|During his time at Man United Eric Cantona was a genius on the pitch and a controversial figure off it [GALLO/GETTY]
Footballer-turned-actor Eric Cantona is lining up a long-shot bid for the French presidency, hijacking an as-yet lacklustre election campaign to highlight the housing needs of the poor.
After failing in a quixotic bid to destroy global banking, the man known to Manchester United fans as King Eric has written to French mayors to secure the 500 signatures needed to stand in April's election.
But Cantona appears to be applying one of his legendary footballing feints on the political field, using the unlikely presidential run to secure his real aim - help for one of his favoured charities.
Patrick Doutreligne of the Abbe Pierre Foundation for Housing for the Underprivileged, of which Cantona is a patron, said that the footballer did not actually expect nor want to be the next president of France.
"You need a spur like Cantona to give housing the place it deserves in this campaign"
"He will indeed seek 500 signatures, not for the election but so that housing is a priority. So that the mayors sign up to the foundation's call for mobilisation, so that housing is the campaign's main theme," he said.
"You need a spur like Cantona to give housing the place it deserves in this campaign," Doutreligne said.
In his letter to city mayors, revealed by the daily Liberation, the 45-year-old said he is "a citizen very much aware of our times," which offer "limited opportunities" to the young and generate "violent" injustice.
He said he felt obliged to speak up "at a time when our country faces difficult choices" and that the current economic uncertainty gave him "a sense of my responsibility".
Getting the 500 mayors to sign up to his message on housing and poverty "would allow me to send a simple but clear message: a message of truth and respect," he said.
Cantona, who has starred in adverts for such multinationals as L'Oreal and Nike, said he "chose the housing issue as it seems to me to be essential and concerns 10 million people".
The presidential election will start in April, with a second round set for May.
Centre-right President Nicolas Sarkozy has yet to declare his candidacy and has been trailing Socialist rival Francois Hollande in opinion polls.
Cantona played for Manchester United from 1992 to 1997 and was known for both his genius and ill-discipline, as well as his often colourful and incomprehensible remarks.
Late in 2010 he entered the political and economic fray, urging compatriots to withdraw cash en masse as a way to bring banking to its knees - although it emerged that his actress wife had appeared in a TV bank advert.
French and European politicians and bankers condemned Cantona as irresponsible and misguided, and his call to action was not taken up.
Considered one of the greats of the game, Cantona retired from professional football in 1997 and has since turned to acting, notably in director Ken Loach's "Looking For Eric".
Finance Minister Francois Baroin said as a mayor he would not back the bid but 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."
Junior Housing Minister Benoist Apparu disputed Cantona's figure of 10 million poorly housed people, telling BFM-TV there were only 3.5 million but admitting: "That's already a thousand times too many."
One of Cantona's most famous moments was when he launched a flying kung-fu style kick and several punches at a fan as he was walking off the pitch after being sent-off during a 1995 match.
He famously later told journalists: "When the seagulls follow the trawler, it's because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea."