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Football legend Eric Cantona to make his theatrical debut in Paris

Former Manchester United legend Eric Cantona (pictured with director Ken Loach) is set to take one of the riskiest moves in his career this week, as he takes to the Parisian stage at the Théâtre Marigny in the contemporary play "Face au Paradis".


French footballing legend and Manchester United icon Eric Cantona is set to take on one of the biggest challenges of his career this week, as he takes to the Parisian stage on Jan. 26 at the renowned Théâtre Marigny in the play "Face au Paradis".

In what is being touted as the French theatrical event of the year, as well as the riskiest move of Cantona’s career, he will play a dying man half buried in the rubble of a collapsed building in a play directed by his wife, Rachida Brakni. With the recent devastating earthquake in Haiti, the play will likely have an extra resonance.

Cantona, who has never acted in the theatre before, will be on stage for the full hour and a half. The contemporary play will be performed in front of a crowd of 300 in the theatre just off the Champs-Elysées.

Career risk

Snobby Parisian critics are ready to give him a mauling should the play prove a failure, with some finding it galling that an ex-footballer should now think that he is an actor. French daily Le Monde said this week that “France is sceptical of Cantona as an artist". For Cantona’s legions of international fans he will always be viewed as something akin to a demigod, but the theatre-loving crowd in Paris will likely be less amenable.

But Cantona has never shied away from challenges and controversy has dogged his entire footballing career. Few will forget his infamous kung fu-style kick to a fan who allegedly hurled abuse at him at Crystal Palace in 1995. Or that Cantona stubbornly supported England and not his native France in Euro 2004 and in the 2006 World Cup after being snubbed by Les Bleus selectors.

He acknowledged the danger of this foray into theatre in an interview with Le Monde this week, but he argued, “If you do not put yourself in danger, you do not know yourself.” However, despite this bravado, in a recent interview with French daily Le Figaro, he did admit being ‘scared’ when he first began the project six months ago.

From football to the silver screen

‘King Eric’, as he is affectionately known in Manchester, has said he views his role in "Face au Paradis" as a first step in what he hopes will be a long theatrical career.

He has already had several roles in cinema and on television, making the leap from the football pitch to the silver screen with a determination that culminated in the critically acclaimed Ken Loach film, ‘Looking for Eric’.

Cantona remains to this day something of a football legend and in his career won four Premier League titles in five years, two FA Cup crowns, the PFA Players Player of the Year (1994), and Footballer of the Year (1996) amongst many other accolades. For many, it is difficult to understand why he would take such a risk after after his medal-laden career.

But the play’s producers are hoping that Cantona’s star status will help draw in the crowds for its three-month run after a disappointing 2009 for Parisian theatres.

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