United have got it right : LEADING ARTICLE

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On Wednesday night, an act of recklessness could easily have destroyed the career of one of the most popular players in British football. Yet the knee-first, neck-high assault by the Aston Villa goalkeeper, Mark Bosnich, on Tottenham Hotspur's str iker, Jurgen Klinsmann, didn't even rate a free kick, let alone a sending-off or ban.

That just goes to show how relative these things are. Bosnich's action was not intentional and took place on the field of play. So while it was potentially much more damaging than Cantona's strangely balletic violence, it was governed by a completely different set of rules and conventions. Similarly, the eye-gougers, head-stampers and ear-biters of rugby union count themselves unlucky to be sent off for their actions. Their fisticuffs are excused by the physical nature of the sport in which they engage.There are no absolutes here, despite the obloquy that has been showered on Cantona's head.

Setting out this context dispassionately is not to side with those who excuse Cantona. Cantona apologists say that he is complex. Complex when applied to a man seems to mean that he hits people when they annoy him. When applied to a woman it means she issuicidal. Genius does not require (as some appear to believe) a dark side. Albert Einstein was not renowned for headbutting awkward colleagues.

Cantona's outburst was frightening and unpleasant. It also broke a rather important unwritten contract between idols and fans - that the fans should not get hurt. His punishment has to be sufficient to be exemplary. But he is a man whose virtuosity must not be lost. If Einstein had been a headbutter, we would not have banned him from his laboratory for life. Football is supposed to be an entertainment - it should be fun. All too often it fails to deliver. But not Cantona.

That is why Manchester United's punishment is appropriate to the crime. The ban is one of the longest in British soccer history, but is short enough to ensure that Eric will be seen in action again by August. An apology by Cantona to the children he frightened would also help and be a genuinely nice gesture. Then those reacting to Wednesday's events with such adjectival incontinence can calm down.