James Lawton: Good luck Cantona. Recreating those exciting Cosmos days is one tall task

You may have shrugged, even muttered a phrase not too far removed from, "there he goes again, the big French barmpot," but Eric Cantona may be on to something when he says the challenge of reviving New York Cosmos could prove a wonderful mix of football and art.

Well, wonderful might be pushing it a bit because it was certainly too much for a combination of Pele and Franz Beckenbauer around 30 years ago but interesting, well, maybe.

So far the artistic and sporting communities of New York have interacted significantly on the rarest of occasions, most recently when the great Luciano Pavarotti was appearing at the Met.

Unfortunately, the divine voice was put out of action by a nasty cold and when an obscure understudy was announced the patrons were so inflamed they started booing and in some extreme cases throwing programmes and other random items at the stage.

The following night a spokesman for the New York Rangers, who had played a numbingly unspectacular game of hockey down the road at Madison Square Garden, explained that many of the fans, who have one of the more ferocious reputations in American sport, had left early not because of the tedium on the ice but out of fear of colliding with the opera crowd.

Who knows, Cantona, with his coat draped around his shoulders and his now iconic ability for self-dramatisation, may achieve something of a more substantial fusion between what the original promoters of the old North American Soccer League sold as a "kick in the grass" and higher forms of culture.

Certainly you give the project more of a chance if you remember how it was, briefly but excitingly, for soccer in New York back in those pioneering days when Pele and Beckenbauer and all those other "soccer" notables came to town.

One vivid memory is of the night Reggie "Mr October" Jackson hit a homer at Yankee Stadium only to go home to his Manhattan penthouse, switch on the TV and find himself second item on the sports news.

Number one was the Cosmos victory over the Tulsa Roughnecks at Giants Stadium in front of 70,000, a crowd swelled somewhat by another visit from Nobel Peace Prize winner Henry Kissinger.

Cosmos were certainly the hot ticket then, which was partly explained by Giorgio Chinaglia, the Welsh-born Italian who had starred for Lazio, being one of the city's most prominent sports citizens.

Chinaglia scored against the Roughnecks and his goal had nearly as many re-runs as the one scored by George Best for the San Jose Earthquakes a few years later. Best's goal was brilliantly achieved, but was performed at about a quarter of his old pace and sharpness.

Chinaglia's old popularity in New York, which is unlikely to have suffered by his being linked with figures in the Italian underworld, is no doubt the reason why he will play his part alongside Cantona in the effort to restore the Cosmos image with an application to the Major Soccer League.

The worry of course must be that the high-water mark of football popularity in the United States, as a spectator sport rather than healthy recreation for both sexes, has come and gone.

Fifa, never slow to sniff out commercial possibilities, suggested this may be their conclusion when they decided to send the 2022 World Cup to an obscure corner of Arabia rather than return to America after a 28-year break.

Such rejection would have been unthinkable back in the early eighties when the mood could scarcely have been more optimistic. Montreal Manic drew a crowd of 58,000 for a play-off against Chicago Sting in 1981 and when Phil Woosnam, a former Aston Villa and Wales inside-forward, was appointed league commissioner, he experienced a rush of blood to the head he has possibly spent the best part of the rest of his life trying to forget.

Under its influence, Woosnam, a university graduate and in most situations a model of rational thought, declared, "In 10 years we will surpass the NFL." As hubris goes, it was in a class of its own and the American media, at least that part of it which cared either way, dined on it all the way to implosion in the mid-eighties.

Then, the fear was that football would never recover as a serious player. The verdict on that assessment must still be a long way from being delivered but at the very least Cantona's appearance in New York – and the big advertising messages in Times Square – is a reminder of a period when the world's most popular game did seem to be on the verge of crossing its last frontier.

Wherever you went there was a demi-god on show. Johan Cruyff and Carlos Alberto followed on the heels of Beckenbauer and Pele.

Kissinger seemed to capture the mood of optimism better than most when, as an ambassador for the successful bid for World Cup 1994, he was quizzed about the ability of the Americans to successfully adapt indoor stadiums and Astroturf pitches. "I think we're up to it," he said. "Don't forget, we did get a man on the moon."

Before Cantona was instated officially as the catalyst who returned Manchester United to the big time, he once mused about the inspiration he drew from every appearance at Old Trafford. "I feel the ghosts all around me. The great players of the past are with me. I know I can help to bring back some of their achievements."

Who knows, maybe he will draw strength from another set of ghosts in New York – and perhaps the fact that the game is no longer coming from another planet.

That, certainly, was the impression of Beckenbauer when he made his debut at Giants Stadium, one rather bleakly confirmed by a report of the reaction of the big man from Warner Communications, the club owners. Impatiently, he demanded to know why the great star who had cost so much was loitering at the back of the team. "That's where he plays," the big man was told.

"Not here, not at his price," said the moneyman. "Tell him to get his ass up front." Bon chance, Eric.

'Big lie' at heart of London 2012 is the hype on which Blair's bid was built

Lamine Diack, president of the International Federation of Athletic Associations, has made a damning intervention in the Olympic Stadium fiasco.

The confession of the old long jumper from Senegal, and admitted Francophile, that he succumbed to the masterful salesmanship of Tony Blair, and the Olympic know-how of Lord Coe, at the cost of his belief that Paris had a superior bid went straight to the heart of all reservations about the success of the London campaign.

However successful the London Games, no one should forget that they have been built around a central deceit.

It is that all the claims that victory for London was an investment in the future of youth, that it was guaranteed to bring down a shocking place in the world obesity league and provide, at last, a decent infrastructure for sport and recreation, was so much hype.

Paris did not have to make such claims because the reality was already in place. We had the Picketts Lock catastrophe in 2001; Paris had the World Athletics Championships of 2003. Paris had the superbly organised World Cup of 1998 and a transport system that had passed all the tests.

France, along with so many other European nations, had an infinitely better record in providing facilities for young sportsmen and women.

Now Tessa Jowell, the former Olympics minister, says that rendering the London stadium unfit for athletic purposes would make a lie of the winning bid. So it would, but then where do we begin to measure the lies and reflect on the difference between promises and performance?

How guilty does Jowell feel about the flogging off of school playing fields by successive governments – or the reality that a burst of sports spending has been directed where it is most likely to yield medals in Beijing and London?

How guilty does anyone feel about the fact that Britain has so long been a poor relation of nations who understand that looking after the welfare of young people is not something you do in exchange for the Olympics but because it is right and decent.

We are told that tearing up a running track, for the benefit of Tottenham Hotspur, would confirm the telling of a "big lie". But then who's measuring and for how long?

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sheeran arrives at the 56th annual Grammy Awards earlier this year
musicYes, that would be Ed Sheeran, according to the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor