Cantona leads from the front in Fifa's show of 100 greats prove it's a beautiful game

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The Independent Online

When he was convicted in 1995 of kicking a Crystal Palace fan kung-fu style, Eric Cantona compared himself to a trawler, followed by hungry seagulls, casting sardines in its wake.

When he was convicted in 1995 of kicking a Crystal Palace fan kung-fu style, Eric Cantona compared himself to a trawler, followed by hungry seagulls, casting sardines in its wake.

Using language no less eccentric, the French "footballer-philosopher" - as he has since become known - has won star billing at an exhibition of more than 100 football greats which opens at the Royal Academy of Arts in London today.

With dishevelled hair and wild eyes, the former Manchester United midfielder is captured in a picture by the photographer William Klein, his chest bearing the words: "You play to fight the idea of losing."

It is the favourite image of the exhibition's creator David Grob of the online gallery eyestorm.com, who was commissioned last year by Fifa to mark the centenary of the game's world governing body.

The Fifa 100 exhibition, which goes on a world tour ending in Berlin to coincide with the World Cup in Germany in 2006, features 17 photographers' work and 119 players past and present chosen for their contribution to the game by Brazilian football great, Pele.

Omissions such as Welsh winger Ryan Giggs, Paul Gascoigne and Geoff Hurst were the subject of intense debate. Among the home-grown players included were David Beckham and George Best, who embarrassed the organisers after he was still asleep in bed when he should have been performing at the opening ceremonies attended by Fifa dignitaries.

On a budget of about £1m, the exhibition includes commissions from 48 current players. Among the highlights is a collection of 12 players including Brazilians Zico, Romario, Ronaldo and Pele whose likenesses have been rendered in chocolate by the Sao Paolo-born artist Vik Muniz.

Each player agreed to pose for the exhibition with the exception on health grounds of Hungarian legend Ferenc Puskas and Diego Maradona who, according to Mr Grob, was "shacked up in Cuba" at the time. Both players feature in a reworking of video footage by Birmingham-based photographer Robert Davies.

Lord Lichfield, once a favourite photographer of the Royal family, turned his hand to portraits of Rivaldo and Marcel Desailly among others, holding old footballs.

East London artist Marc Quinn has made reference to football's near religious significance in modern society in his images of Pele, George Best and Zinedine Zidane, each pictured with a reflective ball on their head. He said: "I asked them to hold the ball on their head, I said 3-2-1 and they took their hands off, it's at that moment the camera goes.

"Footballers are like saints in the modern world, so I wanted to capture them with an expression like you see in Renaissance paintings."

David Beckham, photographed by Marc Hom, looks about to take a throw-in, a sign in Spanish above him reminds the onlooker of where he now plies his trade.

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