The quest to fill the boots of Cantona

MAN ON THE SPOT Zinedine Zidane (France)
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The Independent Online
It is not only the Devil's goalkeeping coach who will look at Nike's television advert and be apprehensive. While Satan proves to be as good a shot stopper as he is at handling crosses, the emphasis on Eric Cantona is scary if you are one of the men trying to fill his boots in the French team.

Zinedine Zidane and Youri Djorkaeff are the men keeping Manchester United's inspiration out of Euro 96 and they, along with coach Aime Jacquet, are in a position where they can barely win. Unless France lift the European Championship trophy at Wembley on 30 June, there will be constant speculation what they might have done if Cantona had been picked.

"You have seen Djorkaeff and Zidane together?" is Jacquet's first question when asked about Cantona. If the reply is in the affirmative, he will add: "Then you know I have no need to bring back players of mood. It would be absurd to put aside two brilliant young players."

At least Djorkaeff is the out-and-out forward. Zidane, who moves from Bordeaux to Juventus this summer, plays the withdrawn role that Cantona has made his own in the Premiership. At 23, it is some responsibility. Not that anything seems too gargantuan a task for him. He made his debut against the Czechs in August 1994 when, by his own admission, he was playing poorly for his club. Which made the two goals he scored after coming on as substitute for Djorkaeff the more remarkable.

Since then, he was hugely influential in Bordeaux's defeat of Milan in the Uefa Cup this season and was outstanding against Portugal in January when, in winning only his ninth cap, he was involved in all three French goals. He makes his Euro 96 debut today against Romania.

Guy Hodgson

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