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Sometime between the potato gratin going cold and my guest refusing coffee, the main section of the Commune Social tapas bar in Shanghai falls silent. It is tempting to imagine that the whole city has done the same.

在芝士焗土豆变冷和我的客人不要咖啡之间的某个时刻,位于上海的西班牙小食餐厅食社(Commune Social)的主用餐区静了下来,让人忍不住想象整个城市也安静了。

Eric Cantona — the actor and philosophical sketch artist perhaps better known as one the finest and most combustible footballers in history — closes his eyes and starts whistling Edith Piaf’s “Hymne à l’amour”.

埃里克•坎通纳(Eric Cantona)闭上眼,吹起了埃迪特•皮亚夫(Edith Piaf)的那首《爱的赞歌》(Hymne à l’amour)的口哨。他是一名演员、一位富有哲理的画家,他更被人熟知的身份是历史上极为优秀且富有激情的足球运动员。

It is somehow unsurprising. This is exactly why Britain fell in love with Cantona in the 1990s and why his years at Manchester United were the centrepiece of one of the most thrilling epochs in the beautiful game. It takes only moments of meeting the 51-year-old Frenchman to discover that he remains, first and foremost, a performer. On the field, in his pomp, he could electrify tens of thousands of fans every time he made contact with the ball. Off the pitch the performance was even more audacious — a scene-stealing role as the French pseud surrounded by barbaric Brits.

这在某种程度上并不那么令人意外。这就是为什么英国在上世纪90年代爱上坎通纳的原因,也正因如此,他在曼联(Manchester United)的日子成为足球运动一个极为激动人心的时代的重头戏。在见到这位51岁的法国人后,不出片刻,我就发现他(首先也是最重要的)仍是一名表演者。在足球场上,在他的鼎盛时期,他每次碰球都能点燃无数球迷的热情。在足球场外,他的表演甚至更为大胆——他扮演着一群野蛮英国人中的法国伪哲学家这个抢镜的角色。

His reign defined not just the stunning success of a dream team that featured David Beckham, Roy Keane and Ryan Giggs, but the tectonic shifts — led by huge TV deals — that reshaped English football. There was a swagger that infused the era, and Cantona’s was the biggest and most brazen. The game was then in the throes of becoming a global, televised circus. His superstardom, he says, arose in part because “I understood before the others what the circus was”.

他的鼎盛时期定义了一只改变了英国足球面貌的梦幻球队(该队球员包括大卫•贝克汉姆(David Beckham)、罗伊•基恩(Roy Keane)和瑞安•吉格斯(Ryan Giggs))令人瞩目的成功(由大笔电视协议推动)。不仅如此,那个时代还被注入了一种趾高气扬的感觉,坎通纳是其中最突出也是最无所顾忌的。当时,足球运动正在痛苦地转型为一场全球电视直播的马戏表演。如今他说,他当时之所以成为超级巨星,在一定程度上是因为他“先于其他人理解了这场马戏表演是什么”。

When the whistling comes to an end, 32 seconds later, the Frenchman’s expression is unmistakable: that defiant, imperious flare of entitlement that accompanied every sublime goal, every telepathic pass, every thoroughly deserved red card and every enigmatic pronouncement flicked towards the media. Two decades since his retirement from the professional game, and even with his once trademark upturned collar neatly turned down, he could still ignite a stadium.


“The whistling? My kids used to like it. Nowadays they tell me to stop,” he shrugs, convinced of its brilliance but acknowledging, as one dad to another, that we can sometimes be embarrassing to our children. He asks whether I would also like to hear a more piercing whistle he uses to summon dogs. I don’t, but he does it anyway. It is quite fabulously piercing. Heads around the restaurant jerk to attention. No dogs appear.


Cantona, the Marseille-born son of a nurse and a dressmaker, did not need to whistle to be the centre of attention. An hour and a half earlier, he had arrived, rather late, at the Commune Social to find me halfway into a Bloody Mary. He does not accept the offer of something similar, opting instead for a mug of hot water, a gesture towards his larynx and a display of his professionalism as an actor. There is no point arguing: after appearing in more than 25 films since 1997, Cantona now takes his acting as seriously as he once took his football.

坎通纳在马赛出生,是护士和裁缝的儿子?;蛔饕郧?,他可不需要用吹口哨来吸引旁人的关注。一个半小时之前,他抵达食社,有些来迟,看到我已喝了半杯的“血腥玛丽”(Bloody Mary)。我劝他点酒,他没有听,而是点了一杯热水,他指了指自己的喉咙,显示出了他作为一位演员的专业性。我们没有理由争辩:自1997年出演超过25部影片后,坎通纳现在对表演跟他当年对足球一样认真。

Asked whether he would ever consider a return to the game, he replies immediately. “No. Only to manage Manchester United . . . They won’t ask me. Maybe that’s why they didn’t win the Premier League. Only I could have made them succeed [after Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement]. Nobody else. Only me.”

在被问及他是否考虑重返足球界时,他马上回答。“不。除非是做曼联的老板......他们不会请我的?;蛐碚饩褪撬敲挥杏糜⒊?Premier League)的原因。只有我才能让他们赢(在亚历克斯•弗格森爵士(Sir Alex Ferguson)退休后)。没有其他人。只有我。”

We are meeting at a friendly, higher-end Shanghai brunching spot beloved of expats — cramped and informal enough that one of the three bankers at the next table is cheerfully earwigging our conversation. Various people, including one of the bankers and several Chinese kitchen staff, interrupt our lunch for selfies. The restaurant, built into the brickwork confines of a former police prison cell, has been recommended to me by a British diplomat as Cantona enters the final days of a two-month film shoot in China. It is a Franco-Chinese production called Magic, about which Cantona is tight on details — he says he will play “a nice man, but when you see him you won’t think that”.


For the most recent stretch of the project he has been in Turpan, a beautiful but remote city in the country’s north-western deserts. The various noises of appreciation — “magnifique!” and “parfait!” — that later punctuate our lunch suggest that the restaurant’s meaty, comforting, Mediterranean spread is stuff that he has missed.


After retiring from United in 1997, Cantona left football altogether rather than seeing out his thirties in one of several countries with “a lot of money but no history of football”. He took up acting and has appeared in what is now a decent list of films (Elizabeth, as well as an assortment of French dramas and comedies). To British audiences, his most famous post-football work is Ken Loach’s Looking For Eric, a 2009 film in which Cantona plays a hallucination of his Man Utd-era self experienced by a football-obsessed postman. The film brims with lines of soulful machismo (“I am not a man, I am Cantona”) that would not be unexpected coming straight-faced from him now, and he reveals, proudly, that he made important contributions to the script.

1997年从曼联退役后,坎通纳完全告别足球,而没有去一个“有很多钱但没有足球历史”的国家度过他剩余的三字头岁月。他开始演戏,现在他出演过的电影已经不少了(有《伊丽莎白》(Elizabeth),还有不少法国戏剧和喜剧)。对于英国观众而言,他在告别足球界后最著名的作品是肯•洛克(Ken Loach)的《寻找埃里克》(Looking For Eric),在这部2009年的电影中,坎通纳扮演了片中那位迷恋足球的邮差想象中的曼联球员坎通纳。影片很多台词体现出深沉的男子气概(“我不是一个人,我是坎通纳”),即便他现在一本正经地说出这些台词,也不会让人意外;他还骄傲地透露,他为剧本做出了重要贡献。

Loach, and Ferguson, he says, were geniuses who had a similar impact on his life. “Director. Manager. Football. Film. It’s just a different game, but still play, play, play,” he says, embarking on a more general thesis about work hierarchies. “I think the boss has a bad image,” he says, after an uncharacteristically long pause.


“In the media we need to make a good image for businessmen. Some of them are nice. Some are very creative . . . but if you ask the person on the street about the boss, he says ‘he’s shit’. Why? Because we all say that.” I note that Cantona did, in fact, say that of Henri Michel, the former manager of the French national team who, in 1988, Cantona publicly described as a “bag of shit” in a TV interview. The window is small, but I see an open goal. What about his own relationship with managers?

“在媒体上,我们需要为商人塑造良好形象。其中一些不错,还有些非常有创意……但是如果你在街上向人们打听老板,人们会说‘他是个混蛋’。为什么呢?因为我们都这么说。”我注意到,实际上坎通纳的确是这样说法国国家队前教练亨利•米歇尔(Henri Michel)的——1988年,坎通纳在一次电视采访中公开将他称为 “一包屎”。我抓住这个稍纵即逝的机会问坎通纳:你自己和教练的关系如何?

