The King’s Speech – Quotable Cantona Delights Delegates
8 March 2012
An excited energy gripped delegates at the Global Sports Forum this morning, when the imminent arrival of sporting royalty was announced. Shortly after, Éric Cantona – known by football fans the world over as Le Roi – took to the stage with a modest smile and a wave. Most men would probably have shaved before speaking at an international conference, but this wasn’t just any man. This was Cantona.
Prompted by Stefano Bernabino, Chief Editor at Eurosport International, the former Manchester United and France star reflected on his career and complex public image. Often painted as one of sport’s outsiders, Cantona’s fame owes nearly as much to his philosophical comments as to his undeniable talent on the football field.
Although starting by playing down his unique reputation (“I never claimed to be a rebel or an artist. Other people gave me those names”), the 45-year-old was soon demonstrating his knack for crafting quotes. A staunch socialist, Cantona provoked plenty of admiring smiles when he claimed that he’d “rather be a rebel than be bourgeois”.
Elaborating his opinions about football, Cantona showed why he is considered to be one of the game’s idealists. “I always loved footballers who played in a beautiful way. The best players are those with spontaneity, who have the naivety of a child playing.” Cantona, of course, was himself such a player, and admitted as such: “I never planned anything [on the pitch]. Every moment is unique.”
In Ken Loach’s film, Looking for Eric, Cantona describes the favourite moment of his career: not a goal, but a pass to set up a goal for Denis Irwin. Quizzed about this, the Frenchman restated his belief in the importance of teamwork in football: “Setting up a goal is like giving a present. Sometimes the pleasure of giving is greater than that of receiving.”
Talk then turned to Cantona’s post-football career. From beach football (Cantona guided France to the inaugural World Cup in 2005) to advertising, and from theatre to his current role with the New York Cosmos, Le Roi’s recent pursuits have been nothing if not varied. He likened acting to playing football, saying that “they’re just two ways of expressing yourself. To succeed, you have to have a desire to learn, and be serious. To play, you [also] have to work. »
Perhaps the most telling part of the session came when Bernabino asked Cantona about his famous seagulls/trawler press conference. Cantona claimed that he was simply trying to say something that made no sense, in order to quickly discharge his media duties. Afterwards, however, people found meaning in his words. He retains this knack for the casually profound until this day.