Éric Daniel Pierre Cantona (French pronunciation: [kantɔna]; born 24 May 1966) is a French actor and former international footballer for the French national team. He played for Auxerre, Martigues, Marseille, Bordeaux, Montpellier, Nîmes and Leeds United before ending his professional footballing career at Manchester United, where he won four Premier League titles in five years and two League and FA Cup Doubles.
Cantona is often regarded as having played a key role in the revival of Manchester United as a footballing force and he enjoys iconic status at the club. He wore the number 7 shirt at United, which was previously worn by George Best and Bryan Robson, and subsequently worn by David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo. Cantona is affectionately nicknamed by Manchester United fans as "King Eric", and was voted as Manchester United's greatest ever player by Inside Unitedmagazine. Set against his footballing achievements was a poor disciplinary record throughout his career, including a conviction for assault on a fan in 1995.
Following his retirement from football, he took up a career in cinema and had a role in the 1998 film Elizabeth, starring Cate Blanchett, the 2008 film French Film, and the 2009 film Looking for Eric.
Although it has been suggested that he was born in Paris, Cantona was actually born in Marseille, to Albert Cantona, a nurse and a painter, and Éléonore Raurich, a dressmaker. The family home was a cave in one of the hills in the Les Caillols area of Marseille, between the city's 11th and 12th arrondissements, and it was rumoured to have been used as a look-out post for the German Army, towards the end of the Second World War. The site was chosen in the mid-1950s by Cantona's paternal grandmother, Lucienne, whose husband, Joseph, was a stonemason. By the time Cantona was born in 1966, the hillside cave had become little more than a room in the family's house, which was now up to a liveable standard. Cantona has two brothers, Jean-Marie, who is four years older; and Joël, who is 17 months younger.
Cantona came from a family of immigrants: his paternal grandfather, Joseph, had immigrated to Marseille from Sardinia, while his mother's parents had been Catalan separatists. Pere Raurich, Cantona's maternal grandfather, was fighting the armies of General Franco in the Spanish Civil War in 1938 when he suffered a serious injury to his liver, and he had to retreat to France for medical treatment with his wife Paquita. The Raurichs stayed in Saint-Priest, Ardèche, before settling in Marseille.
Cantona began his football career with SO Caillolais, his local team and one that had produced such talent as Roger Jouve and had players such as Jean Tigana and Christophe Galtier within its ranks. Originally, Cantona began to follow in his father's footsteps and often played as a goalkeeper, but his creative instincts began to take over and he would play up front more and more often. In his time with SO Caillolais, Cantona played in more than 200 matches.
In 1984 his footballing career was put on hold as he carried out his national service. After his discharge he was loaned out to Martigues in the French Second Division before rejoining Auxerre and signing a professional contract in 1986. His performances in the First Division were good enough to earn him his first full international cap. However, his disciplinary problems began in 1987 when he was fined for punching team mate Bruno Martini in the face.
The following year, Cantona was again in trouble because of a dangerous tackle on Nantes player Michel Der Zakarian, resulting in a three-month suspension; this was later reduced to a two-month suspension as his club Auxerre threatened to make the player unavailable for selection in the national team. He was part of the French under-21 side that won the 1988 U21 European Championship and shortly after he transferred to Marseille for a French record fee (FF22m). In January 1989 during a friendly game against Torpedo Moscow he kicked the ball at the crowd, then ripped off and threw away his shirt after being substituted. His club responded by banning him for a month. Just a few months earlier, he had been banned from international matches for one year after insulting the national coach on TV.
Having struggled to settle at Marseille, Cantona moved to Bordeaux on a six-month loan and then to Montpellier on a year-long loan. At Montpellier, he was involved in a fight with team-mate Jean-Claude Lemoult and threw his boots in Lemoult's face. The incident led to six players demanding that Cantona be sacked. However, with the support of team-mates such as Laurent Blanc and Carlos Valderrama, the club retained his services, although they banned him from the ground for ten days. Cantona was instrumental as the team went on to win the French Cup and his form persuaded Marseille to take him back.
