In Depth Interview: Eric Cantona

We have teamed up with our colleagues at Foot Mercato to publish an interview in English with France and Manchester United legend Eric Cantona. 

Born: 24 May 1966 (Age: 47)

Previous clubs: Manchester United, Leeds United, Nimes, Montpellier, Bordeaux, Marseille, Martigues, Auxerre

International Appearances: 45 caps, 20 goals


During his appearance as a guest of honour at the ‘Sport, Literature and Cinema’ showcase in Lyon’s Institut Lumière, Eric Cantona gave a passionate, hour-long interview that offered several fascinating insights into his views on the modern game.

Speaking ahead of a screening of his 2012 documentary Football Rebels – a film chronicling the struggles of five football legends: Carlos Caszely, Rachid Mekloufi, Predrag Pasic, Socrates and Didier Drogba – France hero Cantona tackled topics ranging from his thoughts on PSG and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to his take on the media’s influence on the sport and recent developments at his former club Manchester United.


Who are the rebels these days?

“For me, making this documentary was a means of restoring a sense of nobility to the word rebel because today any tattooed, reality-TV youngster with slicked hair is called a rebel… To truly be considered as such, however, you have to show that you have what it takes to be one. People who have lived under dictators or lived through wars, for example, have demonstrated that courage. Thankfully things aren’t that bad for us here in France.”


“When you look at personalities like those five [in the documentary], it riles me when people say that I am a rebel, that Ibrahimovic is a rebel, that Balotelli is a rebel… What have we done to earn that label? What have we done at the level of Caszely or Mekloufi? Nothing, we’ve done nothing. Occasionally we’re part of a system that makes us a little more exposed than others but what does that prove? Nothing at all. We don’t put ourselves in danger, we don’t put our lives or those of our families on the line. You have to keep things in perspective.”


Who is to blame for the current state of affairs that sees football viewed as a business?

“While people always maintain that footballers earn too much money, I think the key responsibility lies with the media. In my view, if there wasn’t so much media hype surrounding football, there wouldn’t be so much sponsorship and there wouldn’t be the likes of Berlusconi, [Marseille owner Bernard] Tapie during my career or club presidents like Abramovich at Chelsea. None of these people would have got involved in football if there wasn’t such media hype. At the centre of it all there are the key protagonists – the players themselves – and they obviously play their part, but the system is created by you, the media.”


And do you think this ‘system’ is a recent construction?

“In my playing days we already earned vast amounts of money. There’s always this thing inside of us that says things were better in the past but 15 years ago they were saying exactly the same things as today. Yes, we do need to battle against the genuine problems in football, problems like corruption in particular. Beyond that, however, the money in the game – money that we earn honestly – is just the fruit of a system that is put into place by the media and of which footballers are merely actors.”


What do you think about the astronomical sums being thrown at players by PSG’s Qatari owners?

“My take on it is that PSG are paying 75% tax on Ibrahimovic’s wages and all of that comes from Qatar. It’s money that comes into France from elsewhere and costs the French state nothing – quite the contrary in fact. We can more or less roll out the red carpet for them.”


And what about Zinedine Zidane agreeing to become the ambassador for Qatar’s World Cup bid?

“I don’t think he really thought about it at the time. When he agreed to it, there was no PSG money, there was no World Cup and this whole Qatari surge that’s taking over and everyone’s talking about wasn’t there. I think that, at the time, he was a little naive… At least I hope so.”


What are your thoughts on the current national side?

“For me, as a player for the French national team, when you hear Sarkozy saying ‘what annoys me is these footballers who earn all this money’… Or when you have François Hollande doing his utmost to come down hard on players because some survey results told him that 85% of people want these guys to suffer… That’s two heads of state who are making players not want to wear the shirt with pride. Would you be proud to wear the shirt of a country whose leaders are determined to ruin you? Personally, I’m not sure that I would. I think the French players are extremely courageous and respectful towards the shirt because they do it all the same.”


What do you think about Roy Keane’s recent suggestion that Sir Alex Ferguson is to blame for Manchester United’s current struggles?

“I don’t watch Manchester United’s games any more but I think that Roy Keane has a personal problem with Sir Alex, how else can you come out with that kind of thing? Ferguson left a squad filled with a new generation of young players that he had trained himself. I think it comes down to a clash of egos between the two.”


And what about Paul Pogba, should Manchester United have kept him?

“Today, you have to say that they should have, yes. That said, it’s certainly worked out well for Juventus and seemingly for him personally too.”


Finally, would you have liked to play for PSG if you were playing in 2014?

“I played for a great team during my career and, if I was a player today, I’d want to play for a great team. Is it hard for me to say I’d want to play for PSG? No, it’s just that the French league doesn’t really interest me.”


You were appointed sporting director of the New York Cosmos in January 2011 after the club reformed, does the side still harbour ambitions of developing a great team and bringing through young players despite the change in ownership that came shortly after your arrival?

“Yes, that’s what I’m there to do. But frankly, I don’t really know whether I’m still the sporting director. I signed for a president who was a major shareholder at the time and unfortunately he’s no longer there.”


So, the situation is unclear now?

“Yes. I have a contract that isn’t being respected at the moment but I’m still available for the club.”


J.L./C.N. with thanks to Fabien Borne

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