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."

News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
Sport
Sean Abbott
cricketSean Abbott is named Australia's young cricketer of the year
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Partnership Sales Executive - TV

competitive + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: An award-winning global multi-media...

Sauce Recruitment: Account Director

£26017.21 - £32521.19 per annum + OTE $90,000: Sauce Recruitment: My client is...

Recruitment Genius: Linux Systems Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of UK Magento hosting so...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Development Manager - North Kent - OTE £19K

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea