In praise of French footballers

On New Year's Eve, Dr Goodchild and I watched - among other things - the Ken Loach film, Looking For Eric.  It was very enjoyable, but the things that got me thinking most were the clips of Mr Cantona in his pomp.  I never liked Manchester United, especially as a teenager in the mid-90s when the team was full of so many loathsome on-field individuals, and especially having gone to university in Liverpool, but with the benefit of time I can appreciate just what Cantona brought to English football. After all the years of hooliganism and the doldrums of the national team and its deeply mediocre players, Cantona was what English football needed.  A Frenchman.

I shouldn't overlook David Ginola entirely, but he never really won anything.  Cantona was preposterous, aggressive, arrogant, but he had a justification to be so.  He was a brilliant player, scored amazing goals, and won not just matches but medals.  More than that, though, he refused to do things the way that English players did them.  His jumping into the crowd to karate-kick an imbecilic fan was brilliant, and his gnomic press conference upon returning to the game even more so.  No British footballer could have done either.  He rightfully treated the media with contempt, and rightfully treated football as theatre.

His only peer is - perhaps inevitably - another Frenchman.  Zinedine Zidane never played in England, and unlike Cantona, was made the heartbeat of an unbeatable French national team.  In winning the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Championships, he proved himself the finest player in the world. Zidane was less controversial than Monsieur Cantona, but his dismissal in the 2006 World Cup was from the very same copybook, a moment of mad imagination that as pure entertainment was unbeatable.

All of which is why there are films about Eric Cantona and films about Zinedine Zidane, whilst the most lauded English thespian footballer is Vinnie Jones.  Vive La France!