Cantona `proud and privileged' at award

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The Independent Online
Beef - a contentious choice in itself - will be on the menu rather than fish at the Football Writers Association's dinner on 9 May, but there is now the prospect of a few sardines being tossed the members' way.

Eric Cantona, elected at the weekend as the writers' 49th Footballer of the Year, is expected to make an appearance. This is despite the dinner being just two days before Manchester United's FA Cup Final with Liverpool.

Custom dictates that Cantona, whose public utterances are usually confined to Nike advertisements, will make a short speech. Alex Ferguson and Brian Kidd will accompany the Frenchman, presumably to ensure that, to use Cantona's analogy, the trawler will be safely tucked up in bed by midnight, and not fraternising with the seagulls.

Cantona said he was "very proud and privileged" to receive the award, adding, "it is a great honour for me and my country." He is the fourth foreign winner after Bert Trautmann, of Germany, in 1956, the Dutchman Frans Thijssen in 1981, and last year's winner, Jurgen Klinsmann.

The award completes a remarkable rehabilitation for Cantona, who was banned for 10 months after his kung-fu assault on a fan at Selhurst Park in January 1994. He thought about leaving the English game and several members of the FWA suggested he should be thrown out of it. Ferguson, however, persuaded him to stay.

The Manchester United manager has been richly rewarded. Cantona's behaviour since has been impeccable, his influence immeasurable. At times United's pursuit of the double has seemed to be a Cantona crusade. A series of crucial goals has rebutted the one criticism about his game before the ban - failure in the big matches. The only remaining blot on his fortunes is his continued omission from the French national side. They must have some team.

Scotland's manager, Craig Brown, last night prepared to take on the European champions, Denmark, in Copenhagen on Wednesday without four injured players.

Everton's Duncan Ferguson was lost to the original 21-man party, and the European Championship finals, last week, and three more players pulled out of the senior group, which travels today. Central defenders Colin Calderwood of Tottenham and Alan McLaren of Rangers pulled out with knee injuries while Celtic's Paul McStay has an ankle injury.

The Motherwell defender Rob McKinnon was withdrawn from the B side, who meet the Danes tomorrow. There will be no additions to either group.