Oedipus and the Gallowgate
Hatem Ben Arfa and the importance of father figures in the development of a star
Several years ago, an unusual book on sport and psychoanalysis caught my interest, The Champions – The Secret Motives in Games and Sports, by Peter Fuller. Long out of print, the book is a psychoanalytic perspective on the competitive spirit and the drive for success, inherent in sporting achievement. It studies particularly driven characters, such as Muhammad Ali, Donald Campbell and Bobby Fischer, and speculates as to how their motivations and patterns of behaviour in the sporting arena are rooted in the intimate and deep-rooted relationships of their childhood.
A central tenet of the book is how the sportsman’s relationship with their father in particular has a long-lasting impact on their adult behaviour. Classic psychoanalytic theory sees the son’s relationship with the father as being multi-layered. The boy will perceive his father not just as a protector and role model, but also as a rival for his mother’s affection. Subconsciously, the boy will fear that the more powerful father will punish him for his competitive desire for maternal love and so the paternal relationship becomes a cocktail of admiration, rivalry and fear. Eventually, in the healthy individual, some stable resolution of these emotions will take place, though it should be noted that such accommodations can inherently never be perfect in nature. They are compromises in the face of an imperfect world, rather than solutions that are entirely to the person’s self-centred benefit.
In the case of individuals with a high desire for success in competitive sport, these compromises can be notably vulnerable. The competitive spirit, of course, has its constructive aspect in all areas of life, in making an individual strive for success and high standards. In a highly competitive or obsessive sportsman, whose relationship with his father may have been fraught and difficult to resolve, the subconscious fear of retribution in the form of a fear of failure can be so correspondingly strong that defeat can on occasion be subconsciously accepted as a way of delivering the individual from unbearable tension.
Such a theory can only be convincing when applied to a real-life example and Fuller’s book presents a plausible insight into the eccentricities of characters such as Muhammad Ali. Fuller concentrates on competitors in individual sports, such as boxing, bullfighting, chess and motor racing. Can it be as easily applied to a competitor in a team sport, in which an individual’s quirks can take shelter within the group? I believe in many cases it does, and indeed the role of the manager/coach as potential father-figure to his young players does play a part in the resolution or otherwise of the vulnerable player’s conflicts. I also believe that psychoanalytic ideas can prove interesting and insightful, without any requirement for blind belief in every aspect of the theory.
The player I have in mind here is Hatem Ben Arfa, the France international recently rejected by Paris Saint-Germain, before making the latest of many fresh starts at Rennes. My particular interest in Ben Arfa is rooted in my support for one of his previous clubs, Newcastle United, where I was regularly frustrated by the apparent reluctance of this prodigiously talented player to fulfil his potential with any regularity on the pitch. This sense of exasperation is felt by many with allegiances to his other clubs. Though blessed with a Messi-like combination of close control, a change of pace and a change of direction that would take him through the strongest defences, Ben Arfa’s career has been marked by controversy. His periods of success have been cut short by feuds with coaches and other players which have led to transfers marked by bitterness and conflict. When, with PSG, he finally achieved a move to a club worthy of his talent, he wasted the opportunity with almost ghoulish determination.
Ben Arfa’s characteristics as a young man with a father complex are obvious. He was born in 1987 in a Paris suburb to a French mother and a Tunisian father, Kamel, who had himself been a Tunisia international. Little is publicly known about Ben Arfa’s childhood, except his comments about his father: “I’ve always had huge problems in respecting authority. I had a lot of frustration when I was growing up and took it out on others. My father never told me he loved me. My life lacked generosity – while he always backed me, he could never express his feelings.”
Kamel was apparently very involved in his son’s early football education, as one would expect from a man with his own career to draw on. And yet such a situation must inevitably bring its hazards. Was Kamel hoping to gain some vicarious parental satisfaction in participating in his son’s success and therefore putting pressure on their relationship – effectively acting as a coach rather than a father? At the same time, did he harbour subconscious feelings of jealousy at seeing his son emerging as a player with more talent than he had himself possessed, leading to unnecessary criticism? As such, could Hatem ever truly live up to his father’s demands? And in the complexities of a father/son rivalry, did Hatem take on the subconscious fear that success would both please and wound his father, making him vulnerable to paternal punishment and rejection?
The answers to these questions can only be a matter of opinion, but the patterns of behaviour in Ben Arfa’s subsequent career can yield significant clues.
