In December 1994, United fan and writer Gavin Hills met Eric Cantona and wrote this intriguing insight into the man and the player. Here is part one...
“1966 was a great year for English football. Eric was born.” Damn right. Seldom can anybody, let alone a Frenchman, have taken British culture so rapidly by storm. For two years, Eric Cantona has played for Manchester United and become a crucial part in our club’s revival. In that time, there has been praise and there has been condemnation, but always a sense of awe.
Cantona has become more than just a footballer. He is a national institution, an icon that transcends the allegiances of clubs and nationalities, alternately a hero and a villain to the nation. On advertising hoardings throughout Britain, small wonder that his challenge to the supreme importance of England’s World Cup victory has scarcely been questioned. When the Old Trafford faithful bow down before him, they mean it. Eric is divine.
As a rule, Eric doesn't give interviews. Doesn’t need to, really. He’s still the most talked about player in the country. Yet, luckily for us, Eric isn’t afraid to break the rules either, even one of his own. On set for his new video “Eric the King”, Cantona is happy to talk to us. As assured and relaxed as he appears on the football field, he exudes confidence and stares at the camera with that blend of insolence and intelligence which has become his trademark. Every question I ask he gives his full and detailed consideration. He is forthcoming and articulate, but one has the sense of a man who has thought hard before he says what he has to say. This is a man who plays to win. He prepares meticulously, but never so obsessively that his flair and his fluency are obscured.
Cantona is a self-avowed perfectionist. Stories about his desire to train until he masters every minute aspect of his craft have become legendary at Manchester United. Down at the Cliff he’s always pacing hard, always trying something different out. “It’s a need,” he explains. “Either you have this need or you don’t. I am lucky enough to have this need. Lucky because of all that it brings me.”
This constant striving might be what separates us supporters and Sunday leaguers from the likes of Eric. But this striving for perfection is not always pleasant. Cantona confesses to looking enviously at “people who don’t give a damn. I look at them and I think, I wonder what it would be like not to care at all. Must be nice sometimes.” The desire to do better each day brings with it a hyper-critical attitude to his own performances. Eric thinks hard about the way he plays, and submits his game to thorough criticism. This leads him, at