Making a local rivalry into a global event

 

"And you still haven't found what you're looking for." I said it to the guy sitting next to me, the one in yellow tinted ski goggles who'd been shouting for Liverpool. He gave me his biggest grin of the morning, even though his team had just lost.

OK, so the bargirl had told me he was famous - "You, too, You, too," she kept saying. I'd been sitting next to Bono of U2 but, heck, he looked like just another hungover ex-pat to me. Actually, he was. Then they told me I was also sitting close to The Edge. Lost on me. I'm 40 something. But they tell me The Edge is famous, too.

"Been up all night. It was my birthday yesterday," Bono told me as the game kicked off. "We hit every club known to man, then we reckoned it was hardly worth going to bed. I'm sorry I look like shit." "No probs, mate," I said. "You must have been with a lot of celebrities last night?" "Nab, I try to avoid celebs," Bono said.

"Me, too," I said, "but they keep coming into my local." That got me half a Bono smile. I was referring to Churchill's, Miami's best British style pub, where he and The Edge and a pair of skinny girls I'm told are world famous models had appeared to watch the Cup final.

As always for big matches, the place was packed, even with a $15 entry fee. It's the only time Dave Daniels, the owner, makes any money. The fee is to cover his satellite subscription and for that Bono was able to tuck into bangers imported from Ireland, bacon, eggs, baked beans and toast.

I was downing pints of Guinness. Bono wanted vodka, but Churchill's, despite the name, doesn't serve hard liquor. Kick off time was 10 a.m. locally but, needless to say, Dave, the owner, managed to produce a bottle.

Bono and The Edge may be famous but Saturday was about football. Of the 100 or so ex pats who turned up at Churchill's pub, hidden away in Miami's Little Haiti district, few noticed the man in the yellow goggles. Those who did left him alone.

"Cantona, you should be at West Ham. You're wasted at Man United," yelled Gary Graham as the Frenchman wove his magic. "Up the ammers," added Chris Hubbard, a businessman and West Ham fanatic who has lived in Miami for eight years.

Almost spontaneously Dave gave his United scarf to a Donna, a local black girl.

Manchester United's defeat of Liverpool at Wembley in the FA Cup final headed French television's sports news on Saturday evening, but not because of the part played in it by Eric Cantona.

It was the event itself, and the fact that Manchester United had won the double - a feat replicated in French football a few hours later by Auxerre - that attracted most notice. The fact that it was Cantona who scaled the victory and that he is French was mentioned almost in passing.

Once a player, even one of Cantona's standing and notoriety, plays abroad, day to day public interest in France declines.

Among the few reactions to Cantona's achievements in Britain over the season yesterday was this from Guy Roux, the Auxerre trainer who discovered him, aged 15, in Marseille. Roux said he was proud of Cantona's performance at Wembley and described him as "an excellent ambassador for France".

There is a debate in France about Cantona, but it is not about his transformation from villain to hero, nor even about whether, deep down, he is a "good boy" or a "bad boy". It is about whether he will be selected to play for the national team - and if not, why not.

At the popular level, the argument revolves around two questions. The first, which may have a familiarity to English ears, is: "How can our most gifted player be left out?" The second is: "If be won't play in France, why should he be picked?"

At professional level, the issues centre on whether the French national coach, Aime Jacquet, is ready to readmit a player he ejected from the national team with a flourish of invective more than a year ago, and whether Cantona can be reintegrated into the style of the French team as it has developed since. Jacquet has a week in which to make up his mind.