Cantona shoots for French presidency

Cantona shoots for French presidency

PARIS - Agence France-Presse
Cantona shoots for French presidency

French former football player Eric Cantona. AFP photo

Footballer-turned-actor Eric Cantona is lining up a long-shot bid for the French presidency, a report said Tuesday, with the ex-Manchester United star, trying to gather enough political backing.

After failing in a recent quixotic bid to destroy global banking, the man known to English fans as King Eric has written to French mayors to get the 500 signatures needed to stand in April's election, the Liberation daily reported.

But in an editorial, the newspaper said Cantona was applying one of his legendary footballing feints on the political field, using the unlikely presidential run to secure his real aim -- help for the poorly housed.

In his letter to city mayors, the 45-year-old said he was "a citizen very much aware of our times", which he argued offer "limited opportunities" to the young and generate "violent" and "systematic" injustices.

He said he felt obliged to speak up "at a time when our country faces difficult choices" and that the current economic uncertainty gave him "a sense of my responsibility".

He added that getting the 500 mayors to sign up to his message on housing and poverty "would allow me to send a simple but clear message: a message of truth and respect".

Cantona said he "chose the housing issue as it seems to me to be essential and concerns 10 million people".

"I had to act at a time when I was likely to be heard." The presidential election will start in April, with a second round set for May. Centre-right President Nicolas Sarkozy of the UMP party has been trailing Socialist rival Francois Hollande in opinion polls.

Cantona played for Manchester United from 1992 to 1997 and was known for both his genius and ill-discipline, as well as his often colourful and incomprehensible remarks.

Late in 2010 he entered the political and economic fray, urging compatriots to withdraw cash en masse as a way to bring banking to its knees -- although it emerged that his actress wife had appeared in a TV bank advert.

French and European politicians and bankers condemned Cantona as irresponsible, naive and misguided, and his call to action was not taken up.

Considered one of the greats of the game, Cantona retired from professional football in 1997 and has since turned to acting, notably in director Ken Loach's "Looking For Eric".

Finance Minister Francois Baroin said as a mayor he would not back the bid and preferred "the Cantona who looks after housing to the Cantona who told the French to withdraw their money from the banks in order to cause a disaster." Junior Housing Minister Benoist Apparu disputed Cantona's figure of 10 million poorly housed people, telling BFM-TV there were only 3.5 million but admitting: "That's already a thousand times too many." Patrick Doutreligne of the Abbe-Pierre Foundation for Housing for the Underprivileged, of which Cantona is a patron, told AFP the footballer did not actually expect or want to be the next president of France.

"He will indeed seek 500 signatures, not for the election but so that housing is a priority. So that the mayors sign-up to the foundation's call for mobilisation, so that housing is the campaign's main theme," Doutreligne said.

"You need a spur like Cantona to give housing the place it deserves in this campaign," Doutreligne said.

One of Cantona's most-famous moments was when he launched a flying kung-fu style kick and several punches at a fan as he was sent off during a 1995 match.

After the match, he famously told journalists: "When the seagulls follow the trawler, it's because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea."