MANCHESTER — Eric Cantona returns to Old Trafford on Friday — 14 years after his shock retirement from Manchester United — having finally found a footballing destiny that fulfils all his requirements from life.
Cantona and Sir Alex Ferguson will be in opposing dug-outs for Paul Scholes’ testimonial.
Ferguson will include Scholes in his Manchester United team one last time. Other members of that famed “Class of 92” will play for Cantona as his New York Cosmos return to the professional stage — the most recognisable name of the first incarnation of US soccer — beginning the quest to become part of the second.
Part of that mission involves developing their young players, something that has appealed to Cantona’s nature,“At first, it was difficult for Eric to understand what we were doing,” said Cosmos vice-chairman Terry Byrne.
“But after two or three meetings he came to New York, loved the city and his family moved as well.
“His biggest passion is developing talented young players. That is his dream and his vision. He has a very clear strategy for what he wants to do with his kids.
“Once we explained what we wanted and showed him a documentary about Cosmos’ history, he stood up and said, ‘This is a combination between sport and art. I love it’.”
So, Cantona must mould together a squad of senior “guest” professionals, including Fabio Cannavaro, Robbie Keane, Wayne Bridge and Gary Neville — but not David Beckham, whose contract with MLS rival Los Angeles Galaxy ruled out any chance of involvement — with nine members of the Cosmos Under-23 squad to give United a game and let the world know they are back.
Ultimately, the aim is to secure the 20th MLS franchise, which is likely to be announced later this year.
The obvious problem for Cosmos is that, having pledged to house themselves in New York, unlike the Red Bulls who are based across the Hudson River in New Jersey, they presently have no home.
“Our biggest asset is New York City,” said Byrne. “We intend to capitalise on that.
“We are working with the city on four solutions, looking at the transport and what the best environment to have the stadium in.
“Discussions with the league are ongoing over the potential for a temporary solution as a two or three year stop-gap.
“That would give us the opportunity to find the right piece of land and build the right stadium.
“We are confident that in the next couple of years we will be in an exciting place.”