Eric Cantona is arguably the biggest cult figure of Manchester United history. He graced the turf of Old Trafford for five glorious seasons, in which started the clubs most dominant era of success. He signed for little more than £1million with a reputation for silky football with a fiery, French undertone. In his time at Leeds united, his arrogance was evident. In his time in France, his temper and will to win saw him clash with referees, coaches and teammates alike. Shortly after his arrival at Old Trafford, it was evident that what appeared to be arrogance was in fact an absolute confidence in his own ability. He was soon given the nickname ‘The King’, only bestowed once before by the Faithful to one part of the ‘Holy Trinity’, Dennis Law. By the time he retired from Football in 1997, he was idolised by the Faithful to a point where his songs are still sung today. Over the years there have been calls by the supporters for him to join the coaching staff, become assistant to Fergie, even join the club as an ambassador. None of this was King Eric’s style.
Fast forward to January 2011, and the news that every single United fan with a memory of the 90’s has been waiting for, the King was returning to football. But wait, it wasn’t United that Cantona was returning too. Eric Cantona had been named the new Director of Football for the famous American team, the New York Cosmos. The video to announce his return to football, and indeed the Cosmos return (they have not played a top flight game since 1985, but more on that later), was sheer genius, sheer Cantona. It consisted of a drum roll, with King Eric appearing from darkness, smoking a cigar, and simply saying ‘We are back’. I admit, I got goosebumps when I saw it. Eric stated at the press conference that his aim was ‘to make the Cosmos one of the best teams in MLS, and then one of the biggest teams in the world.’ His first job however, is to get them admission into the MLS.
The New York Cosmos have a long and storied history. I won’t go into it all now, but I will cover the basics. They were one of the most famous clubs of the old NASL in the 70’s and 80’s. They were media darlings and attracted such names as Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto, Werner Roth and Johan Neeskens. They were treated like rock and roll stars, wore shirts designed by Ralph Lauren and packed out stadiums. The 80’s saw the demise on the NASL and with it the Cosmos. When MLS started in 1993, many people tried to resurrect the Cosmos but the owner of the Cosmos rights, G.Peppe Pinton, refused to allow them name to be used as he feared the MLS wouldn’t recognise its storied history. As the MLS began to resurrect previous famous clubs from the NASL days, Pinton sold the club rights to an English backed consortium run by Paul Kemsley(former Spurs vice-chairman) and fronted by Pele. They then began with moves to bring in Eric Cantona. If you would like to know more than visit the Cosmos website or their Wikipedia page.
So where do the Cosmos stand with regards to a place in MLS and what are they currently doing? Well, currently the Cosmos are running academies in both New York and L.A with a view to focus on youth and helping Team USA improve over the next couple of decades. They are also marketing the hell out of the retro Cosmos brand, touring Asia with Pele and Cantona as the figureheads and pushing the MLS for an expansion team to join the league in 2013. But the expansion team is not a certainty. They are currently vying for a place against the owners of the Baseball team, the New York Mets, to create a rival for the current team in NYC, New York Red Bulls. The decision is yet to be made, but with the array of football legends backing the Cosmos, their dedication to youth development in the USA and their immense fan base (which probably now includes a few million United fans thanks to Cantona), they must be a very attractive prospect for the MLS.
Now Eric Cantona is no longer just the King of Old Trafford, he is also the King of NYC. His iconic role at Old Trafford, and his cult status in world football is being put to good use by the Cosmos in what is a very intriguing project in New York. This is one United fan who is fully backing the project, partly because I like an under-dog, but mainly down to the urge to support The King in all of his projects. A chance to say thank you for everything he did during his all-to-short stay at Old Trafford and the countless memories he supplied me with during my youth. Here is one fan who will be looking forward to the day he brings his newly franchised MLS team to Old Trafford, signalling a different kind of success in his career after playing. Because at the end of the day, he will always be Eric Cantona, he will always be ‘The King’.