“Winning the World Cup was one of the best moments in my life”

Eric Cantona recalls the amazing victory of France over Portugal in a chat with Madjer, in which they talk about why beach soccer is such a unique sport

Eric Cantona recalls the amazing victory of France over Portugal in a chat with Madjer, in which they talk about why beach soccer is such a unique sport

On this day, 15 years ago, Eric Cantona led France to a historical triumph against Portugal, claimin the first ever FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Rio de Janeiro. Three lustres afterwards, he catches up with one of his rivals that day, and very good friend, Madjer, to remember about that amazing moment and also to discuss about beach soccer in general, their first steps in the sport, what the future beholds, etc. 

MADJER: Between players and people from beach soccer always talk about the important role players like you played in the sport. If it wasn’t for you Hernani, Junior and so many ex-players the sport [wouldn’t have] grown up. It’s not because of Madjer or because of Amarelle, it because of you. You gave the name to the sport. What do you have to say about that?

CANTONA:For me, as I told you, I arrived and I played my first game in…1997 I think, in Monaco. As soon as I retired from football I started to play beach soccer. And I love this game, I love this game. And I tried my best to develop this game. But develop it just because I loved it. At this time, the level of the game was good. But nothing compared to now. It started to change in the early 2000s, with young players not coming from professional football. They were footballers, from 11-aside but they were very passionate about the game. And us, in 2000 in France we started to work a lot and train a lot but the players weren’t even paid. They just came because they were passionate about the game. And they trained three times a week and we started to improve. And… year after year the level started to grow because of these young players.

Yeah, it’s true.

Not because of us. Us, we just helped the sport to be known because we could have interviews all around the world. But the real sport, and the real spectacular side of the sport, you made it! Not us. It’s true. Just before this chat, I was speaking with my children. I said I have an interview to do with the best player of beach soccer – ever! You are, you know. I don’t know if you know but you have a lot of humility and you will not say. But I can say it.

Thank you, thank you. Now you know, normally the top players they like to listen to other people saying “oh you are a great player”, something like that. But for it to get inside of us it’s quite difficult because, like now, I’ve played with a lot of great players, so for me there are a lot of best players ever in beach soccer.Like Amarelle, so many players. But coming from you it’s…thank you. Thank you, King!

Yeah, but I really feel it. And Portugal! Portugal was important for the sport. I think, the most important thing was…Brazil was a great team at the end of the 90s when I started to play. It was the beginning of beach soccer. Brazil, France, Portugal, Spain…and a bit of Italy. And you, Portugal, improved every year. Now I see the team of Braga, they have great players. Spain, also they improve every time, Brazil…and then after you had Russia and other nations played great beach soccer.But France we started to go down, you know? And we were European champions in 2004 and then we won the first FIFA World Championship in Brazil against you. Remember the game? What a game?! We were 3-0 up, 20 seconds to go and then you scored, well Portugal scored, and then you scored in the last second of the game. Then extra time, no goals, and we won on the penalty shootout. Wonderful game!

And Alan missed a penalty.

Yeah, Alan missed a penalty and Ottavy scored the penalty for us. And then we played the two semi-finals, one quarter-final and since then we lost the discipline. Why did we win the European champions and the World Cup and we play two semi-finals? Because we were working hard! And then we started to think that it was easy – no, it’s not an easy game. It’s a very hard sport. People think because of the sun and the sand and everything… But when you start to run on the sand and you start to play football on the sand it’s very difficult. So we have to be very professional. And it’s very hard because the money is not like football, you know? It’s a bit difficult. But like in every sport if you have the discipline and you work hard, you start to have good results. If you don’t, forget it. Now France is a team that is maybe not even in the best 20 in the world. Which is a shame.

So do you think that they achieved the top, and after that they relaxed?

We achieved the top, we won the first FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in 2005 and then we played two semi-finals and one quarter-final. And then we started to go down. Yeah. Because we didn’t work hard enough. It’s not just to say “Oh we have to doing one training for two months in the summer” – no, no. When we won the European championships and the World Cup, we started the training in February. In France you know, not in Brazil. In France in the winter, even if it’s in the south of France, it’s a bit cold. But we had the socks and everything and sometimes it was raining.

Like here!

Yeah! And we were training three times a week. And playing a game sometimes at a weekend and we improved a lot! We improved technically. And some players who were also playing football. They had two or three training sessions with football, three with beach soccer and they have the game at the weekend, so they worked very, very hard. They were very fit and because of beach soccer they improved a lot technically. Even tactically, even though the size of the pitch is not the same, their vision and everything. Because in beach soccer you touch the ball very often, you have to play in the air. So they improved a lot. They became better than they were. Also in football.

I have an opinion about that: It happened because they had you, and they have some ex-players that they have the discipline, you know? Like here in Portugal, we had Hernani and Nunes and Ze Miguel and other ex-players… For us they were like the stars and we were looking at them like we need to follow them because they know everything about football. So they can teach us a lot about discipline, that is very important. They need to teach us and… I grew up a lot with them. You know Hernani. You and Hernani were fighters.

