It’s safe to say soccer players are probably far more popular than politicians in Europe now, given the region’s debt crisis and the painful austerity measures put in place to pare down national deficits.
So it’s a worry for politicians when a former Manchester United star calls for a nationwide run on banks to punish them for their role in the financial crisis.
In an interview last month that has quickly become a YouTube hit, French striker Eric Cantona said millions of people should start a revolution by withdrawing their money from their banks.
“No weapons, no blood,” Cantona said, invoking the calling card of notorious French bank robber Albert Spaggiari, who in 1976 made off with millions of francs after tunneling his way into a branch of Societe Generale.
Cantona’s call has been taken up by “Stop Banque,” a France-based movement that is advocating a run on banks on Dec. 7. The group's Facebook page has 10,872 fans and has spawned a number of other Facebook groups, including “Revolution by withdrawing banks’ money,” which calls on citizens to strike “a terrible blow” at the heart of the global economy. It currently has just over 300 followers.
A French soccer star who played for the U.K.’s Manchester Untied for nearly five years, Cantona is nothing short of a living legend to many of his fans. He was named the team’s player of the century in 2001 and is fondly nicknamed “King Eric.”
His call for a financial revolution has prompted France’s economy minister to speak out. On Wednesday, Christine Lagarde told him to stick to football not finance, telling a news conference, “Mr. Cantona is no stranger to controversy. He is a great footballer, but I’m not sure we need to pay heed to all his suggestions.”
Bank runs usually happen when depositors are worried about the safety or solvency of a particular bank. They simply withdraw all their money, and the run can generate its own momentum, with more depositors withdrawing their money until the bank is destabilized and lapses into bankruptcy. A bank run contributed to the demise of California’s IndyMac bank in July 2008.
Most banks operate with only a fraction of the total deposits on their books, which mostly exist as accounting entries. A sudden surge in demand for hard currency could create unforeseen problems. So while it’s unlikely that Cantona’s plan will destabilize the global financial system and cause a liquidity crisis in Europe, it could have a small destabilizing effect.
Reuters contributed to this report.