Cantona: 'I was childish'

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The Independent Online
Eric Cantona yesterday broke a silence he has maintained ever since the seagulls began to hover above his trawler following the notorious kung-fu kick at Selhurst Park in January last year.

In an interview with the French sports daily L'Equipe, the Footballer of the Year spoke for the first time about the assault on Crystal Palace supporter Matthew Simmons, which resulted in an eight-month ban from the game and 120 hours community service teaching football to children - a sentence which Cantona admitted had been beneficial.

"Before that I was like a child," he said, "sort of waiting to do the next stupid thing. But what I have learned is not to make the same mistake twice.

"There were really a lot of criticisms, especially from France, and those who made them thought I deserved them. I thought it was too much. I'm not naive. I know that now there will be a lot of praise and that, too, will probably be too much."

As for Simmons himself, who has since been banned from football for a year and given a custodial sentence after last week assaulting his prosecution counsel, Cantona said: "I don't want to give that person more importance than he already has. But that [Simmons' assault on the lawyer] speaks for itself."

Cantona was also keen to stress the part played by the Manchester United manager, Alex Ferguson, in his rehabilitation, and announced that he had signed a new contract with the club.

"I've signed, and that means I'll stay to be honest and faithful to those who have supported me," Cantona said. "I can't think of any reason that could make me change my mind. I have tried to pay them back, him [Ferguson] and my friends in the team."

Of United's achievement in regaining the League title, and his own part in their success, Cantona said: "I am an optimist by nature. To be champions we had to believe that we could manage it. When I came back I had two good months, then I had a barren month or two, which was only to be expected and we had prepared for that happening."

Despite his brilliant form, Cantona's chances of being part of the French squad that will come to England for next month's European Championship finals remain minimal.

But he said: "I've got good friends in the French team and I do hope that France will go far in the tournament, with or without me. I stay French, in my blood and in my heart."

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