Cantona's presidential bid a publicity stunt?

Story highlights

  • Former footballer Eric Cantona says he wants to run for French presidency
  • Cantona has written to mayors to obtain 500 signatures needed to stand
  • Bid interpreted as way of publicizing housing issue, rather than real campaign
  • Many sports stars have made move into politics, eg. Imran Khan, Christine Lagarde
Former Manchester United footballer Eric Cantona said Tuesday he wanted to campaign for the French presidency -- but commentators said the announcement was a publicity stunt to turn the spotlight on the plight of poor people.
Cantona has written to French mayors to obtain the 500 signatures needed to stand in April's election, Liberation newspaper reported. The 45-year-old told them he was "a citizen very much aware of our times," and would stand up for the young and poorly housed.
But the bid was interpreted by Liberation as a way of publicizing his cause of better housing, rather than a genuine presidential campaign. Nicolas Sarkozy of the UMP party is bidding for re-election in April against Socialist rival Francois Hollande.
Cantona's move is just the latest in a varied career by the Frenchman. Since leaving Old Trafford in 1997 where he was known as "King Eric" for his goal-scoring prowess, Cantona has turned to acting, most notably in director Ken Loach's "Looking For Eric."
And in 2010 Cantona urged bank customers to withdraw all their money from French banks. The call prompted widespread condemnation by politicians, and few people took out their cash.
Finance Minister Francois Baroin, who is also a mayor, dismissed his latest move, adding that he preferred "the Cantona who looks after housing to the Cantona who told the French to withdraw their money from the banks in order to cause a disaster."
Cantona gained notoriety in 1995 when he launched a flying kick and several punches at a fan as he was sent off during a match. After the game, he told journalists: "When the seagulls follow the trawler, it's because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea."
Last year Cantona, voted by Manchester United fans as their player of the century, was named as director of football for the newly-reformed New York Cosmos.
Many other sports stars have made the move into politics. Former Pakistani cricket captain Imran Khan's party is campaigning in elections, while International Monetary Fund boss, and former French finance minister Christine Lagarde was once a member of the French teenage national synchronized swimming team.