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Moody, magnificent Eric Cantona was the football star the fans adored but could never quite understand.

From his turned-up collar to his icy stare he was different both off and on the pitch.

There were no nightclubs, no flash cars and he lived in a semi-detached house just like the people who idolised him.

Cantona sometimes seemed to be possessed by demons when he was playing but he was a genius in a game he considered an art.

His heroes include rock singer Jim Morrison and actors Mickey Rourke and Marlon Brando who he praised for their "independence and rebelliousness".

While many of Old Trafford's young players are seen in Manchester's clubs Cantona rarely joins them.

He prefers the company of students in coffee bars near the university where he plays chess.

He is also a regular visitor at an art house cinema that shows obscure releases from French film-makers.

For several years after joining United he kept on his semi- detached home in Leeds.

His wife Isabelle, who he has known since his teens, taught English at the city's university.

When he moved to Manchester he picked a rented home in unfashionable Boothstown.

There was no flash mansion, just three bedrooms and the barest of furniture.

Right from the start, Cantona's life was unconventional.

He was brought up in a cave near Marseilles that had been converted into a house by his grandfather.

His childhood ambition was to be a deep sea diver but at the age of 15 he left his close-knit family to join French club Auxerre.

His footballing genius was never in dispute but sometimes the demons took over.

He was banned from international soccer for a year for calling the French national team manager "a bag of s***". Another club boss threatened to send him to a lunatic asylum.

At a disciplinary hearing after being sent off, he called each member of the French commission an "idiot" to their face.

His suspension was doubled and he talked of retirement but went to England instead.

He joined Leeds United and helped them win the title but then fell out with manager Howard Wilkinson and was transferred to Manchester United.

It appeared that at Old Trafford Cantona the football artist has found his perfect canvas.

But five years after his arrival in England, he is still a mystery. Manager Alex Ferguson was once asked by a reporter if he could arrange a meeting with the man he calls "mon genius".

Ferguson replied: "I'm lucky if he speaks to me."

When one team-mate was asked what Cantona was like he replied: " He's just like the rest of us. At the end of the season he gets on his Harley Davidson rides to Provence where he writes poetry and studies Impressionist painting - just like the rest of us."

But his unconventional lifestyle only made him more of a hero to the United fans.

Even when he launched his kung fu attack on a Crystal Palace fan, he was still their idol.

Under the community service order imposed by magistrates Cantona was told to train youth sides.

Lads as young as eight emerged to tell of the "gentle genius" who had shown them the finer points of the game.

But the extraordinary talent which helped Manchester United win four championships in five years has always been tempered by deeper instincts.

When he lifted the Premiership trophy last week, Cantona seemed distant from his team.

In his autobiography he said: "I wish I had never had to grow up."

Sadly yesterday, the artist in him admitted he had completed his last masterpiece.



LIVERPOOL fan Ian Broudie of the Lightning Seeds: "I don't believe it. He was the first foreign player to come here and make a difference."

FORMER Take That idol and Liverpool fan Mark Owen: "I'm sad, but at least he'll be remembered as a star now. He is a great entertainer and player. I'm surprised he's going."

SIR Teddy Taylor said: "He will be missed enormously.

Eric was one of the most exciting football players I have seen and he helped keep the game of football alive."

ATHLETE Derek Redmond joked: "I'm a Newcastle fan so we'll be glad to see the back of him. Seriously, the world of soccer will be poorer for his resignation."

PORT Vale nut and ex-Take That member Robbie Williams: "It's a shame. I think he's brilliant.

"I can't believe he's retiring. I wish him all the best."

RETIRED jockey Willie Carson: "I would have thought he had a few more years in him yet but, as I know, we all have to retire one day."

MUSIC supremo Jonathan King: "He must of one of the most famous names in British football at the moment so losing him is bound to be a tragedy for fans."

SHEFFIELD United follower Michael Palin: "He was a superb footballer. This season he hasn't shone as much and he may have quit because he couldn't get much higher."

WIMBLEDON fan Lee Otter from band North & South: "I'm sure a lot of people will be crying at the news. He gave the game a lot of excitement."

TV astronomer Patrick Moore: "He is not a star I have studied."



THE quirky sayings of Eric Cantona have become legendary. Here are ten classics.

When he escaped jail for kung-fu kicking a fan, he left a press conference baffled with: "When seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think that sardines will be thrown into the sea."

Of the same incident: "Before, I was like a child, waiting to do the next stupid thing. But I have learned not to make the same mistake twice."

On playing soccer: "It's the collective part of the team which is important. If I'd wanted to draw attention to myself I'd have played singles tennis, or chosen a nice lady for mixed doubles."

"Seven of our players who played are aged 23 or under. They will learn. The next 10 years will be ours."

"United will be my last club. I don't want to leave a big club to play in the lower divisions. I'd prefer to play with my friends in the street."

Eurostar ad: "To see how the crow flies, one must sit on the train."

On failing to be picked for the Euro '96 French squad: "It's as if I were on a roof in New York, looking down, and seeing a lot of small people passing by."

"They (French Federation) have done everything to make sure I died a second time. We'll see who dies in the end."

After scoring in the FA cup: "I'm pleased for everybody - players, fans, and my man Ned (his bodyguard). I feel half English, half French and half Irish."

When a interviewer called a goal "magnifique" he asked: "Oh, do you speak French?" "Non, Eric" came the reply.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Author:White, Stephen
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 19, 1997
Previous Article:ERIC:WHY I'M MOVIE-ING ON; Ad hero is natural who loves acting.
Next Article:Pour effort.

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