Many professional footballers in the 21st century are entertainers, performing unscripted theater in outdoor arenas in front of huge audiences simultaneously broadcast globally on televisions, computers, and smartphones. Oddly for such a media-reliant industry, the stars of the show are rarely known for being articulate public speakers or great thinkers. Their feet, apparently, do the talking.
This is a great shame. When was the last time a footballer said something of interest in a post-match interview that provided authentic insight into what had just transpired on a field of so-called “dreams”? When a footballer does come along who thinks about the world outside the self-obsessed bubble many inhabit, it comes as a great surprise. A footballer who behaves like this is a deemed “character”, considered somewhat eccentric, and not cut from the same cloth as most of his peers.
Enter Eric Cantona, the former Manchester United player and France international, an entertainer on the pitch – even when he performed a kung-fu kick on a belligerent fan during a match.
Cantona continues to entertain long after he has retired from football. His latest escapade is a documentary film for French television called Football and Immigration: 100 Years of Common History.
In an interview promoting the film Cantona spoke about the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and the links between economic disparity and political extremism. Yes, economic disparity and political extremism. A footballer said that.
In his own words:
The danger would be to say that all Muslims are like that, but I’m convinced that 90% of Muslims feel very uncomfortable today and are ashamed of what’s happened. It’s important not to say, that a Muslim, is “moderate”, if he’s just a citizen like you or me. What does “moderate” mean anyway? Does it mean that Islam is an extremist religion? This is a latent provocation, you see? And it’s very dangerous. We don’t have to paint everybody with the same brush. That’s the danger I think.
It seems to me that all this is linked to the economic crisis. It seems to me that if there hadn’t been a crisis in 1929 then Hitler would never have obtained power. And unfortunately, during crises, people fall into despair, they don’t know anymore what to hang on to and all this gives birth to extremism. What is dangerous, once again, is to take advantage of the despair of some people, to spread crazy ideas. Those who do it, create and develop hate for political purposes, for power purposes. And I think it’s sad and reprehensible.
Certainly not the familiar line from a footballer that “This is a game of two halves” and “We won it for the lads”. You can watch and read the full interview here.
Then on the other hand we have the bizarre stunt fronted by former footballer David Ginola, who played for Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Ginola was certainly an entertainer as a player but for reasons yet to be explained with any degree of credibility is the face of “Team Ginola”, a bid to run for FIFA president and oust the widely-despised incumbent Sepp Blatter (widely despised that is, except by the actual people who vote for the position).
Bizarrely, and within a climate where the main issue with FIFA’s current construct is its dysfunction, alleged corruption, the influence of money, and transparency, Ginola is being paid almost half a million dollars for his attempted run at Blatter paid for, depending on how you look at the books (at least there is transparency in this), either by a betting company or the generosity of fans who are urged to donate to the cause through a campaign website.
The Ginola campaign has partnered with the group Change FIFA – and by “group” I mean a guy in Washington DC and another in Barcelona – who should, frankly, know better than to hook their caravan to a campaign with cringeworthy credibility and questionable ways of doing business.
And while Ginola may look foolish as he pockets hundreds of thousands of dollars while being unable to answer some basic questions about FIFA governance at a press conference to launch his campaign, the real losers are fans who support him in the hope that he can really bring change to the way football is administered by the cabal in Zurich.
But, frustrated and disenchanted, fans deserve better than a millionaire making (more) money from their desire to see real change within the game they love. In the language of the post-match interview, Team Ginola has committed “a school boy error” or a rookie mistake.
Unless, of course, Ginola knows something we all don’t. But then, who would think that?