Fourteen years after he last kicked a ball in anger, and 16 years after his kung-fu kick (in anger, of course), Eric 'the King' Cantona is back in soccer — improbably as the director of soccer for the reborn New York Cosmos.
The Cosmos, the marquee team of the North American Soccer League, have not played an outdoor game in more than 20 years. The club and all its trinkets, including a complete library of videos, were purchased from their longtime owner Peppe Pinton for a reported $2 million by a group led by the English businessman Paul Kemsley. The ultimate goal of the acquisition was for the club to become the 20th team in Major League Soccer, perhaps as early as 2013.
Jack Bell of the New York Times writes of the return of 'the King'.
“It’s a big project, a wonderful project,” Cantona said in a statement. “The Cosmos are very strong, beautifully made, with a great past. It’s kind of a mix between football and art.
“I will do everything that I can to help us first find our way to regain the No. 1 position in the United States, and then for us to become one of the best clubs in the world over the coming years.”
Cosmos officials have met, and will meet, with M.L.S. officials about becoming the league’s 20th team and a local rival to the Red Bulls. It is likely the club will form a partnership of some sort with the Wilpon family, which owns the Mets, in the hope of forging a deal to build a stadium in Queens.
A stadium deal is a prerequisite to joining M.L.S.
“Three years ago, when I first had the idea of reviving the New York Cosmos, I couldn’t have dreamt that we’d be able to attract an icon the likes of Eric Cantona,” Kemsley, the club chairman, said in a statement. “It’s a personal thrill for me, as he was one of my heroes during the 1990s and is a further endorsement to the tremendous global attraction and power that the New York Cosmos carries. Our name already resonates throughout the world and so will our football team.”
While Cantona’s name is certainly remembered in soccer circles around the world, and in the United States, the key question is how much he can contribute in his new position in the strange universe of M.L.S. salary budgets and the league’s single-entity structure. His name alone could attract some European players to the Cosmos, but will he be more hands-on or more of a figurehead? He will work with Cobi Jones, who was hired last week as the assistant director of soccer.
At any rate, the Cosmos are not looking for Eric — they have found him.