Footballers receive a lot of stick in the press, some justified and some not, but when a legend of the game, an enigmatic man with an enduring allure that lasts even now receives a huge compliment from a ‘bad guy’ of football… you know it must have been good. The story is about Eric Cantona during his time at Manchester United, and the story teller is no other than Roy Keane (who’d have thought it).
Very briefly, the Man U players back in the day used to receive a ‘players pool’ which resulted in the players getting approx. £800 at the end of the season. In relative terms this was little more than pocket money for the seasoned Premier League footballers (even back in those days). However, for the new boys at Man U during that time (1 year after the Premier Leagues inception), 800 quid was a decent added extra to their regular wage. Keane remembers the new lads as being no other than David Beckham and Phil and Gary Neville, as well as Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt. During their transition from apprentice to pro, these lads needed to look after the pennies, so when a few of the senior pro’s suggested putting their £800 cheques into a kitty whereby the winner would take it all, Becks and the Neville bro’s decided they couldn’t afford to lose the £800 (oh how times have changed) so they absconded. Scholes and Butt however decided they would go ahead and stick in the kitty, probably in the pursuit of acceptance.
What came next was testament to the man
The draw was made, Keane and other Manchester greats such as Sherringham and Cole watched on to see who would take home the hefty £16,000 cheque. Out came the winning ticket with the name Cantona scrawled across it, the charismatic Cantona took his prize with gratitude and left. The next day he walks into a torrent of abusive banter from the lads ‘Eric, you lucky b******! Money goes to money hey! The lads asked if he’d cashed the cheque, to which he replied yes. Turns out he had split the money in two and gave half of it to the new lads Scholes and Butt, evidently Cantona respected the fact that they had the balls to put the money in when they couldn’t really afford it. Keane explains how the two lads started with nothing and instead, went home with 8 grand each! He remembers thinking ‘what a gesture, nobody else would have done that’.
Humility and decency will get recognised
I suppose the reason I decided to write about this was because it’s amazing how kind and generous gestures stick in people’s minds. Some might argue that it’s easy to make good gestures when you have the money to do it, but I’d argue that the person still has to have the heart to do so…it has to be in their make-up. Cantona seems to be one of those kindred souls, who at his best had moments of sheer skill and splendour, and at worst was able to lash out in inexplicable anger. What is clear though is this, with all his unpredictability and misdemeanours, Eric Cantona is a man whose morals are well placed, whose allure and charisma superseded his short fallings. It’s good to remember that humility and decency is something that even the toughest, sternest of individuals recognise. So when you have a chance to do something decent for someone else, especially as it’s nearly Christmas, do…because people WILL notice, even when you don’t think they do.
Eric Cantona, tres bien monsieur, tres bien.
Roy Keane The Second Half, with Roddy Doyle, (2014). Eric Cantona. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.