Cantona back in action

Eric Cantona was back playing football last night, seven days after he announced his retirement from football, turning out to help two friends in a testimonial match in northern France.

A 100 or so Manchester United supporters made the pilgrimage to Lille to see the flamboyant Frenchman take his place for a North of France side against a Lille select team. The fans, who draped their banners inscribed with Birchwood Reds and New Moston Reds over the barriers and sang the Marseillaise were rewarded for their efforts as Cantona, still wearing his celebrated No 7 shirt, scored a second-half goal - even though his side lost 4-2.

While he laughed and chatted with his fellow players, including Jean Pierre Papin, Bernard Lama and the former Aston Villa player Didier Six, it was not all smiles. He looked moody as he arrived in the passenger seat of a Mercedes, wearing dark glasses and flanked by bodyguards at the Grimonperz-Jooris Stadium. But the reception he received from the fans could not have been warmer, and the typically impudent lob in the first half produced the loudest cheer of the evening.

Cantona had flown to Paris and driven to Lille to boost the testimonial of the French footballing brothers, Pascal and Stephane Plancque. Cantona played with Pascal at Auxerre in 1987 and they have remained friends ever since.

"I had a telephone call from Eric's wife Isabelle on Wednesday and when she said he was coming I was delighted," Pascal said. "Eric isn't a man to go back on his word, he has all my respect. He is a true gentleman."

The testimonial, however, is likely to be a one-off. United gave permission for Cantona to take part but will continue to hold his registration for the remaining year of his contract.

There are reports that United are still paying his pounds 15,000 per- week wages in the hope that he will reverse his decision to retire and return to lead another assault on the European Cup.

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