Football: Eric the Red part two

The film star is a footballer for one night. By John Lichfield

ON TUESDAY night at Old Trafford, Manchester United will be captained by a French film star. His name will be familiar, even if you are not a an aficionado of French cinema. He is called Eric Cantona.

In a previous starring role, you may recall, he won four league championship titles and two FA Cup-winner's medals with Manchester United between 1992 and 1997. He also drop-kicked a Crystal Palace fan and popularised turned-up collars and sardines.

The Magnificent Seven is returning to Old Trafford, for the first time in 15 months, to captain his old team against an Eric Cantona XI in a benefit match for the survivors and families of victims of the 1958 Munich air crash. He is a little chubbier; his haircut is more severe than ever; otherwise, it is much the same Eric.

What has he been doing since he last played in a red shirt in a friendly match at Coventry City in May last year? He has starred in two movies, both of which have yet to appear on the screen, and he is at present making a third. In this latest venture, Les enfants du Marais (The Children of the Marsh), which is set in rural France in the 1930s, one of Cantona's main scenes involves smashing up a bar. No change there then.

His other cinematic ventures have included a small role as a French count in a movie about Elizabeth I, also starring Richard Attenborough. His principal starring role has been as an unconventional boxer in a movie called Mookie, which will appear in French cinemas this autumn (and in Britain, probably, some time next year).

In this film, which was shot partly in Mexico, Cantona co-stars with a chimpanzee, the "Mookie" of the title. Advance word, partly generated, it is true, by the film's publicity people, suggests that Cantona's performance is "extraordinary". The movie's producer insists that Cantona will, in the next few years, replace Gerard Depardieu as the most sought- after male star in French cinema.

One man who did not appreciate the realism of Cantona's performance was his sparring-partner in the boxing scenes, who complained to the director that Eric was hitting him too hard. "It's true," Cantona said, in a recent interview with Le Journal de Dimanche. "But he was hitting me too! It's nothing to be a bit groggy after taking a couple of punches in the face. I wanted it to be a real fight."

Cantona, now 32, is living in Barcelona. "It's a city which inspires me," he said, "Modern and gothic, between the sea and the mountains. There is only one problem, scooters everywhere, like piranhas."

Eric's brief, very funny, appearances in the Nike advertisements during the World Cup will be his last promotional appearances for the sportswear company. He also opened a Nike Park in the suburbs of Paris in June, when he was billed, pompously, as the President of the Popular Republic of Football.

Might he return to football one day? In another interview last month with the French cinema magazine Studio, he left the dressing-room door ajar, but only just. "I had no more passion for the game," he said. "At the same time I know that I can go back whenever I want. For the moment, I'm very happy in the cinema."

One person, other than the massed ranks of Manchester United fans, will be overjoyed to see Eric Cantona back in a red shirt. It is his nine year- old son, Raphael, who remains an English-speaking football devotee and United fan. "My son, when he is unhappy, he says it straight out. I appreciate that," said Cantona. "He liked it better when I was a footballer."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Down time: an employee of Google uses the slide to get to the canteen
businessHow bosses are inventing unusual ways of making us work harder
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
news
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

£40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

£45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

Front-End Developer (JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, C#, GUI)

£55000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End Deve...

Graduate C# Developer (.NET, WPF, SQL, Agile, C++) - London

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Graduate C# De...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?