Shame and sorrow but no surprise

Jim White believes Wednesday night's self-destructive act was almost in evitable

The Cantona affair Wednesday night was one of the most depressing of my life. I sat at Selhurst Park and watched the player who had given me more pleasure than any self-destruct. Around me the United fans shared the same emotions: shame, disappointment, sorrow. We always knew in the back of our mind that we had the most volatile player in United's history on a short-term tenancy rather than freehold, and we sensed, as he slugged it out with some wobbly jowelled south London xenophobe, that the tenancy was over. We felt bereaved: as in all bereavements the sorrow was not for the person who has gone but for ourselves, those left behind to face life without him.

None of us, however, were surprised. The very genetic characteristics that make Cantona a genius as a footballer are those which make it almost certain he will implode.

When, in November 1992, he arrived at an Old Trafford which had not seen the championship trophy for 26 years, there was a long tradition behind him of purchased forwards who had been destroyed by the expectations of the place. So stomach-wrenching was the nervous anticipation of the task ahead for Alan Brazil, for instance, that he threw up before each of his games for United. Cantona felt no nerves on arrival. Why should he? He had an unswerving conviction in his own ability. Immediately he played with an audacity which was breathtaking: his first pass as a United player was an outrageous defence-splitter. He won us over with that touch, changed overnight from being a one-eyebrowed Leeds git into a demigod.

Over the next two years Cantona became the King. With no fear of the consequences of his actions, he would try things other players would not contemplate, whether for fear of ridicule, for fear of failure, or for fear of the manager's fury. And when those things came off, he added a dimension to the team that had not existed before: a Double-winning dimension.

But the man who did not worry about messing up a back flick equally did not concern himself with what might happen - sending-off, suspension, fines - should he exact revenge on an opponent with a stud. He just did it. n This is the conflict within Cantona: the temperament that allowed him to succeed as a player is fundamentally unsuited to a sport which requires its practitioners to abide by the rules. One minute he was inspiring his team-mates with a goal, the next he was jeopardising their efforts with a kick. Alex Ferguson, the best man-manager in British football, knew this about Cantona: the one came with the other. You could not legislate for someone who did not think before he acted, so you swallowed hard and got the best out of him while you could. Two and a half years of Cantona was more than anyone else has managed.

Thus it was no surprise to those of us who loved him that, three days after we thought he had won us the championship with a wonder goal against Blackburn, he would do his best to lose it by removing himself from the competition. After near-misses with the crowds at Swindon, Leeds and South ampton, he finally stepped through the invisible curtain which separates fan from player. When confronted by an ugly, foul-mouthed yob yelling abuse three feet from our chins, most of us would like to lash out. But we don't.

All sorts of filters and checks come into play: we worry he might hit us back; we worry we might get arrested; were we professional footballers we might worry that our boot sponsors would disown us should we use their product in that way. So we would walk away. Cantona has no checks: he simply acts. There is a nobility, a purity, a heroism about someone who behaves so absolutely.

Of course the filters which control us are the cement which binds society: some might call them the mechanisms of civilisation. If we all went around administering the drop-kick that prats richly deserve, chaos would ensue. Nevertheless some of the comments about Cantona have been ludicrous. Roy Hattersley, on Newsnight, said his assault was the worst thing that has ever happened in a British football ground: you can be sure the families of the 93 Hillsborough victims would not agree. We have to have rules and Cantona has to be punished for transgressing them: a rest of the season ban, and a charge of actual bodily harm seem appropriate to me.

And until, should it happen, the day he reappears again in a red (or black or blue and white with bits on) shirt, we have to take comfort in the gag circulating in Newcastle at the moment. It was lucky it wasn't Andy Cole who launched a drop-kick at thatfan, the Geordies reckon. Because he would have missed.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
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

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape