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The brilliant white of Marseille's urban sprawl comes into view, a vivd contrast against the azure Meditterranean sky. In the centre of the city, thousands fill the streets to celebrate Bastille Day, the air a heady mix of the sulphur from spent fireworks and the salty sea spray.

Marseille owes everything to the sea. Manchester United fans owe much to Eri Daniel Pierre Cantona, who has asked FourFourTwo to come and meet him in his home city. Retracing the route of Cantonas grandfather, who was forced into exile from Francos Spain, we drive 300 miles from Barcelona, through the towns of Cantona's former clubs Montpellier, Nimes and Martigues, arriving exhausted but also wired, apprehensive. Cantona is a hero of your correspondant, and conventional wisdom has it that you should never meet your heroes.

We are instructed to go to a scruffy hotel amond discount stores in a seedy social housing project. Young gangs of lads in Olympique Marseille shirts throw tiny firecrackers to intimidate pedestrians.

Cantons family have helped to bring the FIFA beach Soccer World Cup to Marseille - it will begin in two days. Billboards advertise the tournament around Frances third city, while teams of men in Argentina and Japan tracksuits acclimatise by walking the streets, dodging the sleek trams and enjoying the attention their tracksuits bring - even though none of their faces are recognisable.

Cantona appears wearing a France shirt and a beard that greys around his chin. Hes taller, wider, and more imposing than you'd imagine. His eyebrows are formidable, his eyes dark and unfathomable. He seems distracted, guarded and wary as he weighs up the strangers near him.

With sadness, we tell him of the death of Norman Davies, the former Manchester United kitman who escorted him to the Selhurst Park tunnel after his infamous kung-fu kick in 1995. Many of Cantanos former team-mates had attended his funeral a week earlier. "No, no, no, no," is all he can say.

We've been told we'll have 10 minutes with Cantona, less than a third of what we'd been promised. As manager of the French beach soccer team, Cantona is extemely busy. But 10 minutes will not be enough, nowhere near, so we're understandbly unhappy. "Tomorrow morning" he agrees, thankfully. "We meet tomorrow when I have more time. Nine o'clock at the hotel"

Next morning, Cantona is on time, busy but more relaxed, though some questions unpredictably creat palable tension. He stays for over an hour, tete a tete, responding to your questions, smiling, laughing, frowning and thinking. Hes one hero you wouldn't hesitate to meet again.

What stands out most from your time growing up in Marseille? Were you a happy child or were you always frowning then too?

I was a happy child. We had a strong, close family, which gives you the best education you can get. We were working class and satisfied with small things in life. We were polite and always said please and thank you. We were respectful to others and enjoyed life. We sand, smiled, and loved. We were immigrants, Mediterranean people. My father came from Italy, my mother from Barcelona. I was there when I was a child to see my grandfather. I was 10 and liked it very much. He came to France after the Spanish Civil War. He was not allowed to return for 15 years under the Franco regime.

When I finished in Manchester, I went to live in Barcelona for three years, to relive those childhood memories. To read and live. I liked Barcelona [FFT:Have you read Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell] No, but I'd like to. Can you send it to me?

Now, I am in Marseille, a football city where OM [Olympique Marseille, another of Cantonas former teams] is like a religion. It's a cosmopolitan, passionate city and the people live for football.

Who was crazier: you or Guy Roux? And whats your favourite memory of your old manager?

I left my family in Marseille to go to Auxerre, which was 600 kilometres away. I was just 15. For us young players, Guy Roux was like a father. I liked him and respected him.

In somes clubs it is not so close, some coaches are not so close to their players, but Guy Roux made sure that Auxerre was like a big family. If I had moved to another club it may have been difficult. But at Auxerre I found my family.

What motivated you as a player? Money? Success? Glory?

Success and glory: whats the difference? [Long Pause] I think I retired so young because I wanted to improve every time, to be a better player. For myself and the team. To win trophies. To have a feeling of improving. When I retired, I felt that I couldn't improve anymore. And I lost the passion at the same time. The passion comes with the motivation of improving. If you lose the passion, you lose the motivation.

Money? No. If someone asked you to pay £100 to play in an FA Cup final, would you pay or not? So it was a dream for me to play because I did not have to pay. We were paid, but I would have played for nothing. There is lots of money involved in football and the players take their share, which is normal. But it is not money that motivates, it is a dream. The atmosphere is special for the players because we can feel that the fans make the sacrifices to be in the stadium. We can feel that football is in the blood of the fans.

In 1993, against Bulgaria, David Ginola's misplaced pass to you gave the ball away and Kostadinov's goal stopped France from qualifying for USA 94. How far do you think you would have progressed at the World Cup had you made it?