“I respect the boss. I loved some of my bosses,” says Cantona, weaving out of danger. “That was the secret of Alex Ferguson. We loved him and we respected him. That is the job of the boss — to be loved and respected.”

坎通纳的回答尽量打安全牌:“我尊重老板。我喜欢我的某些老板……这是亚历克斯•弗格森(Alex Ferguson)的诀窍。我们喜欢他,我们尊重他。这是老板的工作——受人喜欢和尊重。”

And how about Guy Roux? I ask, speaking of the manager of Auxerre who gave Cantona his first job in professional football, but had to deal with his protégé punching a teammate in the face.

那么居伊•鲁(Guy Roux)呢?我问道,我指的是欧塞尔足球俱乐部(Auxerre)的教练,坎通纳职业足球生涯的第一份工作就是他给的,但这位教练不得不处理坎通纳给队友照脸一拳的事件。

“Yes, I was like a son. We had a very strong father-son relationship. That doesn’t mean everything was nice. No. I was like a teenager. He was like a father and we had a lot of fighting together but in the end we loved each other.”


But, I begin to say . . . 


The waiter, who is French and crimson with excitement, materialises at the table and I realise we haven’t ordered. There is a brief to and fro, during which Cantona rapidly agrees to all the waiter’s recommendations, before steering conversation to the evils of mobile phones and why he bans his children (aged four and eight, by his second marriage) from going near them. “I don’t want to live in the world of phones,” he says, suddenly sniffing at the air like a deer and tasting some imaginary food plucked from the forest floor, “I want my senses to be always activated. I want to feel nature. I want to focus on smells, nature, the sound of words, the sound of birds . . . ” — he runs out of inspiration and glares at the table — “ . . . a fork . . . ”


The food — all sharing plates — conveniently starts arriving and suddenly, the flinty professionalism behind this digital debunking dawns. Cantona has just released a book called My Notebook that shows off some of the thousands of sketches he makes, as a constant hobby, in a Moleskine. He archly suggests this habit is the anti­thesis of the mobile phone — a pen-and-ink engagement with the world, rather than the seditious virtuality of the screen.

食物——所有食物都装在分享盘里——很快送了上来,突然间,我想起,他对数字时代的大力批判是有专业性作支撑的??餐筛崭粘霭媪艘槐久?《我的笔记本》(My Notebook)的书——他喜欢画画,在Moleskine记事本上画了数千张,这本书出版了其中的一些。他诙谐地表示,这种习惯正好跟手机对着干——用笔和墨水跟这个世界打交道、而不是沉迷于手机屏幕上带有煽动性的虚拟内容。

Cantona historians will surely identify in this artistic oeuvre echoes of the press conference he delivered in 1995 at the end of an eight-month ban from the game, the result of the inglorious night at Crystal Palace when he aimed a flying kick at a racist fan. As he now recounts it, he didn’t want to say anything. The rules (in this case Manchester United’s lawyers) required something, however. “They said I should just say anything, so I said anything,” he says.

坎通纳在1995年曾被禁赛8个月,那是因为有一天晚上,在水晶宫(Crystal Palace)比赛时,他飞起一脚踹了一个种族主义球迷。禁赛结束后,他举行了新闻发布会。他刚刚出版的这本书肯定会让长期关注坎通纳的人们想起他那次新闻发布会。如今他这样描述当时的情形:他什么也不想说,然而,规则(具体来说,是曼联的律师)要求他必须说些什么。他说:“他们说我应该说些话,所以我说了一些话。”

His 21-word response (“When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea. Thank you very much”) remains among the most memorable lines ever uttered by a footballer, and sealed Cantona’s image as a Gallic pseud in shorts. He remains sniffily unsure how many of the journalists in the room understood that they were the seagulls in question.


I induce him to explain, with 20 years of hindsight, what drove his career. “I was just someone who always, totally wanted to give everything to the game all the time. That’s it. And to be on the field with everyone who wants the same — that is unity. That is beauty. The outperformance of the individual in service of the team. It is the most exceptional education,” he says, forking scrambled egg and salmon towards his plate after checking that I have had my fill.


