Cantona treats French TV to full repertoire

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Eric Cantona may have dressed soberly in black for his appearance on France's prime time talk show Nulle Part Ailleurs on Wednesday evening but, in true Cantona fashion, his comments were anything but muted.

He launched into an animated criticism of French football and its officials, cheekily agreed that he was the greatest Frenchman in England and announced that he intends not only to finish his playing days on our shores but also to stay on after retirement.

He may have been invited to talk about a new Parisian stage version of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which he is co-producing, but the conversation very quickly turned to football and life in England. He started by admitting that when he arrived from France it was difficult to make his niche in the English game. "There wasn't really a place for foreigners," he said. "Now, it's a lot easier."

But, now that he feels at home, he is certainly not planning to leave. He asserted that he has no plans to come back to play in France and when asked what he planned to do after retirement said that, in spite of his reticence about good old English cooking: "I'd like to live in England. I've got used to it now."

As to what he may do after he hangs up his boots, he hinted that he would not rule out becoming a manager, but only "if I can bring something new to the game... I don't want to become one just to be like everybody else. I want to be a `creator'. If I think I have something to create, I'll continue in football."

Another possible career could be acting. He has already notched up a certain amount of experience with his ads for Nike, Sharp, Bic and Eurostar, as well as his role in the French movie, Le Bonheur est dans le Pre, and said that he is now planning to take acting lessons.

Only time will tell if he will have as much success as Johnny Weismuller did after slipping out of the Olympic pool, but Cantona already seems convinced that his greatness is assured.

When asked what his reaction had been when the Speaker of the House of Commons, Betty Boothroyd, had proclaimed that "the greatest Frenchman in England is Eric Cantona", he answered, with a smirk on his face: "She's right".

He was, however, not smiling when asked what he would like to say about French football. "It's going to ruin," he lamented. "The 25 best players are playing abroad. The people in charge have destroyed football."

After announcing that Cantona had just been voted best French footballer with 41 per cent in a survey carried out by a French magazine, presenter Philippe Gildas asked the Manchester United striker how many votes he thought the second player had received. "Three per cent?" Cantona ventured cheekily, before criticising the fact that two of the four most popular French players (Jean-Pierre Papin and himself) do not form part of the French national team. "I'm still available," he insisted. "[The French football officials] would be too happy if I said I was not available."

He complimented English fans on their singing of the French national anthem, "La Marseillaise," looked coy when admitting that his legs were insured and pooh-poohed the idea that extraterrestrials exist. But he did not leave without taking a bit of flak. During the French equivalent of Spitting Image, Les Guignols de l'Info, his puppet was featured painting flowers. "What are you painting?" said a voiceover.

"Everybody sees what they want to see," replied the puppet pretentiously.