Posts Tagged ‘ Eric Cantona ’

Cantona: The Rebel Who Would Be King

cantona book pic

Cantona: The Rebel Who Would Be King, Philippe Auclair

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.

Strip Club–RIL Edition

It has been said that you don’t find a football club, a football club finds you, and Manchester United found me via my best friend Erik. When we were in high school and college, he would share stories of this great club called the Red Devils from England, and he had all this swag—jerseys, scarves, articles, magazines, trinkets. He would talk about the amazing achievements of Hughes and Kanchelskis and Sharpe and Schmeichel and Ince, and he won me over, taking me to this hole in the wall bar in Detroit to watch live games.

By the time USA ’94 rolled around I was excited but not caught up in World Cup fever. I watched several matches on TV, but this was only a prelude to my viewing dedication for the following tournaments. Soccer on TV in the US was rare in the early 90’s, and in 1995 life changed forever for me. We watched the 1995 UEFA Cup Winners Cup between Arsenal and Real Zaragoza, and I still remember Seaman backpedaling and falling into his own net, unable to stop a ridiculous shot from Nayim.  From there it was on to the 1995 Champions League Final, which Patrick Kluivert won for Ajax against AC Milan.

All of this set up the 1995-96 season, which, thanks to a slow internet connection at college and ESPN’s coverage of the Champions League, I was able to follow. What a year that was. Juventus won the Champions League Final, and Euro 96 was epic, with Poborsky’s chip, Gazza’s goal against Scotland, and Bierhoff scoring the first Golden Goal. But all of this paled in comparison to the Domestic Double won by Manchester United.

Here is a synopsis of the season from

1995-1996 brought a second Premiership and FA Cup double in just three seasons. Newcastle United squandered a ten-point lead in the Premiership and Liverpool were beaten in the final of the FA Cup.

There was controversy before the season began. Three established players left over the summer. Mark Hughes signed for Chelsea, Andrei Kanchelskis for Everton and Paul Ince for Inter Milan. The first two wanted to leave, but it appeared to be the manager’s decision to sell Ince. With Cantona suspended until the beginning of October, it was assumed that experienced replacements would arrive, but they didn’t. Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, Phil Neville and Paul Scholes all began the opening game of the season and David Beckham came on as a substitute. The game at Aston Villa was lost 3-1, leading TV pundit Alan Hansen to famously declare that you win nothing with kids. Ferguson continued with the ‘kids’, they won their next five consecutive league games and remained undefeated until November. They were strengthened by Cantona’s return. His first game after suspension was against Liverpool. The game ended 2-2, with Cantona making Manchester United’s first goal and scoring the second (a penalty). He was on his best behavior for the rest of the season, ending it as the club’s top scorer and the Football Writers’ Player of the Year.

Newcastle United should really have won the league. In December they led Manchester United by ten points. Gradually the gap was closed. Great saves by Schmeichel and a goal from Cantona won a crucial game in Newcastle in March. Alex Ferguson employed all his psychological ploys to successfully get under the skin of Newcastle manager, Kevin Keegan. Newcastle imploded and Manchester United won the Premiership by four points. Another Cantona goal won the FA Cup Final. After a fairly dull game, Cantona scored the only goal with just a few minutes remaining.

During 1995-1996 there was embarrassment as well as success. Rotor Volgograd knocked Manchester United out of the UEFA cup. York City knocked them out of the League Cup, winning the first leg at Old Trafford 3-0. Then, towards the end of the season, the club lost at Southampton after being 3-0 down at half-time. Ferguson blamed the grey shirts they were wearing, had them changed at half-time and then determined that they would never be worn again!

A marvelous blend of youth and experience brought success in 1995-1996 and Alan Hansen – a former Liverpool player – had to eat his words.

I still remember watching the replay of 1996 FA Cup Final on Fox Sports South, and after Cantona’s winning goal (about 2:40 in), running around my parents’ house, screaming in celebration.

This was the third jersey from the 1994-1996:


MUFC 94 3rdA big fad in the 90’s was sublimation, whether it be the club crest or an iconic image or the home ground. For that year, barely visible all over the jersey, United used the names of the legends of the club, plus a sublimated reminder of the 1968 victory in the European Cup at Wembley. Not only recent players were included, but legends like Charlton, Best, McIlroy, Robson, Law, and Whiteside. I knew about some of them and as I’ve learned more and more about the club, I’ve found out why some of the names are on there. Recently I got a DVD of 1001 Manchester United Greatest Goals and it’s cool to see the names on the shirt actually playing.

This United kit is not my favorite, but when I finally I found it on eBay in my size, I snapped it up. As for the shirt itself, it’s not the greatest, as it doesn’t breathe all that well and doesn’t fit all that great, but for the years and history it represents, it’s a true collector’s item.

Old Futbol Buffet–Long Live the King

Eric Cantona signed 20 years ago for Manchester United.  I wasn’t even following football at the time, so my first real memory of him was the 1994 FA Cup Final against Chelsea, with my favorite recollection of the Frenchman being the 1996 FA Cup Final goal struck in the dying moments against Liverpool.  Watching the match on replay at my parents, I screamed in ecstasy as the ball found its way into the back of the net.  Props to Anton Alfy for putting a video of all 82 goals that Cantona scored for Manchester United.  Well worth 15 minutes of your time.  Viva Le Roi!!

