The man who created sardine philosophy yesterday invented cod politics. Or, to put it another way, Eric the ex-Red served up a giant red herring in a good cause.
Eric Cantona, actor, activist, photographer, artist and former footballer, let it be understood yesterday that he intended to run for the French presidency this spring. It later emerged that he planned to gather the 500 official endorsements needed to make a presidential run – but not to campaign.
In football terms, the former Manchester United striker sold France and the world a brilliant dummy. Whether or not he gathers his signatures, he attracted instant attention to his cause: the shortage and poor quality of social housing in France.
In a letter to every mayor in France – there are 36,782 of them – Mr Cantona, 45, appealed for the signatures of elected officials that a candidate needs to take part in a French presidential race. He wanted the signatures, he said, to spread a "simple, clear message" about the "millions of families in France whose suffering is forgotten".
The implication was that Mr Cantona intended to join the dozen or so would-be challengers to President Nicolas Sarkozy this April and May. The newspaper Libération then published an interview with Mr Cantona in which he suggested that his real intention was to shame other presidential candidates into supporting the housing pressure group, the Fondation Abbé Pierre.
The foundation's director, Patrick Doutreligne, confirmed the ruse. "We told ourselves we needed an extra kick," he said. "He will not be a candidate."