Its a very bad memory because we did not lose a game until we had 3 to go. First we played in Sweden; if we'd won, we would have qualified. But we drew after leading 1-0 - they equalised 10 minutes from the end. So we had two more games, against Israel and Bulgaria. We beat Israel 4-0 away, but lost 3-2 to Bulgaria at home. If we had drawn, we would have gone through. We were 1-0 up and I scored the goal. They scored the winning goal in the last seconds.

Bulgaria and Sweden qualified, and both of them reached the semi-finals of the World Cup. France could have done at least as well as they did. We had the best team, but we didn't really handle the situation well, despite our players having a lot of experience - because even with experience, you can make a mistake. But you have to learn from mistakes to improve both in football and in your life.

Do you prefer a nice glass of French wine or a cold British pint? What about snails or roast beef?

Snail? Ah, escargot. I like to taste local things to test them. When I go to Spain, I take a Spanish beer or wine. When I got to Brazil, I take a Brazilian beer or wine. When I was in England I took an English beer. But with the French, wine. Here in the south of France I take a rose, especially in the summer. Its cold [smiles].

What was your reaction to Trevor Francis offering you a trial at Sheffield Wednesday?

He didn't invite me for a trial. I was there for a week and I thought I was there to sign. My lawyer was there and he spoke to try to find a way with the contract. I trained and played in a friendly game. We won 4-3. I scored 3 goals. After one week, he asked me to spend one more week on trial.

There weren't a lot of foreigners in England then, maybe some fromt the North of Europe but not many from the south. Maybe they were suspcious, but I was a France international and Sheffield Wednesday wanted more time to decide about me. That was not a very good way to go about things.

We've heard the rumours but its never really been answered properly - why did you leave Leeds? Did you fall out with any players or just Wilkinson? Were you looking for a move before the fabled phone call between Fergie and Wilko?

I had a bad relationship with the manager, Wilkinson. We didn't have the same views on football. I am more like a Manchester footballer. At Leeds, football was played the old way - I think you say kick and then rush. But it was very important to play for Leeds at first because I learned a lot with this kind of football. And we had success.

But if I don't feel the environment is good, I don't want to be there. I need to feel good. Maybe thats why I had problems before. Maybe the atmosphere at a club wasn't how I dreamed it would be. I needed time or I gave up or I tried to find words to explain what I wanted. Its like with a woman. Sometimes you can't find love. Sometimes you can, but its still not right. Its good to be in love, but you want more, you want to give, you want to receive. Sometimes that doesn't happen. I'm not sure that I would like to be with a woman who is like some of the chairmen I met. They didn't deserve to be loved.

Six months before you joined Manchester United, you played in a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford. You nearly scored with an overhead kick. The whole of the K Stand applauded you - unheard of for a Leeds player. Did that seem weird?

You dream about these things so if they happen you feel you lived them before.

CONTINUED
 

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Who would have won a verable joust: Camus or Sartre? And on the pitch?

[Looks totally perplexed] What? [FFT: The Philosophers] Ah. Camus! Or Sartre! [Laughs] I didn't understand. I thought you meant a camel or a sauterelle [grasshoppers]. You know, the little thing which moves a little bit then jumps [makes his hands like a grasshopper as he laughs out loud] I liked this comparison...

But the philosophers? There would be no winner with these kind of people. They were open people with their own ideas, but they would listen to the ideas of others. Truth was not everything. You argue to improve or change your point of view. If you think you know the truth about everything then you become very closed. You stay in your own world and go crazy. And then after 10 years you kill yourself. It is important to be open and to have your own point of view, but be open to change.

How much Mancunian culture did you absorb? Did you watch Corrie amd listen to the Smiths, Stone Roses or Oasis? Do you miss Manchester?

I didn't watch this kind of programme, but I like Oasis. And the otheres... The Stone Roses. I liked. The Smiths before I moved to Manchester. Morrissey, I liked the things he did and the way he did them. Very much. A lot of people in France liked them.

I do miss Manchester, a lot. Manchester United is so strong, and you can feel that in the city. Theres a lot of energy in Manchester in football, music and culture. Maybe its because of the rain. I only lived there when I was a player. I went back to live there recentley for a month. [to shoot Finding Eric, a Ken Loach film about a Mancunian postman]. Some cities you have beautiful things to see and visit; in Manchester, they have energy. I could feel something, the energy from the history of the city.

People try to find things in Manchster, to creat things. My friend Claude Boli [Basil's brother] lived in Manchester at the same time as me. His girlfriend moved there to study the textiles of Africa, the favrices and the cloth. That was her passion. I thought they were all the same, but the different tribes have different cloth, different textiles. All of the cloth travelled from Manchester to Liverpool and then by boat from Liverpool.

When did you come up with the idea of turning your collar up? Were you copying somebody else?