Robert Meakin led the tribute to Cantona on last week’s Manchester United Redcast.  After breaking down the win over QPR, he looked at possible winger replacements as Nani will surely be off in January and Young has struggled to find form.  Cantona’s impact on the club was discussed before moving on Fergie and how long he has at the club and who could replace him?  (Pep and Mourinho were mentioned.)

Speaking of Fergie, Roger Bennett posted on ESPN FC regarding the recent Harvard Business School report on Sir Alex, noting that the secrets to his success are building a foundation, maintaining control, evolving with the times, and evaluating talent.  Would love to get a copy of that.

As for the current United team, a crazy first half saw seven goals in 34 minutes, as the Red Devils went into half time up 4-3.  That ended up being the final score in a game that was full of incident.  Due to supporting my kid’s school, I was working in a concession stand and missed the brouhaha.

Daniele at Red Rants watched another sloppy performance from the United rearguard, and only a strong and swift response from the team earned the Reds the three points.  As he pointed out in his post game notes:

Sure they score goals for fun and they’ve mastered the old club tradition of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat – United have fallen behind 14 times in 22 games this season – but thinking that the “you score four, we score five” approach could possibly lead to a title, is at best naive and at worst downright deluded.


MLS Cup Final

After watching a couple of La Liga games, I was able to see the second half of the MLS Cup.  The Galaxy took the game to the Dynamo, with Gonzalez equalizing and then LA taking the lead after Clark handled in the box.  Donovan converted and eventually the breakaways paid off as Hall tried to haul down Keane, who kept his feet but the referee pointed to the spot again.  The Irishman scored the spot kick this time to give the Galaxy a 3-1 win and second MLS Cup win in a row.

A couple of thoughts:

  • Ricardo Clark is awful.
  • Not sure if Lalas shaving his mustache at halftime is the grossest or awesomest thing ever.
  • Houston’s jerseys looked like they were claimed from a Goodwill sale.  I thought sublimation was left back in the 90’s.  SB Nation’s Dynamo page posted the particulars on the shirt.  (Rays and energy. Seriously?)
  • Mad props to Donovan for dedicating his goal to a Make A Wish family.  No way I would have even thought of that in the aftermath of a Cup victory.
  • The MLS ball reeked of bargain bin quality.
  • Tally is not a name.  It’s a hunting cry.

The panel on the SI Soccer Roundtable (11/29) discussed the chapter that is ending with Beckham’s farewell and the future of the league as a whole.  Really brought the last five years of the league into the focus.


Articles and Podcasts

Bira Brasil was Beyond the Pitch in the aftermath of Mano Menezes being axed as Brazil boss.  Bira handicapped the challengers and thought that Tite and Ramalho would be chosen ahead of former coach and World Cup Winner Luiz Felipe Scolari.  In the end Big Phil was chosen.  Can he regroup the team ahead of a home World Cup?  Watch this space.

Tim Vickery was on the Off the Ball last Wednesday to discuss the dismissal as well, blaming politics for the departure of Menezes.  Brazil is at a crossroads, having to choose between reclaiming their heritage or continuing with the current over physical, counter attacking approach.  With the reappointment of Scolari the latter has been chosen, and his task will be build another “family” and lead the Seleção to glory on home soil.

News of an expanded 64 team Champions League hit the interwebs last week leading to the usual moaning and groaning from fans and media.  I think Iain Macintosh’s post on ESPN FC was spot on, identifying the old adage—follow the money.  The loss of the European Cup, UEFA Cup and Cup Winners Cup has brought the game to the point where undoing the last 20 years is impossible.  The fact that this year’s Champions League Group Stages have been interesting just masks the fact that usually they aren’t and that 16 groups of four teams will be super tedious.  If only the group winner progressed, there might be some value, but inevitably the current 16 team knockout will morph into the 32 team knockout, which will start earlier and earlier into each new year, packing the fixture list even more.  This is a horrible idea and will hopefully kill the golden goose, so that real reform can happen.  Doubt it.

Staying with Europe, Christoph recounted German football during the 1970’s on his blog, An Old International.  He recapped the bribery scandal early in the decade, which affected the image of the emerging league but also allowed the country to move forward.  This release led to unprecedented success for clubs and the national team.  Bayern Munich and Borussia Mönchengladbach dominated the league, winning eight of the 10 domestic titles, and also conquered Europe with Die Roten winning three European Cups and BMG winning two UEFA Cups.  Plus the Nationalmannschaft won the 1972 European Championship and then claimed the 1974 World Cup before losing out to Czechoslovakia in the 1976 European Championship Final.  Great read and thanks to Peter Alegi for the link.

Finally, Matt Reece, a fellow member of Mid Michigan United shared this amazing freestyling video on my Facebook timeline.  After watching it, a couple of things struck me.  1. Mind blowing skills, but it does sort of come across as someone with too much free time.  2.  I only take my clothes off for the ladies and never in public.  3.  What the Michael Jackson song???  Anyway give it watch and see if you can even do one thing that guy did.

Cantona: The Rebel Who Would Be King

Cantona: The Rebel Who Would Be King, Philippe Auclair

Philippe Auclair’s book is simply stunning.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.  Part football history, part social commentary, part psychology—all amazing.  Philippe’s narrative examines Cantona’s life in total, looking forwards and backwards, while moving through his achievements and failures.  I learned so much about French Football history and the rise of United at the dawn of the Premiership and about the player’s motives and actions.  Couldn’t put it down and can’t wait to read it again.