28/11/2012 10:30,
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Cantona interview: Dec 94

got. It’s pressure that makes the game beautiful.”

A lot has been said about Cantona “the poet and artist”. The press seem amazed if a footballer has other interests apart from clubs, models and crashing cars. The Cantona “artist” phenomenon may be down to the difference between Gallic and Anglo-Saxon cultures. A case of Asterix versus Britons. What the British pundits and press don’t understand is that, as with most Frenchmen, Monsieur Cantona’s life is art. Therefore he believes football is art. Winning is one thing. But what he really aspires to is winning beautifully. This is a man who watches films assiduously, keeps abreast of high fashion, reads widely (Marlon Brando’s autobiography at the time of the interview) and even paints. But it's on the pitch that Eric is himself the supreme artist. He refers to football as “the finest of the arts”, as “the noblest of all characters in my life, worthy of great respect."

Performing on the pitch is more than a source of pride for Cantona. It is his lifeblood. “Contrary to what most people believe, the more you know about your game and the more you know about yourself with regard to your game, the more you can set yourself free. Living life to the full is not about sloppy preparation and wasting time. What I’m saying is that it’s a question of being tough with yourself in order to liberate yourself on a match day. That’s the most important thing. That’s what I’m trying to live.”

There is, in what Cantona has to say about football, the heroic sense of struggle, of wrestling to overcome doubt and desperation to achieve the dizzy heights of perfection. But this is not suffering, he claims, “because at the same time when I manage to solve a problem it’s a massive liberation. In any case, in life you do everything you can to reach a peak of happiness. To do so you have to go through the worst depths of despair and you have to will yourself out of it.

Read Part Two on Thursday.

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