As a boy, Ben Arfa’s exceptional talent became clear, and he was fast-tracked into the French National Football Academy at Clairefontaine aged 12. One can speculate as to the wisdom of uprooting youngsters into a boarding-school environment at such a young age, but in Ben Arfa’s case, he appeared to flourish. However, the first signs of a quirky personality emerged at this early stage, during a fly-on-the-wall TV documentary about the academy.
One particular excerpt makes amusing and enlightening viewing. Ben Arfa takes exception to a prank played by Abou Diaby (later of Arsenal) and despite the fact that Diaby towers over him and would surely best him in combat, the diminutive Hatem has no hesitation in issuing a provocative epithet. Other players intervene to restrain a furious Diaby from exacting retribution while Ben Arfa, apparently relaxed and even milking the situation, seems to be enjoying himself. It is the first sign of a reckless spirit within Ben Arfa, putting himself at risk of defeat and punishment for a sense of satisfaction that is neither rational nor healthy. Not for the last time, he embraced victimhood as though it represented safety, or at least familiar ground.
Ben Arfa joined the academy at Lyon at the age of 15, making his first team debut at the age of 17, and establishing himself at 20 as a first team regular during the 2007-08 season. That season also marked his debut in the France national team and his naming as the French PFA’s Young Player of the Season. He had made the early breakthrough that his potential had suggested and the path to future success seemed clear.
However, all was not well behind the scenes. Ben Arfa had a difficult relationship with Karim Benzema, his young rival and teammate in their joint progression through the ranks of the France international junior teams and the Lyon youth system. His manager Alain Perrin felt that Ben Arfa needed “to be more of a team player” – a managerial observation that was to follow him for the rest of his career. Matters came to a head when he got into a bust-up on the training ground with the more experienced Sébastien Squillaci.
The pattern for all but one of Ben Arfa’s changes of club was now established – difficult relationships with managers and teammates, followed by a messy divorce. Ben Arfa signed a contract extension in March 2008 but by June rumours of a transfer to Marseille began to surface. It is not clear who the instigator was. Lyon announced that the proposed transfer had fallen through, only for Ben Arfa to declare publicly the following day that he had joined Marseille and would not return to Lyon for the pre-season training that was due to begin later that week. The situation was finally resolved a few days later after a meeting between the two clubs organised by the French League. Recriminations duly followed, with Ben Arfa declaring that his former club “lacked class”.
There was a strong sense of Ben Arfa taking the initiative in forcing through the move, but also presenting himself as a victim with no choice in the matter. It was important to him at least superficially to take control and establish that the club at which he was destined to end up, was precisely his choice, despite the uncertainties around his position. What is more, instead of a clean break there was a drama and having achieved success he found it difficult to accept authority. With his manager he had played out his relationship with his real-life father figure, engineering a mutual rejection rather than a partnership. There seemed to be no comfortable halfway point between subservience and bitter rivalry.
Other father figures played a part during this stage of Ben Arfa’s career. While at Lyon, he was introduced to a group practising Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam. By Ben Arfa’s own account, he was encouraged to commit himself to blind obedience to the Sheikh who presided over the local sect. “I was indoctrinated at a time when I was very vulnerable,” he said. “They virtually cut me off from the rest of the world. I was part of a movement with a spiritual leader – a Sheikh. When I went into the prayer hall, I had to kiss his feet. It was compulsory. My ego saved me. I could not accept doing that… I could have ended up in a sect, but thankfully I managed to get out.”
This is a graphic account of a young man seeking a father figure who could fill a large gap of uncertainty in his life, in an extreme and eventually dysfunctional manner. The fiercely independent spirit that he eventually showed is mirrored by an equally marked, but unfulfilled need for peaceful acquiescence.
Ben Arfa’s two seasons at Marseille followed a similar pattern to his experiences at Lyon. Despite a promising beginning, he became involved in a training-ground bust-up with Djibril Cissé, and later in the season he was involved in a scuffle with the Cameroon international Modeste M’bamI, the pair having to be physically separated during a pre-match warm-up. He fell out with the manager Eric Gerets when he refused to leave the subs bench to warm up, though this was later followed by a public apology.
