Silence that masks the shame

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Satisfactory, if unimaginative. Whatever the Football Association did was going to be criticised, that was clear from the morning after Eric Cantona first leapt into the crowd at Selhurst Park. Public reaction then ranged from calls for a life-time ban to instant forgiveness.

The FA has found a middle ground and, though Manchester United's churlish press conference vividly demonstrated their disappointment at the extended ban, it is a fair decision.

Some commentators had suggested he might be made to serve a type of footballing community service, taking the game into schools or coaching youngsters. It would have been an interesting and, possibly, mutually rewarding sentence. It is not as if he will be doing much else.

Another alternative was a suspended sentence, but that would mean little. If he transgresses again, the FA can simply punish him afresh.

Next on Cantona's agenda is his court case. Perhaps, then, he might apologise in public. Cantona was said to have expressed regret yesterday. "Deep and sincere" regret, said United's solicitor, Maurice Watkins. Unfortunately Cantona found it impossible to say the words himself, even to French inquisitors. For the most part he sat unblinking, those penalty- box eyes searching, as ever, for predators. He clearly did not want to be there.

Neither did his manager, Alex Ferguson, who sat alongside. He was not much more forthcoming, his mood giving further weight to the suspicion that Manchester United only suspended Cantona under duress in the first place.

United have shown by winning their last five matches, their best run of the season, that they can cope without their Frenchman. They will still welcome him back and so should the game. It is to be hoped, come October, that he can put this behind him and concentrate, once more, on making his mark with his skills rather than his studs.

It is also to be hoped that, by then, rival spectators will be appreciative of those skills. The FA's initiative aimed at outlawing individual racist remarks is long overdue.

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