It wasn't an idea. I put my shirt on. It was a cold day. The collar stayed up so I kept it like that/ We won, so it became a habit to play with my collar up.

What was going through your mind when you kung fu kicked that Palace fan? If you'd landed on your feet instead of your backside, what would have have done next?

[Long Pause] I dide land on my feet, not where you say. Thats why I went to punch him again. But I didn't punch him strong enough. I should have punched him harder.

What did you feel the first time you saw TV footage of you jumping in the crowd at Selhurst Park

I didn't watch it. Because I knew. All I had was journalists around my house. That's all I could see. My house was small. They blocked the light. But I played that moment, at Selhurst Park. It was a drame, and I was an actor. I do things seriously without taking myself seriously. I think Nike found that side of my character, and used it very well. Even when I kicked the fan, its because I don't take myself seriously. I didn't think I hade a responsibility not to do it because of who I was. No, I was just a footballer and a man. I don't care about being some kind of superior person. I just wanted to do whatever I wanted to do. If I want to kick a fan I do it. I'm not a role model. I'm not a superior teacher, telling you how to behave. I think the more you see, the more you realise life is a circus.

Did you see the billboard outside Old Trafford when you came back from the ban, saying: "We'll never forget that night at Selhurst...when you buried that 30-yard screamer"?

Of course I remember it. And I remember the goal. It was against Wimbledon, they played at Selhurst Park too. I liked the words on the poster. And I liked it when I was in court and the fans supported me. They travelled from Manchester, in the middle of the week, to Croydon. I could feel that support and it helped me a lot. The club, also, supported me. So I stayed.

Some say you didn't perfomr as well or score goals in big European games. Why do you think that was? Was it just that the Premier League was easier?

I scored goals in the European Cup. Like I scored goals for France: I played 45 times for France and scored 20 Goals. I scored on goal in every two games in Europe. Thats not bad [Smiles]. When you are a striker you can prove yourself with numbers. You can play 10 games, score five goals and assist five goals. You can give an answer very quickly if the press are against you by scoring goals. When you're a midfielder or a defender you can't do that. If they don't want to see that you're a good player, they won't see it. Thats why I was a striker.

Roy Keane has described you as the best finisher hes seen in one-on-one situations. Why were you so successful in those situations?

I worked a lot and I was relaxed. You have to find the timing when the goalkeeper comes towards you. If hes too close, you don't have the angle to score a goal. If hes too far, then you are too far and you won't be strong enough to be precise. When the goalkeeper is three metres away is good. Thats when you score a goal.

When I was young I used to miss. I tried to understand why I scored in training but not in the game. It was about timing. It's the same for the dribble. If a defender is too close you can't dribble; if he is too far away then he can anticipate.

If you'd had an offer to play one more season at any club in the World after you had let Manchester United, where would you have chosen?

I didn't want to play anymore. I had lost the passion.

How do you feel when you see whats happened to Leeds United? Whats gone wrong there?

When O'Leary was there he did a very good job for three or four years - the played in the European Cup semi-final with a very good generation of young players. I couldn't understand why they sacked him. Since then, the crowd has gone down and down and down. Leeds is a big club. The crowd have the energy for it to be a bit club again. But they saw everything destroyed. Leeds will come back.

Since the Glazers took over, United have won 2 League Titles, and a European Cup. Would you still agree with those who say the Glazers will do more harm than good?

I can understand why the supporters are concerned. The philosophy of the club will never change while Alex Ferguson at the club. After he leaves... that's what makes me worry. Ferguson is so strong, so popular. He can control everything/ For the moment nothing has changed there - apart from in an economic way, and Ferguson does not control the price of the tickets for the fans.

I'm worried about the future. I hope that things will not change. I met the people from FC United when I was in Manchester. They have a great idea. I hope they will become a great club and win the European Cup in 50 years' time. Every club has to be created at some point. Now, I am interested in the people who create clubs. What type of people created Manchester United or Manchester City? I'm sure its about class.

Has acting replaced the buzz you felt while playing football? Will you ever get involved with the game again?

For me, football and acting are very similar because they are passionate You get a similar feeling when you are on the pict and on a set. But the feeling is stonger on the pitch. When I lost that feeling, I stopped playing I felt like I could not improve.

In acting, I work hard to try and improve. I don't like it when a football coach tells you which way to play. I like to improve myself as a person.

Often there are players who have only football as a way of expressing themselves and never develop other interests. And when they no longer play football, they no longer do anything; they no longer exist, or rather they have the sensation of no longer existing.

Did you have as short a temper off the pitch as you did on it?

Theres a fine line between freedom and chaos. To some extent, I am an anarchist in that I try for a kind of anarchy. But this is an anarchy of thought, you could say, a liberation of the mind from conventional ways of being and doing.