Back at Marseille, Cantona initially played well under coach Gerard Gili and his successor Franz Beckenbauer. However, the Marseille chairman Bernard Tapie was not satisfied with the results, and replaced Beckenbauer with Raymond Goethals; Cantona was continually at odds with Goethals and Tapie and, despite helping the team win the French Division 1 title, he was transferred to Nîmes the following season.
In December 1991, during a match for Nîmes he threw the ball at the referee, having been angered by one of his decisions. He was summoned to a disciplinary hearing by theFrench Football Federation and was banned for one month. Cantona responded by walking up to each member of the hearing committee in turn and calling him an idiot. His ban was increased to two months, and Cantona subsequently announced his retirement from football on 16 December 1991.
The French national team coach Michel Platini was a fan of Cantona, and persuaded him to make a comeback. On the advice of Gérard Houllier as well as his psychoanalyst, he moved to England to restart his career, "He [my psychoanalyst] advised me not to sign for Marseille and recommended that I should go to England."
On 6 November 1991, after Liverpool's 3–0 victory over Auxerre in a UEFA Cup Second Round second leg tie at Anfield, Liverpool manager Graeme Souness was met by Frenchman Michel Platini at the end of the game, who told him that Cantona was available for sale to Liverpool. Souness thanked Platini, but declined the offer, citing dressing room harmony as his reason. In January 1992, Cantona arrived in England for a one-week trial with Sheffield Wednesday, managed by Trevor Francis, who were on course for a third place finish in the First Division just one season after promotion.
When offered a further week extension to the trial, he refused and instead joined Yorkshire rivals Leeds United, where he was part of the team that won the final Football League First Division championship before it was replaced by the Premier League as the top division in English football. His transfer from Nîmes cost Leeds £900,000.
Cantona made 15 appearances for Leeds in their championship-winning season and despite only scoring three goals he was instrumental in their title success, primarily with assists for leading goalscorer Lee Chapman. He scored a hat-trick in the Charity Shield 4–3 win over Liverpool in 1992, and followed that with another in a 5–0 league win overTottenham Hotspur. His hat-trick in the Charity Shield places him among the small elite group of players to have scored three or more goals in games at Wembley Stadium.
Cantona left Leeds for Manchester United for £1.2 million on 26 November 1992. Leeds chairman Bill Fotherby had telephoned Manchester United chairman Martin Edwards to enquire about the availability of Denis Irwin. Edwards was in a meeting with United manager Alex Ferguson at the time, and both men agreed that Irwin was not for sale. Ferguson had identified that his team was in need of a striker, having recently made bids for David Hirst, Matt Le Tissier and Brian Deane, and instructed his chairman to ask Wilkinson whether Cantona was for sale. Fotherby had to consult with the manager Howard Wilkinson, but within a few days the deal was complete.
Cantona made his first appearance for Manchester United in a friendly match against Benfica in Lisbon to mark Eusébio's 50th birthday, wearing the number 10 shirt. He made his competitive debut as a second half substitute against Manchester City at Old Trafford on 6 December 1992, wearing the number 12 shirt. United won 2–1, though Cantona made little impact that day.
United's season had been disappointing up to Cantona's signing. They were falling behind the likes of big spending Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers in the race for the firstPremier League title, as well as surprise challengers including Norwich City and Queen's Park Rangers. Goalscoring had been a problem since the halfway point of the previous season – when it had cost them the league title.
Brian McClair and Mark Hughes were off form, and summer signing Dion Dublin had broken his leg early in the season, ruling him out of action for six months. However, Cantona quickly settled into the team, not only scoring goals but also creating chances for the other players. His first United goal came in a 1–1 draw against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on 19 December 1992, and his second came on Boxing Day in a 3–3 draw against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough where they claimed a point after being 3–0 down at half time. However, controversy was never far away, and on his return to Elland Road to play Leeds a few weeks later, he spat at a fan and was fined £1,000 by the FA.
In Cantona's first season at Old Trafford, United won the inaugural Premier League by 10 points – winning the title for the first time since 1967. In doing so, he became the first player to win back-to-back English top division titles with different clubs.
Manchester United retained the Premier League, and Cantona's two penalties helped them to a 4–0 win over Chelsea in the FA Cup Final. He also collected a runners-up medal in the Football League Cup, which United lost 3–1 to Aston Villa. He was also voted PFA Player of the Year for that season. However, the season was not without its moments of controversy; Cantona was sent off as Manchester United exited the Champions League against Galatasaray, and he was also dismissed in successive Premier League games, firstly against Swindon Town and then against Arsenal. The two successive red cards saw Cantona banned for five matches, including a FA Cup semi-final clash with Oldham Athletic, which United drew 1–1. Cantona was available for the replay and helped them win 4–1.
1993–94 was the first season of squad numbers in the Premier League. Cantona was issued with the number 7 shirt; a squad number which he kept for the rest of his career at United. However, squad numbers were not set for the UEFA Champions League matches and Cantona wore the number 9 shirt in all four fixtures against Kispest Honved and Galatasaray respectively.
In the following season United looked to win a third successive league title, and for the first half of the season things went smoothly enough. The season began with a 2–0Wembley win over Blackburn Rovers in the Charity Shield, in which Cantona scored a penalty. Cantona frequently scored for United, who put intense pressure a Blackburn Rovers side that led the table for much of the season, particularly with a 4–2 win at Ewood Park in late October, in which Cantona was on the scoresheet. He was also on the scoresheet the following month in a memorable 5–0 derby win over Manchester City, and on 22 January he scored the winning goal in a 1–0 home win over Blackburn which made the title race even tighter and brought Cantona's tally of league goals for that season to 12.
However, on 25 January 1995 he was involved in an incident which attracted headlines and controversy worldwide. In an away match against Crystal Palace, Cantona was sent offby the referee for a kick on Palace defender Richard Shaw after Shaw had pulled his shirt. As he was walking towards the tunnel, Cantona launched a 'kung-fu' style kick into the crowd, directed at Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons, followed by a series of punches.
At a press conference called later, Cantona gave what is perhaps his most famous quotation. Cantona said, in a slow and deliberate manner: "When the seagulls follow the trawler, it's because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea. Thank you very much." He then got up from his seat and left, leaving many of the assembled crowd bemused.
In accordance with the Football Association's wishes, Manchester United suspended Cantona for the remaining four months of the 1994–95 season, which ruled him out of first team action as United were still in the hunt for a second double. He was also fined £20,000.
The Football Association then increased the ban to eight months (up to and including 30 September 1995) and fined him a further £10,000. The FA Chief Executive Graham Kellydescribed his attack as "a stain on our game" that brought shame on football. FIFA then confirmed the suspension as worldwide, meaning that Cantona couldn't escape the ban by transferring to a foreign club. Manchester United also fined Cantona two weeks' wages and he was stripped of the French captaincy. His club eventually lost the Premier League title to Blackburn Rovers.
There had been media speculation that Cantona would leave English football when his ban finished, but Alex Ferguson persuaded him to stay in Manchester, despite interest from the Italian club Internazionale (who had managed to lure his team mate Paul Ince to Italy that year).
Even after signing his new contract, Cantona was frustrated by the terms of his ban, and on 8 August, he handed in a request for his contract to be terminated, as he no longer wanted to play football in England. The request was turned down and two days later, following a meeting in Paris with Alex Ferguson, he declared that he would remain at the club.
In 2011, Cantona admitted that the infamous attack on the Crystal Palace supporter was "a great feeling" and a memory he is happy for fans to treasure.
In his comeback game against Liverpool on 1 October 1995, Cantona set up a goal for Nicky Butt two minutes into the game, and then scored a penalty after Ryan Giggs was fouled. However, eight months without competitive football had taken its toll and Cantona struggled for form prior to Christmas – by 24 December, the gap between Manchester United and league leaders Newcastle United had increased to 10 points.
A goal by Cantona in United's league clash with West Ham United at Upton Park triggered a 10-match winning run in the league. Over the second half of the season, several more United games ended in 1–0 wins with Cantona scoring the only goal, though it was actually a draw (in which Cantona equalised) with Queen's Park Rangers on 9 March which saw United overtake Newcastle on goal difference. They stayed there for the rest of the season, and on the final day of the season United beat Middlesbrough 3–0 at the Riverside Stadium to win their third title in four seasons.
Manchester United also reached the 1996 FA Cup Final against Liverpool, and with regular captain Steve Bruce missing through injury, Cantona was named as captain. He then scored the only goal of the game in the 86th minute and became the first player from outside the British Isles to lift the FA Cup as captain; Manchester United became the first team to win "the double" twice.
United retained the league in the 1996–97 season; Cantona had won four league titles in five years with United (six in seven years including those won with Marseille and Leeds United), the exception being the 1994–95 season which he had missed the second half of through suspension.
At the end of the season he announced that he was retiring from football at the age of 30. His final competitive game came against West Ham on 11 May 1997, and his final appearance before retiring was five days later on 16 May in a testimonial for David Busst (the player whose career had been ended by an injury suffered against United the previous year) against Coventry City at Old Trafford.
Cantona scored a total of 64 league goals for Manchester United, 11 in domestic cup competitions, and 5 in the Champions League, bringing his tally to 80 goals in less than five years.
In 1998, the Football League, as part of its centenary season celebrations, included Cantona on its list of 100 League Legends. Cantona's achievements in the English League were further marked in 2002 when he was made an inaugural inductee of the English Football Hall of Fame.
In his 1999 autobiography Managing My Life, Alex Ferguson claimed that Cantona had informed him of his decision to retire from playing within 24 hours of United's Champions League semi-final defeat to Borussia Dortmund, though the decision was not made public for almost a month afterwards. During that time, there had been speculation about his future at United, including talk of a move to Real Zaragoza of Spain.
Returning to Britain in 2003 to pick up the Overseas Player of the Decade Award at the Premier League 10 Seasons Awards, Cantona said of his premature retirement, "When you quit football it is not easy, your life becomes difficult. I should know because sometimes I feel I quit too young. I loved the game but I no longer had the passion to go to bed early, not to go out with my friends, not to drink, and not to do a lot of other things, the things I like in life."
In 2004, Cantona was quoted as saying, "I'm so proud the fans still sing my name, but I fear tomorrow they will stop. I fear it because I love it. And everything you love, you fear you will lose."
He was interviewed in the Number 7's issue of United Magazine in August 2006 stating he will only come back to Manchester United as 'Number 1' (meaning not return as assistant manager or coach) and would create a team like no other and play the way he thinks football should be played.
Cantona opposed the Glazer takeover of Manchester United, and has stated that he will not return to the club, even as a manager, while the Glazer family is in charge. This came as a disappointment to the many United fans who voted him as their choice for United's next manager in survey over the summer of 2000. At this stage, it had been expected that manager Sir Alex Ferguson would retire in 2002, but the manager later had a change of heart and is still at the helm a decade on.
In July 2008, it was reported by the Sunday Express that Cantona had been having second thoughts, with a " close friend " of Cantona's allegedly revealing: "Eric does fancy the idea of helping out with the coaching at a club like Manchester United... He has been enjoying himself appearing in and directing films and being involved in beach soccer but has always wanted to help produce a team in his style and knows that Sir Alex Ferguson would encourage him".
Cantona was given his full international début against West Germany in August 1987 by national team manager Henri Michel. In September 1988, angered after being dropped from the national team, Cantona referred to Michel as a "bag of shit" in a post-match TV interview and was indefinitely banned from all international matches. However, Michel was sacked shortly after that having failed to qualify for the 1990 World Cup.
The new coach was Michel Platini and one of his first acts was to recall Cantona. Platini stated that whilst he was coach, Cantona would be selected for France as long as he was playing competitive top-class football; it was Platini who had initiated Cantona's move to England to restart his career. France qualified for the 1992 European Football Championship held in Sweden, but failed to win a single game despite the striking partnership of Cantona and Jean-Pierre Papin. Platini resigned after the finals to be replaced byGérard Houllier.
Under Houllier, France failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup in the U.S. after losing the final game 2–1 at home to Bulgaria when a draw would have sufficed. Houllier resigned and Aimé Jacquet took over.
Jacquet began to rebuild the national team in preparation for Euro 96 and appointed Cantona as captain. Cantona remained captain until the Selhurst Park incident in January 1995. The suspension which resulted from this incident also prevented him from playing in international matches.
By the time Cantona's suspension had been completed, he had lost his role as the team's playmaker to Zinédine Zidane, as Jacquet had revamped the squad with some new players. Cantona, Papin and David Ginola lost their places in the squad and were never selected for the French team again, thus missing Euro 96. Though there was media criticism about Cantona's omission, as he was playing his best football in the Premier League, Jacquet stated that the team had done well without Cantona, and that he wanted to keep faith with the players who had taken them so far. The decision was vindicated as Les Bleus subsequently won the World Cup in 1998.
To this day, Cantona still harbours resentment for the people at the head of his national team but also admiration for his adopted football country; at Euro 2004 and the 2006 FIFA World Cup, he supported England and not France.
He focused his later career mostly as an actor in French cinema. In the late 1990s, he accepted a role as a French ambassador in the English film Elizabeth (1998). In 2002 he directed a short film, Apporte-moi ton amour. He guest-starred as a mysterious barroom philosopher in independent British film Jack Says, released to DVD in September 2008. He co-starred as director Thierry Grimandi in French Film (2009), and is co-producer and a lead actor in Ken Loach's Palme D'or nominated film Looking for Eric (2009).
Since his retirement from professional football, Cantona has appeared in numerous European television advertisements, especially for sportswear company Nike. Cantona made cameos in two commercials, one starred the Brazil national team playing football in an airport, and the other involved the national teams of Brazil and Portugal, respectively.
In a worldwide advertising campaign during the run-up to the 2002 World Cup, he starred as the organiser of "underground" games, (branded by Nike as "Scorpion KO") between footballers, such as Thierry Henry, Hidetoshi Nakata, Francesco Totti, Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos and Luís Figo. In an earlier UK Nike commercial, he appeared playing "amateur" football on Hackney Marshes with other stars including Ian Wright, David Seaman, Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler. In a Nike campaign in the advance of the 2006 World Cup, Cantona appears as the lead spokesman for the Joga Bonito organization, an association attempting to eliminate acting and fake play from football. He also starred in aEurostar commercial in 1996, and an Irish EuroMillions advertisement in 2004. In 2009, he featured in a British television advertisement for a new model of the Renault Laguna.
Shortly after his departure from Manchester United, Cantona became captain of the French national beach football team. Cantona has continued his interest in beach football games in southern Asia and at the Inaugural Kronenbourg Beach Soccer in 2002, in the city of Brighton. He managed the French team which won the inaugural FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in 2005 in Rio de Janeiro. He also coached the 2006 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup French national team, which finished in third place. In the 2007 World Cup Cantona was again successful, taking France to fourth place. The Cup was held in France for the first time in the 2008 World Cup; however, Cantona was unable to make the top four after losing to Italy in the quarter finals.Cantona at Old Trafford with the Cosmos, 5 August 2011
The New York Cosmos announced the Frenchman's return to football as their Director of Soccer on 18 January 2011. On arrival, Cantona described his role to the press as to help Cosmos "regain the number one position in the United States and then...to become one of the best clubs in the world over the coming years."
Cantona called for a social revolution against the banks and encouraged customers of the major retail banks to withdraw their money on 7 December 2010 in protest at the global financial crisis. This proposal then became the base for an online campaign calling for a bank run.
In January 2012, Cantona began trying to gather the 500 signatures from elected officials necessary for a bid for the French presidential election, in order to draw support for the homeless charity and campaign group Emmaus.
Cantona was married to Isabelle Ferrer, they have two children; Raphael (born 1988) and Josephine (born 1995). He is now married to actress Rachida Brakni.