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VINE VOICEon 3 February 2010
Phillipe Auclair is a widely respected French football writer and author, and long term resident of London. In combining an outsider's perspective of the Premier League with an insider's view of its French stars he is one of the most interesting voices on contemporary football. In many ways he is the natural person to write a biography of Eric Cantona.

By and large he does a good job in this lengthy and exhaustive work, but "Cantona: The Rebel Who Would Be King" - like its subject - is far from perfect.

For a start its tone is rather uneven, and while parts are elegantly written other sections can be plodding and prone to Auclair's digressions. He is also fixated with the factual errors in Cantona's English autobiography, but really he should look closer to home before criticising other authors.

For example Cantona was not the first foreign player to win the English league and FA Cup double, that was Jan Molby - and for Manchester United Cantona shared the feat with Andrei Kanchelskis, which merits no mention. Mickael Madar's stay in England was not as inauspicious as Auclair makes out: indeed he practically saved Everton from relegation in 1997/98. He also seems to get the year of the Hillsborough disaster wrong.

He uses the example of record numbers of Daily Telegraph readers removing Cantona from their fantasy football teams after the kung fu kick on Matthew Simmons as an example of fans adopting "the moral high ground" ("a comfortable place to be," he sneers), but weren't they just protecting themselves from his inevitable ban?

Although the author is a long-time resident in England, his contacts seem to be mostly French. This is fine up to a point, but the blow-by-blow account of Cantona's career in Ligue 1 becomes boring very quickly. The reliance on French sources also limits the insights from Cantona's British colleagues, which are mostly recycled from old interviews. To a Premier League fan this would be fascinating, but the views of his Elland Road and Old Trafford team mates are frequently overshadowed by French voices.

Around half of this lengthy book is devoted to Cantona's time at Manchester United, which is by far the most interesting period of his career and when Auclair clicks into gear. There is plenty of new information about Cantona's curious life in Manchester - how he lived at a motel, while his family remained 25 minutes down the M62 in Leeds; or his habit of drinking in down-at-heel pubs with Basile Boli's brother. Some of the insights garnered from Ken Loach's film "Looking for Eric" - such as his habit of referring to himself in the third person ("I am Cantona") - are confirmed.

Some of Cantona's less obvious contradictions are also exposed. He apparently cares nothing for materialism, but jealously guards his image rights and is fixated by his sponsors Nike.

This is a long book but it ends very abruptly - at the end of the 1996/97 season when Cantona retires - his "death" - as Auclair dramatically puts it. His reasons for ending the book here are rather tenuous - it is meant to be a footballing life. But surely one of the most interesting things is how Cantona reinvented himself as an artist and actor afterwards?

Yet for all its flaws, this a cut above the bog-standard football biography. Few have been crafted so meticulously in my memory - Leo McKinstry's books on Alf Ramsey and the Charlton brothers spring to mind - and Auclair should be applauded for his diligence. There are plenty of new insights and the French perspective is interesting having been used to the bog-standard Mancunian hagiography over the past 18 years. A good read, if not quite a tour de force.
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on 3 September 2009
A meticulously researched and elegantly written homage to one of the legends of the modern game. Mr Auclair never attempts to conceal his bias but the unflinching accuracy of his narrative of Cantona's career is compelling and, in the end, persuasive. As a football journalist Auclair is obviously an "insider" but he eschews gossip and rumour, choosing instead to search for the deeper philosophical, cultural, and economic connections between the man and the game.
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on 22 November 2009
First of all I would like to say that this is a fantastic book on the subject of one of the most fascinating characters certainly in football, if not in all sports. Auclair has managed to write a comprehensive account of Cantona's life right up until he retired from football in 1997 and there is even references from sources written beyond this date to make it easily the best book on the market on this particular subject.

However there are two major concerns from myself. The first is as a result of the author's constant nitpicking of Eric's ghost-written autobiography from 1994, 'Cantona: My Story', which he regularly puts down for its lack of content and factual inaccuracies. With regards to the former, Auclair's book certainly puts it to shame, however the latter gave me the impetus to begin nitpicking with this particular book and found dozens of mistakes based on dates, scorelines, names and even many spelling errors- Manchester United physio Rob Swire being referred to as Robert Swaires stands out.

