“When seagulls…”, Eric Cantona began, pausing mid stream to take a sip of water, before finishing the sentence. “…follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.”
Vague, random, poetic, it is not only the Manchester United legend’s best known quote, it is perhaps the most famous line in modern football
When The King uttered those words, it was immediately after he had won an appeal against a two week prison sentence handed down to him in January 1995 for the infamous Kung Fu kick that he landed on a Crystal Palace supporter during a game.
Cantona was, naturally, the subject of a full-blown media circus at the time, but the French footballer was in fact taking the complete piss out of the tabloid press; they were the obnoxious seagulls desperate to feed on his story to satiate the Premier League hype machine of the nineties.
Talking about the quote many years later, he said “I was playing that moment. It was a drama and I was an actor.” That sip was not a clearing of the throat, but a suppression of his laughter.
A peculiar and unconventional statement from a man who was not unfamiliar with making memorable declarations.
In the film Looking For Eric, the former striker asserts that he is not a man, “I am Cantona”. It’s a fairly ludicrous declaration that, if it was uttered by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, we would all roll our eyes in exasperation.
But Cantona gets away with it effortlessly. He may have been taking the piss or acting arrogantly at times with his actions and words, but he was never doing it for a sponsorship or to gain Instagram followers or for self-flagellation.
Cantona said these things because he was being true to himself.