Yeah, he was a fighter.

He taught us that, “if you want to win something, you have to train, you have to run, you have to do the things, even the things that I do. Because I am older than you guys and if I can run 10km and come back, you have to run 20 and come back”

Yeah. But the difference between you, Portugal, and France is that we taught them and then the new generations, didn’t teach the other ones. Of course, they train a bit now, but it is not like it was before… You were listening to Hernani and to Nunes and to the other ones, but when they retired, you became the leader, and you are still the leader in Portugal. That generation had players like François, Mendy, Samoun. They were very good, but the transition to new generations was not good after that. You need to learn from the other ones, but as soon as you learn, it’s your role! It’s your time to teach the other ones, the youngest ones.

Yes, you have to keep the discipline and you have to keep your mind focused otherwise… So that’s why it’s important that the new generations keep up the good work that was done before.

Of course, of course. But it’s never too late.

No, it’s never too late. You think France can come back to be on top?

In France we have good players. In my time when I was the manager of the team, they were good, they had great potential, we helped them to become even better. But there are still great players in France, who have great potential. But potential is not enough. You have to work hard. But of course, they can come back. I hope so.

Everybody does. Because it’s important for the sport that you have the top national teams fighting every time and more and more good teams coming back to the top.

Yeah and it’s great sometimes to have a nation like Russia. Sometimes when I say that Russia were the world champions, people are very surprised. It’s a game that was created on the sand but you can play anywhere. Do you remember we did tournaments in Tignes?

Yeah! Freezing!

Yes, it was. We can play anywhere, we can bring the sand everywhere. It’s great also to have nations who are not on the coast, and who can become one of the best in the world. Or Switzerland!

Switzerland, yes. Ukraine, is also a great example. They are growing.   

Yes. And Braga…Braga is not on the coast, is it?

No it’s not, they are close to the coast. Not so close, but they are close. They have good facilities close to the stadium and they are doing a great job. They took the sand to a facility and now they have a good facility there.

So they took the sand… That’s a good example also. It’s great.

This comes on to the next question: what do you think that beach soccer needs more to grow?

Beach Soccer is very demanding physically and technically, because of the sand.  In football, even if you don’t play so well, you can play in the street… But beach soccer is so difficult. If you don’t have a minimum of technique, it’s difficult to enjoy it. That’s why very young players struggle. This is why it is very important to work with very young players. Do you remember in Brazil? We were walking in Copacabana and a lot of players were playing beach soccer on the sand… In the beginning, it is difficult, but if you work a bit hard you start to enjoy it, and then you can work even more.So that’s why it’s important to work with very, very young players because it’s easier for them to learn. Like in skiing, you know? They have better balance than grown adults. So if you start very, very, very, very young it’s…it’s good for the sport. Because you will have good players, because many people play football, but beach soccer is different. It is another sport. 

But you know, every time we bring some kids or some new players to play beach soccer they love it, but they don’t know how difficult it is. They don’t know. They don’t realise. That’s why it’s important to grow up, and in your opinion, to grow we need to start from young players and start to bring players only for the sport. Not the players that do football and futsal.

Yeah exactly. It’s a sport in itself. You can play tennis and play football. Or you can play tennis and play guitar. You can play football and play beach soccer but if you are in beach soccer you are in beach soccer. And then you go and train in football, if you want. But beach soccer a sport in iself, it’s not something you do during the weekend. No, it’s a real sport. You can practise different sports but you have to take beach soccer as a sport, with all you need to become better and better every time. Training, work hard, learn from the other ones, the best ones and everything…

Do you think that it will be important in Europe to create indoor facilities? 

Yeah! It can come for regions. Depending on the region and depending on the countries. I think the Russian team, they train a lot inside. They play futsal also. So in Rio de Janeiro you don’t need to work inside. You know, indoor. But in some countries or north of Portugal like Braga or some cities in the north of France, or the centre of France. The east or the west…We need to find a solution, we need to have facilities to help the players who want to play beach soccer. Because there are a lot of young kids who want to play beach soccer.

Yeah, but they don’t know where…

They organise a tour in France, you know? For the really Young players.

I remember when we played the first European league in Marseille, I remember there was like a kids’ festival outside, Joel Cantona was organising everything.

Yeah! But now they work with everything…with the federation, you know? They do a tour during two months in the summer. They go to different cities to help the young players, to discover this game to play this game to give them advice and everything. It’s very important to work on the base, like when you build a house, you build the base first and then you build the wall and the roof at the end.

In this sport it was like the opposite. We began with the rooftop, the old players, and from there we began going down… (BOTH LAUGH)

Exactly, so we have to help the people who are in charge of the sport to realise that we have to work from the base with the kids like we said before in Brazil, every day you see kids training on the beach. It’s why there are so many great players. And maybe some of them will play football afterwards, because it helps them. Playing on the sand you improve your technique. You improve in keeping the ball in the air, but also you improve running with the ball on the sand. With all the rebounds you go right, you go left, and you have to think and be very fast. There are many great Brazilian football players who started to play on the sand.

Yeah, for many years… They play on the sand and afterwards they go to play football. 

I remember in Copacabana, sometimes you had games, eleven against eleven – on the beach! Incredible. It’s a great sport, a wonderful sport.

Now I have a question. And it goes against me… How was your feeling after winning the first FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup ever, after a great career in soccer?

It was one of my best moments. As a man. Not only as a sportsman. It was good because as I told you before, we worked for four or five years very, very hard to achieve that. And to be in the professional system for so many years is great but it’s like when you start again from zero. And working with players who never knew the professional system. They were amateurs, so you had to teach them everything. You see them improve, month after month, and start achieving things. It was great for me as a coach. And so it was amazing for me, to see all these players winning something after years of hard work.

After we beat Brazil in the semi-finals…Who did you beat?

Spain. And in the quarter-finals it was Argentina

Do you think that our problem was to beat Brazil? Because here in Portugal they talked a lot about that – “They beat Brazil and they thought that they will beat France”. And everybody in Brazil was talking about it like, “no, Portugal will win and…” and I think for the players, it was worse.

Maybe, but in 2004 we won against you in the European championship final, too. So you knew that we could beat you. You won more often against us, but we started to improve and in 2004 we won the Euro Beach Soccer League against you. And that was already a small surprise. But of course, it was in Brazil and Brazil was the favourite, like always. And for you to beat Brazil it was like you won the World Cup, and we knew that also. We knew that you would react like this. And we took advantage of that.

So you prepared yourselves, knowing that our mentality could be like… 

We knew that you would not be at your best for the beginning of the game. The time to realise that you have to react. And it’s why after the first period. We were 3-0 up.

After the first period, yes. Because you started really strong.

Yeah we started really strong, because, also, you started very slow (both laugh). Because you were like, “we already won it!” Against Brazil it would have been more difficult for us. Yeah…but maybe we could have won it also. We had a great team at that time, we played very well…

I remember, Mendy scored three goals! The first one with a header after a throw in, I will never forget that… Also Eduard. You had a very strong team. From outside, we thought “they are like a wall”.

We were very strong defensively at this time. And offensively we were very strong, too. Some of the tactics we used were very, very good and the players were very compatible with these kinds of tactics. And they enjoyed it. Very much. 

Do you think your son Martin can keep the beach soccer passion of the family?

Absolutely! He’s in love with football and beach soccer. He’s in love with both games. He has great discipline. After school, he goes to train, he takes the bus and everything. He loves this game. He loves football and beach soccer. 

So he will be your substitute.

You know, these kids, all the cousins, they all love football. They really love it. Even my daughter, the oldest one, Josephine. They always came to the events in Marseille. She even came to Brazil. But you need to have discipline, also. I think Martin can achieve something. Well, I hope. Especially because he’s a great goalkeeper, and he plays very well with his feet, which is very important nowadays both for football and beach soccer.  also now the goalkeeper needs to be good and fit, not only in beach soccer, even in football. And even more in beach soccer. He’s very good, very comfortable with the ball.

He’s really complete. And he’s young! 

And he’s young, yeah. But he’s very mature for his age.

Now I have a game to do with you. I will give you five names. And in one word you will describe these people. Hernani.

Hernani? The Boss.


The Craziest. (BOTH LAUGH)

You remember in Marseille? When he crashed against that…

Yeah, crazy. But he also did a lot to help beach soccer. 

Yes, it’s true… And after he went to that reality show… Next one: Junior.

The First One.


The Tower.


The Showman

You know that during all these years… beach soccer has this great capacity. It keeps the players together. We stay friends forever…

Yes, especially that generation in the beginning of the game… I don’t know now, because I am not that involved now, but I remember when we were at the beginning of the game… Even the rivalry, you know that sometimes we fought, because everybody wanted to win and sometimes we lost control, but I think we were all great friends. And as you say, we all have great memories of that time. Because it was the first steps of this game… It was a very special moment. I love that moment and all the people I met at that time. 

Yes, it really was an amazing time. Talking about fights, me, Hernani, Nunes… all the old ones, we always remember that the first time beach soccer was the first story on the news on TV it was after that big fight we had in Figueira da Foz. (Both laugh)

But it was also a great tournament! The Mundialito…

It was, indeed. We keep so many good memories… I really want to thank you and wish you the best in these terrible conditions that we have to live these days… Hopefully we learn from this, and become more human. 

Agree. It is a terrible moment, but it is also a great opportunity for humanity to create a better world. We have realized what is the most important thing, what is the essential. Hopefully we take this opportunity. I am optimistic: when something bad happens, you can get another road to get to a better place. 

Yes, I hope it too. Do you think this moment will change sport?

I think that any change will be for the better. Sports, and art, are very important. Sports give people hope, they give them motivation. For example, even homeless people have their own World Cup, so they have a reason to dream, to train. And we have to use sports for that. Of course professional top class sports are important, but we need to use sport for social things, too. Sport can help a lot of people in many situations. 

King, thank you very much. I hope this goes away quickly and we can meet in Lisbon for a beer or something. I wish you the best. Take care you and your family!

You too. All the best to all of you!

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