Poetry, motion and Cantona's mind games

Sport on TV

NEAR the start of The Cantona Affair (BBC2, Wednesday), a journalist declared that "It's easy to put top-spin on a Cantona story". But, as we've seen in some of the coverage generated by the Matthew Simmons misdemeanour, it's easy also to swing wildly, catch the thing at some laughable angle on the top edge of your racket and balloon it on to the next-door court.

So how would The Cantona Affair fare? Essentially, this was last year's Standing Room Only interview spruced up and rejigged to incorporate the recent events.

There was no new comment from Cantona, sadly. But at least we got to look again at some of Eric's finest seconds; that peachy goal against Wimbledon, that extraordinary shot which hit the bar against Chelsea and that blissful moment in France when he returned the ball to the referee with a touch more vigour than was strictly essential. Against the rules, a bad example to youngsters, not to be encouraged etc., but it was an athletic achievement of its own kind to be able to hit the referee that hard from that distance.

Connections were explored between Eric and the poet he holds dear, Rimbaud. Simon O'Brien, narrating, boldly insisted on pronouncing it "Rimbo", presumably in order to steer clear of the traditional "Rambo" confusion.

O'Brien pointed out that Cantona had had "more words written about him than `Rimbo' managed in a lifetime", a statistic which seemed a little unfair on the plucky young symbolist from France who lived in a time before competitive mass circulation tabloids and so couldn't always rely on hitting the headlines ("Top Verse Man In Prose Poem Stunner").

The programme also reflected on the Cantona Nike commercial (in which Eric lists his misdemeanours in a manner at some remove, you could argue, from remorse) in order to initiate some thoughts about the perpetuation of an image. This was a little cheeky because the Standing Room Only team were themselves guilty of playing up to received images of Cantona in their interview sequence. Not for Eric the standard dodgy two minutes of close-up after a game with his hair still wet from the showers. Standing Room Only filmed him seated in a blackened studio strikingly lit from the side, a treatment ordinarily reserved for dissident Balkan playwrights and Norwegian underground movie-makers who pitch up on The Late Show.

He was wearing his Nike- endorsed baseball hat, the condition, one would wager, of the interview being granted in the first place, and looked more like a racing driver than a soccer player.

And just occasionally, with his jaw tilted up imperiously, he would thoughtfully rub the underside of his chin with his thumb and forefinger in the manner made famous by intellectuals worldwide. I am convinced that I have never before seen a footballer doing this.

It is here, I think, that the inevitable comparison with George Best breaks down. It's an easy one to begin to make, given Best's and Cantona's talent levels and given that both players possessed or possess gifts which are inexplicable.

Also, both of them would know something about a kind of suicidal or kamikaze impulse. But other than that they may only have in common the red shirt of Manchester United. (Or in Cantona's case the red shirt, the green shirt, the black shirt, the blue and white one, and probably before the end of this season the lilac and cream shirt with apricot shoulder areas and a fetching neckline in jade, a snip at £49.99.)

Best, as clips reminded us here, was always willing to be portrayed as a fun lover, just the man for a champagne fountain or a boutique opening and never once tried, even in his darkest moments, to lead us to believe that behind closed doors at his luxury home he was in fact writing a thesis about Chaucer.

Cantona's temperament is altogether different and the sense of imminent implosion which hangs about him (and is one of the reasons for our attraction to him) has nothing to do with loving the spotlight and threatening to go to seed. When Cantona finally blows it, it won't be in a nightclub with a banana daquiri in one hand and a gin fizz in the other. It will be on the pitch, or in the stand on his way off the pitch in some enormous storm of intense, personal seriousness.

Accordingly, the single moment which rang false in the interview was the one in which Cantona alleged, about Manchester United's success, "We have lots of fun and score lots of goals." Lots of goals, yes, and lots of astonishing football. But fun? This is a team whose brilliance often seems directly proportional to the players' ability to get on each other's backs, a team whose emotional condition is perhaps best encapsulated in the perpetually aggrieved face of Paul Ince. Or in Cantona's furrowed brow

As predictable as the dawn, Best appeared on the programme, and, in a lordly kind of way, suggested that Cantona was indeed a player he was prepared to pay money to see but that he could maybe learn to handle the press better. Given Cantona's performance with the news crew on the beach, there's probably nothing that any of us can tell him about handling the press.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleMemoir extracts show iconic designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
News
i100
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

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam