The S – Word

The Rebel Who Would Be King. Falling for Eric all over again…
February 23, 2010, 7:32 pm
Filed under: Biographies, Eric Cantona, Premier League | Tags: , ,

“Football, even at its most enthrallingly beautiful, or, if you prefer, ‘artistic’, is nothing but pure manifestation; it is not a response to anything other than itself; it is an unfolding. The flow of the ball is self-contained, self-referential – and unrepeatable. A perfectly executed free kick might require just as much time on the training field as a bassonist, say, will spend rehearsing the first bars of The Rite of Spring in the concert hall. But, wheras the bassoonist will be able to play the same line after time, finding new shades of tone and refining new articulations, even the greatest footballer we could dream of would fail to repeat a single one of his masterful creations. A football team is not an orchestra. You do not pit two ensembles against each other, playing two scores which are not just incompatible in terms of meter and key, but also try to nullify each other, despite the wildest experiments of avant-garde composers. The greatest of managers is not a conductor, and the footballer is not a soloist: you do not write footballs on a stave. But Eric was driven by the belief that somehow, some were given the ability to do so – Cruyff, Maradona, himself. On that evening in Wimbledon, he wasn’t very far from convincing the rest of the world he was right.”

Extract taken from Cantona – The Rebel Who Would Be King by Philippe Auclair.

Normally speaking, football biographies leave a lot to be desired. Who could forget ‘My Story so Far’ by the (then) 20 year-old Wayne Rooney, inside which the Manchester United striker revealed gems such as “I can’t get to sleep without the hoover on.” and “I usually turn up to training wearing slippers.” Hmmm. Enough said. And if only I could forget ‘My Defence’ by Ashley Cole. 246 pages of drivel in which Cole earnt himself legions of enemies. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Cole’s book. Here’s a taster…

Let me first set the scene. It’s 2005, Cole plays for Arsenal and a new contract is in the offing. The 24 year-old is driving home from training (I am hazarding a guess here but probably in a Baby Bentley or an Aston Martin Vanquish) somewhere in North London, when his agent Jonathan Barnett calls. Barnett has news from David Dein, the Arsenal vice-chairman. Cole will not be receiving his demands of 60,000 a week, no, he’ll have to settle for a measly 55,000 instead. Fifty. Thousand. Pounds. A. Week. I’ll let Ashley take it from here:

“When I heard Jonathan repeat the figure of £55,000, I nearly swerved off the road. ‘He is taking the piss Jonathan!’ I yelled down the phone. I was so incensed. I was trembling with anger. I couldn’t believe what I’d heard.”

And that snippet just about sums up the attitudes on display in most football biographies these days. But Eric’s biography is so very different. Call me biased, as my adoration for Cantona knows no bounds but seriously, SERIOUSLY this is a beautifully written book.

Cantona was a truly unique player and Cantona – The Rebel Who Would Be King is a truly unique read. Auclair writes with an elegance that I am equally envious and in awe of – his poetic prose tells the story of Eric’s career – from his early life in Marseille to ending his career at Manchester United. Eric’s involvement was zero, but this does not detract from Auclair’s meticulously researched and wonderfully crafted read. The French journalist interviewed 200 key figures from Eric’s career and must have watched hours upon hours of footage in the three years he spent writing the book.

The result is incredible and quite unlike any sports book I have come across in the past. I mean, really, name another football biography in which the writer makes reference to Velazquez, post-structuralist historians, the shirt of Nessus, Jacques Derrida and more? And also, as in the above quote, not many football biographies manage to draw parallels between the masterful creations of a footballer and the articulations of a bassoonist.

It’s just a shame that it had to end. Eric Cantona has always been my favourite player and in all probability he always will be. He was an enigma, a breath of fresh air and a huge catalyst in changing the fortunes of Manchester United. I think it’s the same for all United fans – we know that wonderful, talented players will come and go at Old Trafford, games will be won and lost, goals will be scored and they will be missed but one certainty stands head and shoulders above the rest. There will never, ever be another Eric.

“An artist, in my eyes, is someone who can lighten up a dark room. I have never and will never find difference between the pass from Pele to Carlos Alberto in the final of the World Cup in 1970, and the poetry of the young Rimbaud.”  Eric Cantona 

And, readers from the USA, if you’d like to see a bit more of Le King. Watch this:

Thanks for reading!