THE BIGGEST MATCH IN THE FOOTBALL WORLD: Cantona not the focus in France

Nothing illustrates better the grip that English club football exercises on supporters across the globe than the clamour to see the FA Cup final. Independent correspondents shared the Wembley experience with fans from Sydney to Nairobi
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The Independent Online
Manchester United's defeat of Liverpool at Wembley in the FA Cup final headed French television's sports news on Saturday evening, but not because of the part played in it by Eric Cantona.

It was the event itself, and the fact that Manchester United had won the Double - a feat replicated in French football a few hours later by Auxerre - that attracted most notice. The fact that it was Cantona who sealed the victory and that he is French was mentioned almost in passing.

Once a player, even one of Cantona's standing and notoriety, plays abroad, day-to-day public interest in France declines. Among the few reactions to Cantona's achievements in Britain over the season yesterday was this from Guy Roux, the Auxerre trainer who discovered him, aged 15, in Marseille.

Roux said he was proud of Cantona's performance at Wembley and described him as, "an excellent ambassador for France".

There is a debate in France about Cantona, but it is mostly not about his transformation from villain to hero, nor even about whether, deep down, he is a "good boy" or a "bad boy". It is about whether he will be selected to play for the national team - and if not, why not.

At the popular level, the argument revolves around two questions. The first, which may have a familiarity to English ears, is: "How can our most gifted player be left out?" The second is: "If he won't play in France, why should he be picked?"

At the professional level, the arguments are twofold: whether the French national coach, Aime Jacquet, is ready to re-admit a player he ejected from the national team with a flourish of invective more than a year ago, and whether Cantona can be re-integrated into the style of the French team as it has developed since. Jacquet has a week in which to make up his mind.