Where were you when United won the Champions League in 1999? Was there a tinge of regret that you weren't out there

When you see teams win things, you want to be involved. But I had been away from football for two years. I was proud and happy. I knew 10 of the players, and Ferguson. I was very happy for him. I would have loved to have been on the pitch in Barcelona, of course.

Who was the greatest French footballer ever, Michel Platini, or Zinedine Zidane? Or somebody else?

Somebody else. Me.

Whos better as your no 7 successor, Beckham or Ronaldo?

They are different players, but the influence they have on the game is the same. Beckham can help a team win a game. Ronaldo does the same. He scores more goals than Beckham, but their influence is the same.

CONTINUED!
 

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Discussion Starter #3
George Best once said "I would give all the champagne I've ever drunk to be playing alongside him [Cantona] in a big European match at Old Trafford." What would you have given to play alongside Best

Football is an art and Best was an artist. Not every picture is a good one; all art is about trying to explain yourself. Everyone can do that, the man behind the bar, the man sweeping the streets. It is up to the people watching to decide if you are successful at your art. But it is all art. You are an artist if you explain yourself with beauty. With particularity. It is about giving something for people to think about, not to provide answers. It is why I don't want to say what I would give up. Me, I like artists who make me think. I don't want to be told what to think. I like to have my own interpretation. If you say to me "Look, this piano is black", then for me the conversation is over.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Beach Soccer

What Eric did next; play in the sandpit

Eric Cantona hung up his boots in 1993 but he was soon kicking balls again - barefoot, as captain of Frances beach soccer team. By 2005, he was managing them to victory in the inaugural Beach Soccer World Cup in Rio; this summer, the annual World Cup came to Marseille, thanks in no small part to Cantona's kudos and passion.



Where did your interest in beach soccer come from?

I didn't have it as a child - the beach in Marseille had no sand, just stones. The game was born in 1992. My youngest brother Joel played a tournament in Brazil in 1996 and he really liked the game. He spoke about it a lot. I retired from football in May 1997 and played in my first beach soccer tournament in September 1997 in Monte Carlo. I really liked it, it's a beautiful game. I wanted to help the organisation, it gave me satisfaction to help create something.

How does it feel to be the manager of the French beach soccer team?

I'm very proud. We've been organising the beach soccer finals to come to Marseille for six years and this is the culmination for the work that my brothers have put in. Marseille is a passionate city, like Rio, which staged several beach soccer finals.

How does winning the 2005 World Cup compare to your other football acheivements?

In 2005 I played just one game in the finals - I played for a few minutes and scored a goal. But to win that World Cup was as important as anything I acheived on the grass: we had helped develop a sport which was almost nothing in Europe, and we were World Champions. It was a big moment.

What is the future of beach soccer?

Sixteen teams qualified for the World Cup this year. In the beginning we had eight. National championships have started, young players are starting from 10 years old. A lot of work's been done, the foundations are there. Beach soccer's changed. At the start it involved players with big names. Like me.

The origins of football were in England and Brazil became the best team. The origins of beach soccer are in Brazil. Can you ever see England being beach soccer champions?

England have improved, but they are still not good enough to be in the Worlds top 30/ They have potential, but this game was born on the beach in the sun. In England, you play football on the grass. But it is changing. Russia has a very strong beach soccer league and their team is in the top seven in the World.
 

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Thanks for posting you saved me £4.10 not having to buy 4-4-2 to read it :D

It's great to hear the views of Eric. He's a class act on and off the pitch and will rightly always be remembered by many as 'The King.'
 

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Discussion Starter #9
RedForceRising said:
I hope you scanned it.
Actually, no.

I tried several things to get it on the comp, but they failed.

But, I had given Sal my word that I would post it, so since I'm loyal and reliable, I ended up typing the whole thing :cool:. I'm quite a fast typer so it didn't take as long as expected. However, looking back, I probably won't be doing this again :p

So you better all be grateful or I'll be really upset. ;)
 
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manutd004 said:
Actually, no.

I tried several things to get it on the comp, but they failed.

But, I had given Sal my word that I would post it, so since I'm loyal and reliable, I ended up typing the whole thing :cool:.. ;)
:eek: :eek:

Even bigger thanks in that case Mr Bond, you're a bloody star player for doing that.

If you had let me know i could have got it scanned.

Though you going to the trouble to type it all out makes reading it even more enjoyable. :) :) :)
.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Yes I am mad.

The voice inside my head tells me that all the time. ;)

Being serious though, I was on holiday and was basically bored so I just typed it. But I''ll find out how to work the scanner sufficiently at some point :p
 

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Well done mate thats some brillaint work :)
I love the bit about the best French footballer..."Somebody else. Me."
 
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