Robin Scott-Elliot: Cantona misses target on Mancunian odyssey

View From The Sofa: Looking for Manchester/The derby, ITV 1/Sky Sports
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The Independent Culture

Eric Cantona certainly did the legwork in Looking for Manchester – perhaps he was being paid per mile. Unfortunately he found nothing; a good walk spoilt as Mark Twain might have pointed out, were he sitting on the sofa watching pretentious nonsense about a game of football. City's defence had greater depth.

It was a tough couple of nights' viewing. First that, then the derby itself. Not Manchester's finest moments. At least the documentary, for want of a more disparaging term, had Le Roi Lion to distract attention from a plodding script. "Time stood still," said the narrator at one point, but not Eric.

Cantona has become a leonine figure in his post-football life, an increasingly shaggy mane combined with a regal air, a lived-in face and haughty disdain for his surroundings, which in this case were the streets, parks and even railways of Manchester. There are times when he seems to struggle to interact with other people and that can make him seem less lion, more a kind of Gallic Prince Charles; a slightly odd figure but then the Gallic bit helps him get away with it – that and the fact that he got to the top of his profession.

Cantona had a producer's credit, so perhaps it was his idea to have endless shots of him padding silently around his former home city. At one point, he walked out of a station along the railway tracks, leading into a summary of United's history. They were founded by railway workers – see what they're doing there?

The programme appeared to have one trick – let Cantona walk unannounced into interviews with City or United fans and see what happens. One United supporter retreated behind the sofa from where he addressed Cantona with due reverence. This was the fan, Shaun was his name, who declared that the only passion he had in life was United and football. His son sat alongside him and nodded thoughtfully.

The programme tried to paint a picture of Blue v Red as the ultimate derby in a city where "fans' passions for their clubs influences every aspect of their lives". That is a claim you could comfortably make about Liverpool, Glasgow, Birmingham, Dundee – in fact of any city or town that has a football club – and was symptomatic of a lazy programme.

Still there was the occasional entertaining moment (insert joke about the game itself here), and then there were Jim and Norman, two generationally challenged gentlemen who, according to the programme, are the only fans allowed to watch training every day. Why? No idea, as we were never told.

The programme covered the build-up to the last derby of last season and at least that had a goal in it. When Martin Tyler handed back to the studio after Wednesday's game, Richard Keys' sigh was for once an absolute ly warts-and-all reflection from Sky of what had happened.

Once the game began, the ever-professional Tyler and Andy Gray played it pretty straight (Gray can't play any other way) and did not shy from saying what was not unfolding before our eyes. The only note of desperation came in the closing stages as United's late-goal habit was mentioned repeatedly and increasingly wishfully. Gray is straighter than a Roman road across the Russian steppes. As Carlos Tevez was taken off he said: "I can't get my head around that." "His neckwear?" quipped Tyler of Tevez's scarf. "No that's because he's cold," replied Gray.

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