Eric Cantona – always self-assured and outspoken, even during his playing career, used his acceptance speech to highlight some of the biggest issues facing humanity today.
Earlier this week, Manchester United legend Eric Cantona was honoured
with a lifetime achievement award from the UEFA President, Aleksander Čeferin. However, the celebration of Cantona’s outstanding sporting achievements and personal qualities has been
completely overshadowed by the media’s response to his acceptance speech.
Eric Cantona — always self-assured and outspoken, even during his playing career — used his acceptance speech to highlight some of the biggest issues facing humanity today. He reflected upon the progress that the human race has made, particularly rapid scientific advancements which he speculates will one day make us impervious to disease and ageing.
But this exciting prospect is bittersweet for Cantona. He went on to
lament crime and wars which he predicts ‘will multiply’. His reference to King Lear, Shakespeare’s famous tragedy about wealth and greed, seems extremely fitting and is
perhaps a not-so-subtle nod to who or what
Cantona feels is responsible for the world’s ills.
In an age of celebrity-worship and reality TV, these pensive words from King Eric are extremely refreshing. Yet the media response has been to belittle Cantona, labelling the speech ‘bizarre’ and adopting faux-bemusement. They sneer at his words and, in doing so, dismiss the issues he raised.
A common theme in media discussions of Cantona’s speech is his less-than-formal attire, which was mocked by several
sources. He was described as wearing a ‘scruffy outfit’ by the Guardian. BBC Sport noted that he was ‘dressed in a flat cap and a red shirt’. The S*n said that he looked ‘like a farmer’ while talkSport felt that he looked more like ‘a French street artist’. Had Cantona been better dressed, or from a more affluent background
perhaps, would his words have been subject to the same ridicule? Is he being
punished for getting ideas above his station?
In recent years, players have had to fight for the media to take their complaints of racism within football seriously. Even now this only a discussion, leaving much to be desired in terms of rule changes, consequences and sanctions. Similarly, it has taken several players speaking out about the effect of professional football on player’s mental health — Clarke Carlisle, Aaron Lennon, Danny Rose, Peter Crouch — to shed any light on the issue. Meanwhile in women’s football, the media’s attitude to the US team shifted from adulation to detached objectivity after the victorious players used their World Cup success to demand equal pay.
The media’s response to Cantona’s speech demonstrates that footballers from predominantly working class backgrounds (no matter how well-paid) are only ever pawns in a rich man’s game — to be seen and not heard; to show the proper reverence and gratitude; and to never, ever offer their opinion on issues of social and political significance.