Eric Cantona's starring role in Looking For Eric appeared written in the stars, having played to the crowd so brilliantly as a player…
Every top-level footballer who takes the field knows that the world is watching them. Very few have the nerve to stare back. Back straight, chest puffed, Eric Cantona would peacock strut around the field, unashamedly flaunting his plumage.
Watching United in the mid-90s wasn’t a trip to the football; that was merely a sub-plot in the weekly adventures of the mercurial Frenchman. Exaggerated gestures – hands perched on hips, or thrown frantically around – weren’t just made to the immediate target, they were a gift from star to audience; an insight into the mood of the lead character.
Cantona had the ability to do anything he liked with a ball, but there was scarcely any over-indulgence. The ability to play the simple, and invariably right, pass was his greatest gift, but his unerring need to entertain meant even the most routine exchange of possession was carried off with classy panache. He never lost sight of football’s position as an entertainment business. Any who sought to blight the game with negativity or stifling tactics were scorned, hence the dismissal of famed French holding midfielder Didier Deschamps as ‘a water-carrier’.
The poise and assuredness in Cantona was unyielding and impossible to ignore. Throw in his bad-boy reputation from repeated dismissals and skirmishes with authority in French football, and here was a character who could capture the world’s attention. Hence Eric fronting numerous Nike advertising campaigns, even long after his retirement.
Most memorable was 1996’s effort, when a host of the world’s top players were pitched into a battle against demonic spoilers from hell (late challenges, stray elbows, Hannibal Lecter mouthguards - it could easily have been Vinny Jones’ Wimbledon). Inevitably, it was Eric who had the killer line and the starring role. Who else could stop the ball, upturn his collar and mutter ‘au revoir’ before belting a shot through the devil’s chest?
Previously, a Nike campaign accompanied the completion of Eric’s nine-month ban for assaulting Crystal Palace fan