Early the following season, Ben Arfa was fined by the club for missing a training session and then argued with the new manager Didier Deschamps, for which, again, he later apologised. The second half of the season showed a return to something of Ben Arfa’s previous form, but his relationship with Deschamps, at least as far as the player was concerned, had turned irrevocably sour.
There then followed a drama which put the episode with Lyon in the shade. Ben Arfa’s agent announced that several clubs were interested in signing the player, including Hoffenheim, Werder Bremen, Galatasaray, AC Milan and Newcastle United. Against all logic, and seemingly against the wishes of both his agent and the Marseille chairman, Ben Arfa’s choice was Newcastle, despite the club’s lack of prospects when compared with their competitors. Newcastle were only prepared to offer a loan deal with an option to buy, but Ben Arfa’s determination and wilfulness forced the matter through. He actually took the step of flying in to Newcastle, uninvited, in order to put further pressure on the Marseille chairman who seems eventually to have decided that any further conflict would not do his club any good.
It is not clear exactly what lay behind this eccentric choice. At the time, I hadn’t been especially aware of Ben Arfa or his background. My conclusion at the time, and on which I am now perhaps even more confident, is that Ben Arfa was specifically attracted to working with the Newcastle manager, Chris Hughton. Unlike many managers, Hughton comes across as an even-tempered, softly spoken individual whose style is one of persuasion and partnership. It is tempting to see him as the polar opposite of the father figure whom Ben Arfa was seeking to escape and whose persona he seemed fated to bring out in his previous managers. There is also a strong sense of Ben Arfa needing to take personal charge of the situation, and not to trust the people around him to look after his best interests and land him in the best place.
Ben Arfa’s father had his say at this time, launching an attack on the manner in which his son’s career was being managed by his agent, Michel Ouazine. “The reputation of my son today is that of a hooligan,” Kamel said. “He is the victim of a guru who has separated him from his family. All that interests him [Ouazine] is living off Hatem’s back and making as much money as possible.”
There is a strong sense of one father figure attacking another here. There seems to be a battle for Hatem’s soul as much as his career. Ben Arfa’s reply was dismissive, but telling: “What my father said is up to him. I am not a kid. My decisions come only from me. Nobody manipulates me.”
Ben Arfa’s assertion of total independence is striking, but has a tinge of adolescent naivety, as though he is failing to acknowledge the ongoing dependence and trust in relationships that form healthy adulthood. His declaration that he is “not a kid” feels like he is protesting too much.
Psychoanalytic theory would identify an extreme assertion of independence as an infantile reaction to dysfunctional parental relationships. Unable to trust the will and reliability of a mother or father, the child can mask his or her anxiety by declaring that he does not need them. They deal with the uncertainties and hazards of the world by fantasies of omnipotence – the idea that they can control events and rise above the imperfections of the world through their own willpower and actions. Fuller’s book is an exploration of how fantasies of control and dominance can fuel sporting achievement, and the example of the frequently bombastic Muhammad Ali is a clear example of this.
In Ben Arfa’s case, this often manifested on the field in a belief that he could win matches on his own – a tendency that has done much to alienate him from successive managers and, on occasion, teammates as well. Of course, it is not uncommon for the talented individual with an ability to go past defenders, to attempt to do too much on the ball in the early stages of their career, rather than release the ball in a timely way to teammates. As will be seen, Ben Arfa does not seem to have been able to mature out of this mindset, and a deep-seated need to distance himself from dependence on others may well be a factor here, apart from the more natural drive to exercise a skill for individual glory.
Of course, such talented mavericks hold an appeal for the supporter, eager to see a glimpse of the exceptional, rather than just the grind of team-oriented industry. We describe such skills in quasi-mystical terms, as ‘magic’, ‘wizardry’ and ‘artistry’. There is no doubt that his appeal is stronger to the supporter seeking a lift from the mundanities of everyday life than to the professional – coach or player – whose livelihood depends on getting results.
It is possible that part of the appeal of Newcastle United to Ben Arfa was the well-known strength of the supporters’ link with their team – a link that has grown ironically all the stronger with the many years of failure that have followed since the club’s last successful period. Tyneside has a greater than average tendency to elevate individuals to hero status, and it may be that Ben Arfa was somehow conscious of this. The swashbuckling but ultimately doomed style of the first Keegan era, with the France international David Ginola to the fore, may have formed the template for Ben Arfa’s ambitions with the club; this previous golden era did coincide with Ben Arfa’s impressionable early teenage years.
But the inherent danger was that Ben Arfa might seek and develop a relationship with the supporters that would run counter to the needs of his teammates and particularly his coach. In psychoanalytic terms, Ben Arfa would be choosing the unconditional, all-forgiving love of the crowd over the more complex and demanding compromises demanded by a true partnership with his colleagues and boss. This mirrors the Oedipal situation, where a child seeks the unconditional love of the mother figure but is forced to compromise due to the realities of the presence of a father figure, representing the outside world, who is rival as well as protector. The individual who fails to negotiate this conundrum is destined to remain at odds with the world. In the context of Newcastle United, Ben Arfa’s attempt to triumph on his own terms led to this precise defeat.
As usual, things started very brightly for Ben Arfa. On his full debut, he scored the winning goal and gave an outstanding individual performance in a 1-0 away win at Everton. But then luck took a hand. In the following game, he suffered a leg fracture against Manchester City that kept him out for the whole of the season. Arguably this misfortune was compounded when Chris Hughton was dismissed and Alan Pardew took over as manager. Pardew has a patchy record as a man-manager, but it is very possible that Ben Arfa was unable to rekindle the trust that he may have felt in the more nurturing management style of Hughton.
Nevertheless, Ben Arfa had done sufficiently well for his loan deal to be converted into a permanent contract. But when he made his return in the following season, it became clear that Pardew was not sufficiently impressed by his performances to give him a regular first-team spot. The manager’s reservations centred around Ben Arfa’s commitment to a team ethic and his willingness to help out defensively on a consistent basis. Ben Arfa made the right noises, emphasising that he would not get into a conflict with the manager, despite his past record. “I ramp up my training,” he said. “I try to be a good teammate. I’m working harder than ever. I’m always frustrated when I’m not playing, but instead of clashing with the coach like before, I let it go, because I know I’ll lose. I’m going to submit to his [Pardew’s] authority… I’m not going to go looking for a fight.”
Clive James once observed that those who say how much they’ve changed never really change. The language he uses, of “submission” and “fighting” sounded more ominous rather than reassuring at the time. He later spoke of the one coach whom he felt truly understood him – Raymond Domenech, who gave him his first French cap. “He understood me,” he said. “It was in his eyes. I felt confident with him because I’ve known coaches who only use words, but words don’t always show that a coach trusts you, you must feel it.”
Sound common sense on a certain level, but it does suggest a certain over-sensitivity on Ben Arfa’s part and a certain fragility of self-esteem. How easy does he find it to raise his game in order to convince a sceptical manager to revise his opinion? Does he react to the doubter only through the twin extremes of capitulation and retaliation? The unhealthy paternal relationship is making its presence felt again.
Towards the end of Ben Arfa’s third season, after a furious altercation in the dressing room, it was clear that Ben Arfa’s relationship with Pardew had reached the point of no return. But however displeased his manager may have been, in the eyes of most supporters Ben Arfa was very much the misunderstood victim and Pardew the inflexible villain. The ups and downs of Ben Arfa’s Newcastle career had been punctuated by some breath-taking moments of skill and Pardew shouldered the blame for not making better use of Hatem’s talent.
A mocked-up picture of Ben Arfa’s face superimposed on the famous photo of Che Guevara, and with the word HOPE in bold lettering underneath, did the rounds. As can be expected, Ben Arfa relished the role of people’s champion, and when he was banned from an open training session, he toyed with the idea of holding a ‘meet-and-greet’ session with fans, at the same time, in a direct challenge to Pardew. More than most players in his position, he seemed to take such a triumph as a passable substitute for success on the field.
The psychoanalytic perspective would be that Ben Arfa is attempting to defeat paternal hostility by claiming the unconditional, nurturing, maternal love of the crowd, eager to defend its son against hostility from outside. As before, such a victory is Pyrrhic and the status of people’s champion is a trap. Taking such a role too seriously has the tendency to isolate the individual from those on whom he must depend in order to win the battles on the field of play. The father figure must, in time, become an ally and not an enemy.