The second of my concerns is due to the content of his time in England in which Auclair unnecessarily refers to almost every single game that Cantona played in and divulges his contribution to each of them. Though this is informative it is hardly insightful into the greater workings of Cantona. He brings attention to this in the final chapter so it is obviously something that is shared by the author but surely some editing could have negated any reason to share this with the reader at all?

As I say this is the best book on Eric Cantona and I enjoyed reading it but it is still not a masterpiece in the world of sports biographies.
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on 2 September 2009
This is an astonishing work that not only raises the bar for all sports biographies, it sets a new benchmark for biographies in general. Impeccably sourced and laden with personal insight I came away with a much better understanding of the genius that is Eric. This is an absolute must for all sports fans especially for those who have admired Eric for so long as he is finally revealed in all his three-dimensional and flawed but human glory.
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on 15 February 2010
This is the best bio I've read in years. It explains the man behind the star. I feel I know more about The King than just his great performances and goals. If there was a facility to give a bonus star, I would. Just a small point, my copy has 469 pages, so maybe I have a bonus 200+ pages! Cantona and Goerge best; the two best players the game has ever had. This book; the best bio.
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on 8 June 2011
I bought this book with a little trepidation given that you should never study your heroes too closely less you discover feet of clay. I'm a United fan since 1974 and, alongside Bryan Robson, rank Cantona as the greatest Red I've personally seen (I was never honoured to see Law, Best and Charlton play).

I shouldn't have worried in that I came away from Auclair's work even more intrigued by Cantona the man as I was awed by Cantona the footballer. This is a wonderful read - packed full of detail, anecdotes and devotion to the subject at hand. Anyone who, like me, watched in fascination as Cantona helped spark United's revival in 1992/93 will love every page of this book.

To be honest, it isn't your tradition sports biog - but is all the more appealing as a result. I'd also consider it pretty accessible for even non-football fans. All in all, I'd unhesitatingly recommend this book - if you're a United fan it is simply a must-read.

My only regret is that Cantona called it quits when he did - and didn't get to win Champions League medal as a Red. But the current all-conquering crop at Old Trafford owe their perch to this remarkable, occasionally frustrating French genius. Sardines and trawlers indeed.
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on 5 November 2009
This is a must-read. The research and attention to detail has set a standard for all future books of this type. To be able to write this well if English in your first language would be an achievement. Philippe deserve an award for his magnificent book about one of the most fascinating footballers of the modern era. Buy it for yourself for Christmas just in case no oen else does. - Christopher, Bronmley
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on 7 February 2010
Being a huge fan of Cantona and of his charismatic/arrogant style I've understood why so many books have failed to capture his essence - he is a difficult man.

Auclair however has written the ultimate Cantona book, he doesn't leave out phases of his career uninteresting for the average Brit, he doesn't gloss over Cantona's misdemeanors and he doesn't glorify the man any more than is due for that would be anti-Cantona.

Instead he reels off tales without prejudice in his wonderful story-telling prose and paints a brilliant picture with good humour and what appears to be slightly obsessive attention to detail.

All facets of Cantona's footballing career are given equal attention in detail with the result being a highly captivating book that informs the reader of how Cantona was viewed by his peers and just how important he was to the teams he played in.
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on 14 December 2010
This is a great football biography of a player who is an all time legend at OT. The book gives an honest account of Eric's football career both in praise of his genius as a footballer but also his character flaws (the tendency to self destruct) and the regrets that he never quite performed at his best in Europe or for France at a World Cup. I had not realised that Eric had played for so many clubs in France (indiscipline in the main getting him the boot from a few clubs) before moving to England and getting his chance of redemption both at Leeds and Manchester United. A great book for a great player. Long live the King!
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on 29 January 2010
A different style of biography and one that is deserved of a man who transformed English football. I was reading the book and didn't quite comprehend Cantona's impact culturally and in footballing terms on English football. Certainly an enigmatic character and well worth the read for a probing analysis of his psyche. Of course, many people like biographies because they include quirky stories about the footballer or the team in question, there were certainly a few to laugh at, but nothing outshadows Eric.
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