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Cantona: Still the king of England?

Sat, Jun 14, 2008

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This is an excerpt of an interview with Cantona in the Daily Telegraph.

“All my life is directioned by a need to test myself. If I see something which scares me; I head there. Whether it is risking falling in love with a good woman and telling her my feelings or whether it is being an actor and being there for criticism. I must not be afraid of testing my heart. It is a challenge when you risk the art inside you and the love inside you. Physical challenge is nothing compared to that. I take the risk.”

Cantona currently has 13 films to his name. “But, phhheeww is tough,” he says. “It is hard work being actor. When I retired from football, I think it will be enough that I am footballer and people know my name. Hey, I am character footballer – everybody knows me. I thought this would be enough for a career as actor. It wasn’t. To be a good actor, you need to work hard and learn the trade. I thought in three or four years I would be able to become a great actor. No. It is not like that.”

“At the beginning, I didn’t want to watch any football because it was too hard. I missed it. I needed to be away from it. Like an addict to the sport. You need to stop altogether. It is like when a love affair ends, you have to do something else to forget it. Have to get the thoughts and memories out of your mind. I was lucky; a new love came along just as the first love died – my love of acting – it is quite similar to football, so it took the place.”

His next step is to take the art even closer to football. “I have plans!” he exclaims. “I start work in the theatre in January. I think theatre will be just like football. A performance. When you are in a film, if you forget something, you do it again; they make it right. I want to have pressure to get things right first time. It is that which makes me happiest. I want to be in front of the public – like in football – and be able to see them and perform for them.”

He has a very soft voice: deep, but so quiet that it’s barely audible. He has a strong accent and he jumbles the words as he constructs his sentences; verbs scattered randomly. He still has that unsubtle and slightly threatening presence. “I can still blow up,” he confesses. “I have learnt to know myself better. Now my ultimate goal is to be zen. I think that would offer comfort.”

The idea of ‘zen’ and ‘Cantona’ in the same sentence takes some getting used to, especially when he follows it up by saying: “I would still be able to jump on a guy in the stands, if I needed to.”

His most recent acting role has been to play the King of England in a mock-up of a battle scene in which Cantona is urging wounded soldiers to rise to their feet and feel pride in being English. It’s a suitably over-the-top portrayal, part of a £2.5 million television campaign for Partouche-Betting.com – a company in which Cantona is a shareholder. “I loved playing king,” he says with a broad smile. “King of England. Yeh!”

The Frenchman says he is deeply saddened that England have not qualified for Euro 2008. “It must change,” he says. “You need good coach. Very soon I will be the manager of England and then they will have a chance to win something. They will not lose with me in charge of the team. I’ll win many things. When I have gone far in acting; when I feel I will never get better; then I stop and do something else. I will try to win an Oscar, then, if I’m still alive, I will be coach of Manchester United and stay maybe as long as Fergie – we’ll see. Then I will become the manager of England.

“I won’t play the kind of football you see every day. I would like to take everything I learned in football and play with new ideas and imagination. Find a new way of playing the sport. I’m not interested in just playing to win trophies – I want to give something.

I want people to look and admire and love what is happening in the football show on the pitch. Everything new. Maybe it will be rubbish. Maybe I am wrong, but I know that is what I will do.”

And which would be the first player on his team sheet?

“Ronaldo,” he says simply. “He is an artist. He is creative. He is exciting. He will stay at Manchester.”

The actor bristles today in the way the footballer did over a decade ago. His eyes still spell danger. “A lot of people want to say and do things, but they don’t because they are scared,” he says. “Scared of doing things differently. I will take a risk. I am not afraid of ridicule. That is the liberation. I am a poet.”

Is he as much a poet as he was when he played football?

“More a poet.”

More? Goodness. More poetic than his most famous words: ‘When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.’

He throws his head back and laughs.

“Yes. This was what people always say to me. Seagulls. What was that? I tell them I do not know.”

It comes as no surprise to hear him say that his favourite actor, and the one he would most like to emulate in this stage of his career, is Marlon Brando. “Charisma,” he explains. “There is another way to act – like Tom Hanks. He’s got something special, but different from charisma. Great ability. Footballers can be great charisma players like Ronaldo, or they can be great players who do not star on their own but play a great game. All are artists.”

Cantona’s next appearance on the silver screen will be in Looking for Eric, a film about a United supporter in which he plays himself. “It is funny to think to mix football and acting because that is me,” he says. “That is the mix that I am in my heart and my art. Always of that same battle of mixing mixing.”

Who will win the European Championship?
I hope Holland will win. This is a nice football country. They enjoy the game. I like their manager – he was a great player

Why aren’t England there?
Because there are too many foreign players, they take the places and it doesn’t work for English players. Also because they have not me as a manager

Favourite actor?
Marlon Brando

Which historic figure would you like to have met?
I don’t know. Definitely I would like to meet all the kings of England
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Any superstitions?
Not me

Source: The Daily Telegraph

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