Ben Arfa’s career in England took on the character of a slow and painful death. After being forced to train with the reserves, a loan deal was arranged with Hull City in the final moments of the transfer window. However, when Hull travelled to Newcastle a few weeks later, with Ben Arfa as the ineligible loanee, he chose to travel to Newcastle by train, walk to the ground with the Geordie fans and sit in the home end, rather than make the journey with his new teammates. Unsurprisingly, the Hull move never blossomed and after eight league games and an embarrassing episode when he was subbed off after 35 minutes, things ended in the customary fashion. Ben Arfa left for France, the Hull manager admitted that he did not know where he was and the despairing Newcastle board released him from his contract.
Ben Arfa spent the next season at Nice where, in true paradoxical fashion, he enjoyed probably the best season of his career, finishing with 18 goals in 37 matches, and helping his team to fourth place in the league. This seemed to be the right move at the right time, where, unburdened by expectations of himself or his team, he could relax. His initial attraction to the club was very evident: “Even if Real Madrid had called, my mind was made up. There are people here who trust me, who do not judge me as some people want to judge me through the press.”
Again, one can note the importance to Ben Arfa of establishing that he was, and is, in control of his fate, and that the club where he has ended up is the result of his own will, and not the actions of others. The exaggerated need to present himself as acting independently, without needing to trust others, is clear.
On this occasion, the romance lasted. This may be down to a good rapport with the new manager, Claude Puel, or Ben Arfa’s own use of a ‘victim’ status in order to bounce back with defiance. Maybe, in truth, the relationship did not last long enough to turn sour. Whatever way, at the end of the season, Ben Arfa’s performances finally gained him a move to a club that his potential undoubtedly merited, in the form of the colossus of Paris Saint-Germain.
Alas for those who have followed Ben Arfa’s career closely, it was no surprise that he managed instead to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, although few would have predicted the suddenness of the debacle. Despite having finally achieved the move of his dreams, it was reported that he turned up for his first training session overweight and unfit. Over the following weeks, his new manager, Unai Emery, became exasperated at his new player’s poor work ethic and the self-indulgent style of his play. It is alleged that his message to Ben Arfa was clear – “You’re not Messi!” – indicating that he did not possess the level of talent that could win games on his own.
After his first season at PSG, Emery made it clear to Ben Arfa that he was no longer in favour and was welcome to seek another club. Ben Arfa refused to leave quietly, and with PSG unwilling out of principle to pay to terminate his contract early, Ben Arfa duly sat out the entire season with not a single first-team appearance to his name. Despite being 30 and nearing the end of his career, it seemed more important to him to carry on his battle with the hierarchy at PSG than to seek a fresh challenge elsewhere. In a typically defiant but misguided gesture, he posted a picture of himself with a cake in July, “celebrating” the anniversary of his last appearance for the club, as though happy with the outcome. The message was that the rejection was mutual and not one way.
The Paris episode represents a microcosm of Ben Arfa’s career in extreme form. It appears that he is far more able to handle failure than success and will seek it out, albeit unconsciously. Success can induce a vulnerability, in that a subsequent downward step is inevitable, whatever the level of the previous achievement. It can be postponed by further success, but never eliminated. Ben Arfa seems to deal with this through conflict with an authority figure, followed by feigned indifference to the consequences. There appears to be no shortage of former teammates and supporters who have genuine sympathy for his position, and worry about his future. But he seems immune to the sort of tough love that will take him to the next level.
Is there a style of management that could have better dealt with this wayward son? I think it is interesting in this context to look at the two managers in this country who achieved, in different ways, the reputation for achieving success through, amongst other qualities, supreme man-management – Sir Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough.
Though differing in certain aspects of their personalities, both men were able to show a dominating willpower which imposed itself not just on their players, but throughout the clubs that they managed. However, what is most striking is how, in both cases, the exercising of this willpower had the effect of inspiring and liberating their players, not inhibiting them. Both men were capable of exercising their authority through fear, but paradoxically this imparted self-confidence to their teams, not worry or self-doubt. Ordinary players grew in stature under their charge, and the undisciplined developed a focus and commitment. The end result was that, somehow, the usual conflict between individual self-expression and team discipline seemed to disappear.
Of the two, Ferguson can most easily be described as the father figure of his club. He developed a reputation for maintaining a personal interest in his charges, from the head to the foot of the club. If the parents of a Norwegian trialist sought his attention, he would remember their names and treat them as members of a family. If one of his younger players was reported to be still in a nightclub in the early hours, he would jump in his car to fetch them. There was a strong emphasis on no individual being bigger than the club – a philosophy that led him to jettison talents like David Beckham and Andriy Kanchelskis at the moment when he saw their contributions flagging. Allied to an acute analytic mind, Ferguson emerged as the greatest manager of his generation – and perhaps of all time. His longevity in the post illustrates the manner in which, to Ferguson, his commitment took the form of a personal cause, not just a job.
