`We would play football all day, with lunch at half-time. I was always Kevin Keegan while Eric was always, always Johan Cruyff'

Jol Cantona knows his brother Eric as well as anyone. In this exclusive interview he talks to Rod Alexander and Mick Flynn about Eric's future, his past and their love of English football
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The Independent Online
As Manchester United come to terms with playing for the next six months without their best player, a familiar name has some good news for them. Jol Cantona knows his brother better than most, and is convinced Eric will be staying at Old Trafford.

The two Cantonas share a lot more than name. Jol, 27, looks like his brother (the elder by 17 months), is also a professional footballer (he plays for Marseille) and admits they are both idealists, or "perfectionists" as Jol calls it. But it is another similarity that convinces Jol that Eric will still be at Manchester United come October.

"Like me, Eric thinks English football is the best and that Ferguson is a great, great, great manager and a true gentleman," Jol says. "He loves Manchester United and he loves Britain. Eric sees his whole future in Britain, and wants to stay with Manchester United.

"Of course he might be prevented from doing so, but he has to be admired as a great player. He is loved as a player. He's one of the Reds. Perhaps this may protect him. He knows he owes a great deal to England and Manchester United. His son goes to school in England and his wife speaks the language fluently."

Eric's enforced break from the first team, after being banned until 30 September for his attack on a Crystal Palace fan, has fuelled tabloid speculation that the Frenchman will be on the move again; perhaps to Valencia in Spain or Internazionale in Italy. Jol thinks he will be happy to play for one of United's lesser teams.

"I think he'll be fine. He loves the young players in the reserve team. He loves the perfectionism of the youth at Manchester United. I saw a training session myself, and know exactly what he means. The perfection, the discipline, yet freedom on the pitch. Eric, like Ferguson, is a perfectionist himself and he is proud to play with the youths."

Jol is talking at Marseille's Velodrome stadium. He joined the 1993 European Cup winners, who are on course to return to the French First Division after their relegation to the Second Division at the end of last season.

Taking time away from the gentle morning work-out, he presents a familar figure - if anything a touch leaner than his brother, who also played for Marseille - as he rests against an advertising hoarding. Marseille won 2-0 the previous night, with Jol - an attacking midfield player - having another good game, and he is in relaxed mood. For all his success since returning to France, he still remembers with great fondness his brief spell in English football when he played down the road from Eric at Stockport County last year.

"I had some difficulty in France so I left for Britain. It was a choice between Stockport and Peterborough. Peterborough were looking more for a centre-forward and Stockport needed a midfield player, so I went there."

Jol recalls with particular affection Stockport's Uruguayan manager, Danny Bergara. "We got on very well. He's a great guy. He's got many fine human qualities. He understands the game of football perfectly. Sometimes he may lack a bit of luck, but he's respected and loved by his club and those in his field. I very much appreciate my experience at the club with him as manager."

Jol's affection for Stockport - "Please send the lads all my best wishes," he said - was clearly reciprocated by County's fans. "While I was there they sang `Ooh-ahh Cantona' from the terraces, and they even produced Jol Cantona T-shirts."

Even the Second Division side's post-match rituals appealed to their new recruit, it seems. In France, socialising may be confined to a small glass of wine or cup of coffee but, Jol insisted, "the French way isn't better.

"I like the habit of going to the pub for a few beers after the match. At Stockport, I couldn't keep up with the lads - two or three pints was enough for me. But I like the English mentality; the ribbing, the socialising and the camaraderie amongst the players. For me, English football is the best in the world - on and off the field."

Another fond memory of his stay in England was the time he was able to spend with Eric. "We stayed in the same hotel and we were always together, talking about football. We are perfectionists. We talked until late a lot, about tactics and about the matches."

A shared passion was for The Boot Room, Andy Gray's tactics-based television show on Sky. While not agreeing with all of Gray's judgements - "I'd like him to appreciate Eric more, as well as players like Waddle and Gascoigne" - he was a keen enthusiast for the programme, and is convinced of its pioneering qualities. "It's great for those who know a lot about football - real connoisseurs - but also for those who don't know the game too well. We need to see if you can get it in France. It's an important programme."

Jol's love for all things English, or at least all things concerned with English football, was cemented at an early age in Marseilles' Caillols neighbourhood.

"As little kids, we were always competing. We would play football all day around the housing estate, with lunch at half-time. I was always Kevin Keegan, while Eric was always, always Johan Cruyff. They were our idols. Even then Eric was special. At six he was already very skilful, very good at overhead kicks and so on, and always good at passing. Of course he won loads of medals."

Jol's love of Keegan the player is genuine and enduring, but one of the reasons for his affection is likely to puzzle the Newcastle manager's many English fans. "I think he lived in a caravan, a bit like a nomad," Jol said. "There were programmes about him in France showing him in his caravan. When he played he was wonderful." A rather less revered striker is now Jol's team-mate at Marseille.

Tony Cascarino's trip to the Continent mirrored Keegan's only in that they both had to cross the English Channel. However, Jol leaps to the defence of the much-maligned target-man, and gives an insight into why the Republic of Ireland international has been an unexpected success in French football.

"In France, the defence isn't as good as Tony has been used to, particularly on headers, so he can exploit those weaknesses. Of course, he does this very effectively. He is helped by the whole team."

Jol sees many differences between the French and English games. "The difference is in tempo. In Britain it's a lot faster, and physically more demanding. A match every three days. There's more rhythm of `attack, attack'. Permanently putting on a show. In France there's that spirit of attack, but there's too much tactical defence. Games at home and away are quite different, whereas in Britain it's the same sort of game. Lots of rhythm."

Jol Cantona's love for the English game is evident in virtually everything he says about football, and when it is put to him that he might one day follow his brother to Old Trafford, his answer is both modest and intriguing.

"That would mean I'd have to play very, very well and that I deserved it. I still have a long way to go. There are great clubs and you have to play very well to get in them. Although I don't think I'm up to that standard just yet, I know I'll get there, and I'd love to play in England later. For me, French football isn't at the same level- English football is the best in the world. In Italy there is a lot of tactical football. But England is better."

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