Cantona ignored by his own
ERIC CANTONA may be good enough to win England's Footballer of the Year award, but the Frenchman is still surplus to requirements across the Channel. When Aime Jacquet, the French coach, yesterday named his squad for next month's European Championship, the Manchester United player headed a notable list of absentees.
Also missing from the 22 names for Euro `96 were Newcastle United's David Ginola and Jean-Pierre Papin, France's best striker of the last 10 years.
Although Cantona's non-selection may surprise English Premiership watchers, it was expected in France. Cantona has not played for his country since January last year, a week before the assault on a Crystal Palace fan which led to his suspension from the game.
On his return Cantona played a key part in Manchester United's double triumph and was the football writers' player of the year, but during his absence France have enjoyed a 20-match unbeaten run, a national record, and Jacquet chose yesterday to keep faith with the young players who have served him so well.
Cantona was Jacquet's first captain when he took over as national coach two years ago, but in his 49 games for France he has only rarely performed at his best. He was stripped of the captaincy after the Selhurst Park incident.
Jacquet said: "Eric's qualities as a player have never been in doubt. But I have two priorities - to obtain the best possible result at Euro `96, work for the future, for the 1998 World Cup in France, and give the young generation a chance to meet the best teams in Europe."
He added: "I've known Eric for absentee in the list. Many other talented players have also been left out." While Papin has been plagued by injury, Ginola has been out of favour with Jacquet and not even the prospect of the Newcastle striker playing on his home ground - two of France's three group games are at St James' Park - could earn him a recall.
Jacquet said that he felt Ginola, like Cantona, belonged to the past. "I don't expect English crowds to support France in any way," Jacquet said.
The omission of Cantona, Ginola and Papin had been expected in France given the form of younger players in midfield and attack. Youri Djorkaeff, Zinedine Zidane, Christian Karernbeu and Christophe Dugarry have all blossomed this season alongside established internationals like Didier Deschamps and Marcel Desailly. Monaco's Michael Madar is thought to be the direct beneficiary of Cantona's omission.
On Saturday, France unveiled its mascot for the 1998 World Cup. As expected, it will be a rooster dressed in blue. "It was a natural choice and it will be a symbol easy to identify all over the world, especially for children," said Jacques Lambert, general director of the organising committee.
The unnamed animal was chosen out of six projects submitted by designers. The choice was announced in a popular television programme. "It's nice, cheerful, faithful to the World Cup spirit," Lambert added. He said that a survey on the mascot revealed that it was identified with France by 91 per cent of the people it was shown to and 75 per cent thought it was an appropriate symbol for the World Cup.