Ferguson was once asked about the so-called secrets of his success and he gave an unusual reply, smiling as he said it, in the knowledge that it would tickle his listeners. He felt that a good part of management was helping his players to deal with success. Dealing with failure was simpler, “Because that’s what most people are used to, when you think about it.”
Certainly, a characteristic of Ferguson’s teams was their ability to rejuvenate their motivation after a successful season. The natural tendency to slacken off, to relax too much and subconsciously rest on one’s laurels was absent from his teams, as they piled trophy upon trophy, year on year. Moreover, Ferguson was able to maintain continuity of success, despite having to dismantle and rebuild his teams over the years. Neither defeat nor victory seemed to dent the focus and concentration of his players.
Clough’s success was more modest in proportion, but just as remarkable because it was achieved with players of more limited ability than Ferguson had at his disposal. Most teams will hit certain purple patches during games when something clicks and they drive superior opposition backwards, at least temporarily. Clough’s side had a way of hitting that purple patch, that phase of maximum confidence and effort, and sustaining it. Clough did not expand the range of his players’ ability, but he somehow gave them the ability to play at the top of that range with extraordinary consistency.
It would be hard to call Clough a father figure in the same sense as Ferguson. His manner was erratic and his style arbitrary. But one has the sense that his ability to get inside the psyche of his players in a fundamental way, like Ferguson, was similar to the manner in which a parent’s influence can pervade the actions and attitudes of their offspring in a way that is below the conscious and deliberate. Players like Martin O’Neill spoke of how they would long for a word of praise from Clough, who could be capricious in his distribution of compliments. Clough was not always fair or even-handed, but his remoteness could induce hunger rather than resentment. The Notts Forest midfielder Archie Gemmill spoke about how all the time he was on the pitch, he was somehow at some level aware of Clough’s presence, making him play. The effect was a combination of shedding self-consciousness and at the same time instilling maximum effort. This mixture of relaxation and drive is a cocktail that all managers seek, and yet it can be very elusive. Ultimately it can only be achieved through force of personality and not as a contrivance.
To return to the example of Hatem Ben Arfa, it seems clear that his career has suffered because he has not been able to handle the ups and downs of his fortunes during a match, or during his career. I do believe that his dysfunctional relationship with his father, as he himself has stated, has taken a deep root in his attitudes. With a fragile ego, he takes both success and failure too seriously and falls into dealing with the cut and thrust of his relationships with authority figures by taking charge of the uncertainty. To coin a phrase, he gets his rejection in first, or at least is unable to avoid retaliating when he senses that rejection is coming his way, even when it is in the form of constructive criticism.
Ferguson and Clough, despite their somewhat fearsome personas, can be said to have actually taken the fear out of football. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that they took the ego out of football. As with a strong parent, their pervading influence had a protective effect which allowed players to shed their personal vulnerabilities whilst on the pitch and commit to a team ethic in a way that was almost subliminal.
Has Ben Arfa ever experienced that commitment to a joint cause as liberating? His dalliance with a religious sect certainly indicated a need to do so, though in that case he was unwise in his choice of father figure. At the time of writing, Ben Arfa is starting over with a new club, Rennes. His experience in his golden season at Nice suggests that the capability of a wiser accommodation to the messy realities of competitive team sport is there, somewhere. This may be his last chance.
Let me leave you with an anecdote that the former Manchester United winger Lee Sharpe has told about Sir Alex and an encounter with another headstrong Frenchman. After the 1-1 draw away against Crystal Palace when Éric Cantona famously karate-kicked a spectator after he had been sent off, the United players were awaiting their manager’s entrance into the dressing room. After a disappointing result, it was Ferguson’s usual habit to berate all of them, but on this occasion, they were relaxed, thinking only one teammate would be on the receiving end. However, when a furious Sir Alex stormed in, he went round the entire team, slating each individual’s performance in his usual florid terms. After declaring that everyone would be hauled in for extra training, he finally turned to face Cantona. At this point his voice dropped a number of decibels as he concluded his speech with the gentle admonition, “And Éric, you can’t do things like that, son.”