsider. After unsuccessfully suggesting him to Liverpool and Sheffield Wednesday coaches, he managed to get him to sign with promising Leeds United. Éric seemed to have quit the role of the riotous by wearing those of a helmsman towards championship triumphs and Charity Shield in 1992. England has thus become the promised land where Cantona has finally become "The King" for every lover of football free from schemes and diktats.At the end of the season the suitors multiplied all over the world, but Éric decided to marry, for a low-cost figure (1.2 million pounds), at Manchester United to definitively legitimize himself by unleashing the ire of Leeds fans felt betrayed.

Manchester

“I wonder if you're good enough to play Old Trafford,” Sir teased at the first meeting. Alex Ferguson. "I wonder if Manchester is enough for me," the Frenchman shrewdly counterattacked. The English manager gives him the historic jersey number 7. Thus, in the year of the arrest of the boss of "Cosa Nostra" Toto Riina, Cantona managed to make himself available to the group by temporarily depositing the crown of kings.
The 4-1 victory of 9 January '93 against Tottenham was famous. During the match, Éric showed his entire class by scoring a goal and dispensing assists. “The best thing I've ever done in my career? The assist to Irwin, against the Spurs! " declared in 2009, an action from a football film library.

Player of the year

Thanks to Cantona, in the next two years, the "Red Devils" came out of the shadow of being a fallen noble. They become an important team that has since developed into a business and marketing machine. They won the inaugural 1993 Premier League and the Charity Shield. As many triumphs followed one another in 1993-1994, to which the FA Cup was added. Over the course of the season, Cantona scored 27 goals, winning the title of player of the year and finishing third in the Golden Ball standings, behind the winner Roberto Baggio and Dennis Bergkamp. Of course, the usual numerous expulsions were not lacking, but from a possible meteor "King Éric" quickly became a supernova of the world football firmament. "This is the return of the space cowboy" as the British Jamiroquai sang in 1995.

Karate-King Cantona

The 1994/1995 season starts under the best auspices after the triumphs of the previous one and the targeted transfer campaign of Ferguson, nicknamed "the hair dryer" by Cantona for how he yelled at the players to motivate them. "Live forever" is the single from Oasis that accompanies, as much as their supporters of the "Citizens", the positive start of the "Red Devils" and Éric.

The gesture

But fate unexpectedly knocks on the door of “The King” finding him unprepared. It is January 25, 1995, Manchester United are fighting for the title against Alan Shearer's surprising Blackburn. On that day the "Red Devils" are expected from the Crystal Palace in Selhurst Park. The match remains at 1-1 for the entire first half. At the beginning of the second half, on a ball that was sent back in depth, Shaw holds Cantona, who commits a reaction foul by kicking the opponent. Referee Alan Wilkie dismisses "The King". As Éric heads for the exit tunnel a nearby “Eagles” fan insults him heavily. The United number 7 lashes out at him with one leg straight and the other bent as a team, hitting him with a kung-fu style kick. The London team's fan is called Matthew Simmons, a 20-year-old from Thornton Heath, with a hooligan record. During the press conference following the days of media pillory, there were many questions. Éric has never denied his barbaric gesture, on the contrary he delivers to the press an iconic phrase aimed at accusing the media world that has always been his enemy: "When the seagulls follow the fishing boat it is because they think that sardines will be thrown into the sea".

Disqualification

In the first instance he was sentenced to two weeks in prison. The sentence, reduced on appeal to 120 hours of civil service, he spent teaching football to children in his area. He was later disqualified from the F.A. for nine months, until the following October and United, needless to say, lost the championship by one point to Blackburn. Meanwhile Simmons was sentenced to a week in prison, only to be released 24 hours after the verdict. Subsequently Cantona was also permanently suspended from the transalpine national team which had painstakingly recovered over the years and of which he was also captain.

Cantona, Moratti's regret

In that bitter summer the deposed king learns to play the trumpet divinely and to delight with Isabelle's children Josephine and Raphael. He also received the flattery of Massimo Moratti who, right up to the end, tried to bring him to Inter: “It's one of my biggest regrets. With him we would have started winning earlier.I was there when he gave that kick to the fan and I hoped that it would be useful for the negotiation, because maybe they would sell him. We were taking it and then, due to a mistake, it never came ".

"I'm not a man, I'm Eric Cantona"

Ferguson never thought of selling it, on the contrary he decided to put it even more at the center of the project. After all, the number 7 in Genesis represents the day when God rested after creating the Earth, while for United fans the 7 corresponds to the "Fab Five", that is Robson, Best, Cantona, Beckham and Ronaldo the names of the players who wrote epic football pages at Old Trafford.

King Cantona, player of the century

Above all, Éric captivated the hearts of the fans by being awarded the Club's Player of the Century. The shirt with the raised collar is the true apotheosis of his irreverence and his charismatic art, so much so that the last two seasons in Manchester he spent with the rank of captain, the first non-British in the history of the "Red Devils". Cantona returned to the field on 1 October 1995 against Liverpool, immediately scoring the decisive goal for the final 2-2. At the end of the season, the second double (Premier-FA Cup) arrived and "The King" was recognized as player of the year 1996 by the F.W.A. He is the first Frenchman in history. After all, as Bob Marley's remix sounded in those years, “What goes around comes around” and in the end the throne is still all of him. He retired in May '97, two days before his 31st birthday, after winning yet another Premier League and scoring 176 goals in 473 official matches: “I played as a professional for 13 years , a long time. Now I want to do other things ".

The antihero

A hero disguised as an anti-hero. It explains why even today, during the matches of the Mancunians, many years after his retirement, the fans chant: "Ooh-aah Cantona!" like a mantra, an invocation, a litany.
"King Éric" did not cling to a millionaire contract or to the myth of himself. Indeed, despite the transversal success, he has not lost the sense of what is vital and of the social responsibility that football, perpetually poised between sport and show business, is required to support. He spread the concept of football as an instrument of popular strength, making a lot of charity too often lost in the sea of ​​controversy. He is a rebel who became king by popular acclaim as Philippe Auclair wrote in his book.
For all that has been, is and will be, we just have to say chapeau Éric ... he will reply: "Au revoir" raising his collar of his pole and disappearing with his regal gait.

Thanks to the pen of CasaBaggio .

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