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Eric Cantona pictured in Monaco in October 2012

Happy birthday, Eric!

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Eric Cantona turns 52 today and to mark the occasion, we're republishing this interview we conducted with the great man himself in February 2017.

We kicked off the conversation with some questions about Manchester, the city he'll return to next month to take part in Soccer Aid for Unicef at his beloved Old Trafford...

What’s the first thing that springs to mind whenever you come back to Manchester?
It’s always special to come here. I am a traveller and I go to many cities and countries but it’s always special to come back here.

Many people don’t know how it feels to be a hero - what does it mean to you to be that person?
I don’t know. When I was playing, I was concentrating on the game and of course you could feel the emotion and the energy was special and the atmosphere was special, but you’re concentrating on the game. [The feeling] is like you share a moment with somebody and everybody plays their part. But now I am retired so I come here and there are just great memories. It’s different, but great.

What is it you love so much about Manchester and what emotions do you feel when you return here?
The city has changed a lot, I can’t recognise some areas, especially this one [near the Lowry Hotel] . But it’s just special. It depends on the moment you leave some cities, if you have good memories of course you will love the city. If you have bad memories then even if it’s a nice city you will not really like it. Like everything in life, it depends on how you receive things, if you are in front of a piece of art it depends on the mood you are in. If you are in a bad mood you will not really like it or appreciate it. And when you see it the day after, you wake up differently and you see it differently. A city is the same. Of course when I come back here, it’s about all the time I spent here and it’s wonderful.
Eric Cantona, pictured at Old Trafford in February 2017
All the times when I was walking in the street and when we were winning and we had a great feeling of playing altogether it was special to walk on the streets. Now I come back and I have this kind of feeling. I really like to take pictures and if I have a bad feeling when I take the picture, then when I look at the picture 10 years later, I will have the same feeling as when I took the picture. It’s why I want to make a nice picture because I want to have a special feeling so I can look back after and it reminds me of this kind of feeling. So when I come here it is still the same and I hope it will never change.

Have you got a favourite place in the city you always like to go to apart from Old Trafford of course?

I used to go to the Cornerhouse, I like this place and the area. I had a friend who was at a university here, Claude Boli, and I love walking in this area and Deansgate also.

What do people say to you when they see you walking round the city?
What do they say to me? They say thanks for the memories, [smiles] and I say thanks to you!

How does football make you feel these days and how different is the game to when you played?

In general? I don’t think the game has changed a lot. Around football a lot of things change, some in a bad way, but the players are still players who enjoy playing football, they are just kids who just love the game and if they don’t play they are sad. When they are on the pitch you can see they really enjoy it, but I don’t think the game has changed a lot.  

When you retired you said you had lost your passion for the game, but is there anything that you miss about it?
No, no, because I have been lucky to do something else and be passionate about other things thanks to my parents. They gave us a salvation to explore the world and to try to understand how it is and to try to see the nice things. I remember driving with my father and he said ‘oh look at the wonderful land’… so they gave us this love of the world. In the world you have the good things and the bad things, but when you really enjoy the good things they give you the energy to handle the bad things.
Eric Cantona
Cantona in his prime as United's title-winning talisman
You retired in 1997 – can you still remember how you felt on that day when you announced it?
I remember the last game [against West Ham in May 1997]. I was the only one who knew it [that it was my last game] because I didn’t say it to anyone, except my family so it was special. I was sad but it was my decision. I had always been prepared for life after football. Of course we are famous when we play and less famous when we stop and we need to have a passion because football is so strong, it’s like a drug, but I always thought about it before so I was prepared. I retired from football when I was 24 in France for three months before I came to England, so it was like I had already seen my own death and I knew how it worked, so I was more prepared than ever and as I told you I had a passion [for acting] and I wanted to do something else.

The King is returning to Old Trafford article

Eric Cantona will make a celebrated return on Sunday 10 June, to take part in Soccer Aid for Unicef.