“But at Manchester, even that was different. That is why I have always said it was like going home. A different energy. More energy. You have more passion for football in England than in France. I felt that immediately. Of course the game is loved everywhere, but in England it is real passion,” he says, pausing to check whether this is profound enough. “You can buy everything except passion,” he ends, just to be sure.


This leads neatly to his thoughts on the transfer of Brazilian star Neymar from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain for €222m — the biggest in history. It is an insult, as Cantona sees it, against the argument he has just outlined, and an excuse to trash the passionless French league. How, he asks with a look of straight-backed horror, can a player like Neymar go to the French championship?

这顺理成章地让他想起了巴西球星内马尔(Neymar)以2.22亿欧元从巴塞罗那(Barcelona)转会到巴黎圣日耳曼(Paris Saint-Germain),创下史上最贵转会??餐扇衔?,按照他刚陈述过的论点,这是一次羞辱,也为糟蹋毫无激情的法甲提供了借口。他痛心疾首地问,一个像内马尔这样的球员怎么能去法甲?

“He will be playing games against [lowly] Lorient and [even more lowly] Guingamp. How is it possible? To be a great player and go . . . somewhere . . . just . . . ”. He groans, temporarily speechless. “How old is he? Twenty-five? From Brazil to Barcelona to the French championship. It disappoints me so much.”


He builds from this fury into a more full-bodied assault on the way that the monetisation and consumption of football evolved so dramatically during his time in Manchester. The system in which Neymar has made this disastrous choice, he argues, forces players into a permanent, painful contest between their undiluted passion for the game (which he wholeheartedly believes most players have) and the mindset of commoditisation into which they are forced by the money sloshing around the industry. He sees the root of this malefaction in the very innovation that propelled Cantona’s superstardom — televised availability of all matches.


“We kill the desire. I think so,” he starts, sphinx-like on whether this is a wind-up. “We killed the desire to watch a game. When I was young, when the only game was the cup final or the national team games, that was it. On Sunday night we had to wait all the way through the programme to see five goals from other countries like England and Italy. Now, they have everything. Kids need frustration . . . if you give everything to everyone, they don’t learn frustration. I’m talking about football, but it is the same with everything.”


A discourse on the football manager as father figure — “do you respect him because you love him, or do you love him because you respect him?” — switches abruptly into a stream of consciousness, partly fuelled by an excellent beef cheek empanada, on the mysterious phenomenon whereby children who share the same father can turn out completely differently. “The viewpoints are different,” he says, pointing to the windowsill and a small candle in his line of sight, “I will remember a candle in a window. You will remember me.”


Worried that he has at last clocked me as a trawler-following seagull, I ask him what has troubled me all along — whether he has any regrets about a career that, despite the astonishing things it has delivered, could have delivered so much more without a long list of lunacy, topped by that flying kick.


“I would change nothing. You know why? Because I am very optimistic. All the roads you take, even when they have barriers and difficulties, they lead somewhere better. Everything that I lived through, good and bad, pleasures and traumas — if I were unhappy now then I would regret parts of this, but I don’t. I drew this [he shows one of the pictures from My Notebook depicting two arrows facing in opposite directions]. I called it ‘evolution’. Yes, I had a bad time, but I decided to use it . . . like a painter or director or writer. You use trauma to make a work . . . so no, I don’t regret anything.”

“我什么都不会改变。你知道为什么吗?因为我是个非常乐观的人。你走的每条路,哪怕路上遇到阻碍和困难,它们都会通向更好的地方。我经历的每一件事,好与坏,快乐与痛苦 ……如果我现在不快乐,那么我会为过去的一些事感到后悔,但我现在并非不快乐。我画了这个(他打开《我的笔记本》,给我看里面的一张画,画的是两个朝向相反的箭头)。我称之为‘进化’。是的,我有过糟糕的日子,但我决定利用这段经历……就像一个画家,或是导演、作家。人们从创伤中汲取创作的养料……所以不,我对任何事都不后悔。”

In Looking For Eric, Cantona reveals that in fact he used his eight months of suspension to learn to play the trumpet. I ask if he has kept it up, and he replies that he hasn’t — but that he now has another musical passion in his life. That is when the whistling starts.


Just as he is rising to leave, he has another stab at my question about regret. “You know, the circus. Either you endure it, you suffer from it, or you use it. I used it. I had fun.”


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