Simmons has also said he will consider dropping his complaint to the police against Cantona if the Frenchman makes an apology. In another blow to the player, France announced they were stripping him of his country's captaincy and dropping him from the side until next season.
While United bowed to pressure from the Football Association by suspending their illustrious striker and fining him two weeks' wages, around £20,000, they also made it clear they have no intention of waving him adieu. The Italian club, Internazionale, have been talking to Old Trafford officials about possible links and an exchange of players. Cantona was one they are specifically interested in but the United chairman Martin Edwards said: "Eric is staying like everyone else."
United intend to play Cantona in reserve-team fixtures to maintain his fitness for next season. However, they have given an undertaking that he will not figure in any games until the disciplinary commission has sat to consider the charge that he brought the game into disrepute by his astonishing behaviour on Wednesday night. He kicked and punched Simmons seconds after he had been sent off for violent conduct.
The club punishment does not, of course, preclude the FA from imposing their own sanctions on Cantona. And if it is to be a long ban, that would prevent him playing any football, anywhere. Graham Kelly, the FA's chief executive, said: "A suspension wouldapply to all football under our jurisdiction and under the Fifa statues my understanding is that it would apply to football worldwide."
Cantona went training yesterday, still refusing to make any comment. United said he had accepted the ban and fine and that both he and they "regret the circumstances which have led to this punishment". However they have been criticised for not so far apologising either to Simmons or those other fans near the incident and who were distressed and frightened.
Indeed, Cantona appears to feel he is the injured party and not his victim. The French league president, Noel Le Graet, who has spoken to his countryman, said: "He does not understand the dimensions this affair has taken on. In fact he's angry - he thinks the whole world must pardon him immediately. You know how Eric is."
That gives substance to the view that Cantona might well walk out of English football for good. His response in 1991 when the French authorities banned him for two months was to say he was finished with their domestic game.
Simmons, a 20-year-old window fitter who is thought to have been paid a substantial sum by the Sun for his story, said he knows Cantona realises he should not have attacked him. "I would like an apology, then I would decide what to do from there," he said. "I would consider dropping the charges if he is prepared to apologise."
United, who have fined Cantona the maximum permitted under his contract, hope their sanctions, criticised as too severe by some of their fans, will have forestalled harsher measures from the FA. There was a possibility the game's governors would have considered docking Premiership points if United had not taken swift action.
The United announcement came in a formal statement issued at noon. It said: "Manchester United have today suspended Eric Cantona from all first-team matches for the remainder of the 1994-95 season. In addition the player has been fined the maximum sum permitted under his contract.
"In reaching this decision, which the player fully accepts, Manchester United have had regard to its responsibilities to the club and to the game as a whole." The decision was taken after a three-hour meeting between directors and the manager, Alex Ferguson, on Thursday night.
They had considered a life ban on Cantona, whose on-field behaviour on other occasions had brought the club discredit. Edwards implied it was only Cantona's great ability, the success he had brought to Old Trafford and the money that had brought in, which saved him from the sack. "Since he came here we have had a glorious two years and we have borne that in mind when coming to our decision."
Edwards acknowledged the possible damage to United's chances of retaining both the Premiership title and the FA Cup but said: "We felt it was our duty to do justice to the game and we certainly had our own reputation to think about as well. That is reflected in the length of the ban."
Bookmakers reacted by lenghening the odds on United retaining those trophies. They remain 4-1 favourites to win the title but have gone out two points to 11-1 for the double. "As good as he is United are still a good team without him and the effect will not be like, say, Southampton losing Matthew Le Tissier," said Hill's spokesman, Graham Sharpe. He said no significant money had been laid on United since the Cantona affair.
Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the players' union, called for an end to the "lynch-mob mentality" which has emerged since Wednesday night. He also fears Cantona may be lost to the English game for good. "Eric has accepted the decision but you can imagine how he feels. He has the police action against him and he must also face the FA. It's coming at him from all directions."
Terry Lewis, the MP for Worsley, Greater Manchester and a staunch United supporter, condemned the severity of the club punishment. "I think it is a disgraceful sentence although it was a disgraceful act that Cantona perpetrated. United have been bounced by the FA, there was no need for this sort of exemplary punishment. If the FA had done that with other cases like Merson and Grobbelaar it may have been a different story."
Kelly hinted the Association might amend their rules to allow for immediate suspensions in "very rare and extreme circumstances" in advance of a disciplinary hearing.
The Palace action against Simmons came last night. "We are writing to him telling him he has broken our ground regulations and he can not come to another match this season," said the club's chairman, Ron Noades, who added that they had no "sympathy for Cantona's behaviour." Other fans who taunted Cantona might also be banned.
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