A football legend to some, a “king” even for most Manchester United fans, Eric Cantona is also a talented actor and film-maker. Euronews’ Diego Giuliani caught up with him in Lyon, where Cantona presented his latest documentary, "Football and immigration - a 100 years of common history"
Diego Giuliani, euronews: “Given the recent tragic events in France, I can’t avoid asking you about the attack against Charlie Hebdo. First of all: what are you feelings, right now?”
Eric Cantona: “It’s shocking, it’s very regrettable, but unfortunately it’s not the first time that the freedom of expression has been attacked. In October 1988, the Saint Michel Theater was set on on fire during an attack. Inside there were people watching Martin Scorsese’s film “The Last Temptation of Christ”. The attackers belonged to a Catholic, integralist group and it was in 1988, in France, in Paris. 40 people were injured, four seriously and it was a criminal attack, the aim was to burn alive 50 people.”
DG, euronews: “And that’s the point, almost 30 years on and nothing has changed?”
EC: “What I want to say is that today, what just happened doesn’t have to be used against Islam. Fanaticism is everywhere, but it concerns just a minority of people. The rest are just simple Catholics, Buddhists, Muslims. I think that it’s important to take the long or historical view. If we just focus on current affairs, if we limit our view to today’s news, it’s like things never happened before. It’s important to recall that all this has already occured, it’s already happened with terrorist groups which were not Islamic.”
DG, euronews: “Don’t you fear, today, that the actual situation, could create or lead to more fear, more tensions, more racism?”
EC: “The danger would be to say that all Muslims are like that, but I’m convinced that 90% of Muslims feel very uncomfortable today and are ashamed of what’s happened. It’s important not to say, that a Muslim, is “moderate”, if he’s just a citizen like you or me. What does “moderate” mean anyway? Does it mean that Islam is an extremist religion? This is a latent provocation, you see? And it’s very dangerous. We don’t have to paint everybody with the same brush. That’s the danger I think.”
DG, euronews: “Are you scared by the rise of extremist and racist groups or by the rise of extreme right?”
EC: “It seems to me that all this is linked to the economic crisis. It seems to me that if there hadn’t been a crisis in 1929 then Hitler would never have obtained power. And unfortunately, during crises, people fall into despair, they don’t know anymore what to hang on to and all this gives birth to extremism. What is dangerous, once again, is to take advantage of the despair of some people, to spread crazy ideas. Those who do it, create and develop hate for political purposes, for power purposes. And I think it’s sad and reprehensible.”
Trailer for Football and Immigration: 100 years of common history
DG, euronews: I’d like to speak a bit about immigration. It’s in the title of your documentary "Football and Immigration: a 100 years of common history" Can football today still – and I’m not referring just to France – help with integration?
EC: “Yes, I think that sport in general, and football in particular, can do it. Because in sport, if you’re better than someone else, you play. This is what is beautiful in sport. What is regrettable, as Tigana says at the end of the documentary, is that as soon as you leave the football field – among managers, or within national football associations, the situation becomes like it is in the rest of society: if the colour of your skin “doesn’t correspond”, you might not have the place that you deserve. If in the rest of the society there were models, if youngsters in inner city schools, difficult schools, if only they had successful role models as businessmen, or lawyers who made it… But today they don’t have such models. They don’t exist, because our society is unfair, I think.”
DG, euronews: “You said – and I’m quoting you – “its when you’re cornered, that you prove if you’re a man”. Considering episodes of racism which are more and more frequent in the stadiums, do you consider that the measures taken by UEFA and FIFA are enough? Using your own term: did they behave “as men”?
EC: “They do what they can. They put in place strategies, and it’s already good. It’s the fans who are not real supporters, who are not real football lovers. Since football gets so much media coverage, it’s used to deliver other messages. It has always existed, it needs to be fought and I think that fight is on already. Maybe not enough, but I can’t tell you now how to fight it. If you like we can think about it together.”
DG, euronews: “Despite this, do you like today’s football, do you still enjoy it? Do you recognise in it the values of a school of life which teaches how to play, how to win and also how to lose together?”
EC: “The big players have always been big players. The big players have always been football lovers, no matter how much money they earn. When you see Messi playing, when you see Ronaldo playing… they’re people who have a lot of fun on the field. We do still see good things in football. Then, if there are powerful businessmen at the head of Chelsea, or Berlusconi, who used AC Milan for political purposes, all these people are there because there is so much media coverage of football. Therefore, the first to be held to account is the media and those who accuse players of earning so much.”
DG, euronews: “In 2010, at the height of the economic crisis, you called for widespread and simultaneous cash withdrawal to hit the banking system (see video below). Today, the effects of the economic crisis are partly still there and your answer, is it still the same? What you called, at the time, “a silent revolution, without blood, nor weapons?”
EC: “I just said, when millions of French citizens were demonstrating against pension reform, that if we really wanted to be respected, we should hit the heart of the system, the banks. Obviously we shouldn’t need to go so far, but it could be a “deterrent weapon”. Today, I hope it’s giving rise to a new solidarity. And if it’s not like that, this solidarity has to come to life.”
DG, euronews: “A last question. The Cantona-legend is also built on your temperament, your outbursts of anger. In few days time, on January 25, It will be exactly 20 years since you infamously kicked a fan during a match at Crystal Palace. I’d like to know: any regrets?”
EC: “What do you want me to say? My life is like that. My life is made up of things which are appreciated, and things which are not. Good, bad things… What is good? What is evil? It’s like that. You just need to take responsibility, you just need to go on. My life is like that. Where I am today is the result of the path that I’ve taken. If I hadn’t experienced all that in my life, I wouldn’t be where I am today. And I’m very happy to be here in front of you today.”