A leap, a kick, a desperate scramble over advertising hoardings and cheap plastic seating. Over and over again. It’s on the front page and the back page. It’s the main headline on the morning, afternoon and evening news. The same image repeated ad infinitum. Eric Cantona has disgraced himself, Manchester United and football as a whole.
Odds are, you remember this as well as me. Logic dictates you attempted to defend his actions against an onslaught of schoolmates, colleagues or opposing supporters. Good sense suggests this was a losing battle. Cantona had literally and metaphorically crossed a line, and the consequences were going to ultimately cost him and United a couple of trophies.
Maybe you feel Simmons got what he deserved, or like me you just forgave the trespass almost instantly. Ask yourself this, would you feel the same way if this had been a lesser star; Liam Miller? Luke Chadwick? Not so much.
Success trumps good behaviour in football. This is one of several reasons we wince when Luis Suarez leaves a defender for dead (or nursing a shoulder wound) then insouciantly flicks the ball into the top corner. It doesn’t sit right when the antagonist doesn’t get his comeuppance. Yet we readily forgive morally-questionable actions when the perpetrator is wearing our own colours.
Eric did his community service, came back, and for the two remaining seasons of his career largely behaved himself on-field. It’s difficult to say a lesson was learned, but at least a line had been drawn.
If José Mourinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic know where this line is drawn is another consideration altogether.
Sir Alex was no saint we know, but attempting to gouge the eye of an opposing coach is not something that would have entered his mind. This action was beyond the pale and amazingly Mourinho escaped suspension for it. “A United manager wouldn’t do that,” said Bobby Charlton four years ago – a man with a far more consistent moral compass and understanding of the club’s traditions.
Too many column inches to count have been written on Mourinho’s treatment of Eva Cameiro. A good man would have realized he had gone too far in the heat of the moment. A good man would have apologized and done everything in his power to make it right. Mourinho exacerbated the situation.
And now, as Mourinho’s first high profile signing, Ibrahimovic is being touted in some corners of the press as a natural successor to Cantona. Cantona the catalyst who turned a good football team into a great one. Cantona whose influence precipitated the coming of the Class of 92. Cantona the King.
It’s true the Swede has a chequered past when it comes to his behaviour, and that his drive and hard work on the training field underpins his technical abilities in the same vein as Eric’s. But he doesn’t display any sign of learning from his past sins. Indeed his arrogance and occasional contempt for his team mates do not seem to dissipate over time. Even pantomime villain and Zidane-baiter Marco Materazzi complained about the abuse received from his team-mate during their time at Inter Milan. Follow this up with the well-know story of his half-time rant against his PSG colleagues and their inadequacies compared to his own children’s skill, and you get the picture.
The appointment of Mourinho signifies a sea change at Old Trafford. A grim but necessary decision undertaken off the back of three seasons of abject disappointment and humiliation by a club accustomed to near unmitigated triumph and elation. A decision that bypasses tradition, ethic and philosophy.
The Portuguese is known for having a poor record at blooding young players in the teams he has managed. This means that the club’s incredible record of naming at least one product of its youth system in every squad for nearly 79 years is now under threat. Just as we sit on the precipice of breaking the world transfer record for a player who we largely nurtured at Carrington but whom originated at Le Havre. A turn of events ironic at best. The potential re-signing of Pogba may turn out to be the first pyrrhic victory of many at Old Trafford. We may recapture the league and maybe even the champions’ league in coming seasons, but the question will remain, what have we lost?