Cantona: The Rebel Who Would Be King
Eric Cantona is one of my favorite Manchester United players and over the years I have come to enjoy Philippe Auclair’s perspective on soccer. The combination of these two created a stunning book that I cannot recommend highly enough. Auclair’s offering is part football history, part social commentary, part psychology and it’s all amazing.
The narrative examines Cantona’s life in total, from his days as a talented youth, to his mixed time in France to the culmination of his reign at Manchester United. The precociously talented youth was formed by several coaches, namely Guy LeRoux and blossomed at Auxerre. Controversy was never far from the Frenchman and Auclair mentions these incidents to set the stage for future events.
I learned so much about French Football history, in particular the politics and success of Marseille in the early 90’s. The failings of the French National Team before the emergence of Zidane and others are also discussed. Although Cantona never found success at international level, he did contribute to the rise of the team that eventually won the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championships.
Moving on from there Auclair contextualizes the early days of the Premiership and how Cantona rose to fame on foreign shores. Eventually shown the door at Leeds United, he arrived at Old Trafford, the perfect platform for the player, and ushered in a period of dominance harkening back to the days of Sir Matt Busby and the Holy Trinity.
Reading about the club’s success after years of failure always brings a smile to my face. These were the days when I first found the club and Auclair allowed me relive those moments of the first Premier League title and Domestic Double. Cantona was a key part of those early titles as he was the catalyst for this group of players and also helped develop Fergie’s Fledglings.
Cantona’s rush of blood at Selhurst Park is discussed at length and it is here that the author shines. Throughout the book, Auclair explores how Eric responded to both success and failure. His reactions varied from rich veins of form to tension filled conflict with his clubs to moments of madness. His actions against Matthew Simmons put the wonderful player on the sideline for several months, but Auclair also recaps how Le Roi would rise triumphant in the 95/96 season.
Another aspect of the book that I enjoyed was how Auclair fleshed out the player as artist. Eric had a unique personality and philosophy and these are what contributed to his actions, both good and bad, and his greatest moments on the field. In the end, he chose to walk away, still with more to give with his body but not with his heart.
The prose of the book moves the story along and the main character contributes to wonderful tale. I had a hard time putting it down, have read it twice, and can’t wait to read it again. Auclair presents a well- rounded philosophy of the player and his contribution to the history of Manchester United.
For a full list of my book reviews, please visit the Recommended Reading page. And reach out to me with your suggestions as well.