In part two of this interview with Eric Cantona from December 1994, Le Roi discusses his fiery nature. Missed part one? Read it here..
Eric Cantona has a passionate sense of football’s history, which he ascribes to his father’s influence. He’s dewy-eyed when he talks. “He loved football and there were three of us boys in the house and he used to take us to the football stadium. He liked it, he even played a little football as an amateur, but he has a tremendous knowledge of football. It isn’t only professionals who understand the game and I have a strong feeling today that the advice he gave me when I was young was the right advice. It still moulds the way I think about the game.”
It was his father who communicated the beauty of the sport to the young Eric, and who inststed on his following the hard route of endless self-questioning and hard work. As he speaks about it, there is a hint, of course, of nostalgia. Perhaps more striking than that is the feeling that this is a man with a sense of destiny.
We are lucky that Manchester United has been the theatre for the fulfilment of part of that destiny. Comparing his attitude now to that of the young man who criticised selectors and officials in France with brutal and disarming frankness is an illuminating exercise. United’s brand of the English game certainly suits him and he has nothing but praise for his colleagues at Old Trafford. He speaks with uncompromising zeal of “the old guard” as the compliments flow freely: Peter Schmeichel is “one of the best goalkeepers in the world”; Steve Bruce “a tough defender and a born leader”; and Paul Ince “probably the best midfielder in the world, certainly the best in Europe.”
But the highest praise of all is reserved for Mark Hughes, the darling of Old Trafford, whose career has experienced something of a regeneration since Cantona’s arrival. “Even if he doesn’t score that many goals himself in a season, he’s responsible for creating them. It has been a privilege to play with him. If I’ve scored a lot of goals it’s because of Hughes.”
Cantona also acknowledges the influence of Alex Ferguson, with whom he has struck up a relationship of mutual admiration. “Alex Ferguson is a guy who can be your friend, and at the same time he’s someone you have enormous respect for. Everyone respects him. That’s abundantly clear and it’s a phenomenon I’d never seen before either in France or in England. He certainly knows his football, and he has everything he needs to be what he is. It’s not by chance that he’s won everything he’s won.”
Time and time