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

times, he readily admits, to darker moments of self-questioning, but in the meticulous mental and physical preparation for which he has become so famous, he clearly thrives on doubt and burning ambition.

Although training is crucial to our Eric, he knows that training must never take the place of the match itself. If ever there were a player made for the big occasion, it is Eric Cantona. “We’ve all known players who have been geniuses in training, but when it comes to the match itself they’ve been hopeless. The point is to train and to prepare yourself mentally for the match. It’s the game itself that’s important.” And, of course, Cantona’s magical performances when it has really mattered are even more legendary than his determined attitude in training.

I ask him what it’s like to live with the pressures of the big moment. He is almost surprised at what seems an obvious question. “Once you’ve managed your time, once you’ve managed your training, once you’ve managed your concentration, your preparation, what comes next is a game. When I play I belong to the match itself.

Pressure isn’t a problem. On the contrary, when we were little kids we all wanted to play football: why? We wanted to play football to experience these great matches. We wanted to play in front of 100,000 people. Why else would we want to play football? When kids are mucking around they say to each other ‘shoot some penalties’ and they’re kids, there’s no pressure on them. And what do they think to themselves? They think, ‘Right this is it, it’s the last minute of the World Cup final.’ What they tell themselves is that it all hangs in the balance, that if they miss this one, they lose everything they’ve 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,

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