Former Manchester United forward Eric Cantona is back in soccer after a 14-year absence with the New York Cosmos.

The 44-year-old Frenchman has been hired as director of soccer of the Cosmos as the team tries to gain an expansion franchise as Major League Soccer's 20th team.

Cantona, who retired from playing in 1997, will have overall responsibility for "the proposed first team" and the Cosmos hope he will attract world-class players.

"It's a big project, a wonderful project," Cantona said. "The Cosmos are very strong, beautifully made, with a great past. It's kind of a mix between football and art.

"I will do everything that I can to help us first find our way to regain the No. 1 position in the United States, and then for us to become one of the best clubs in the world over the coming years."

The Cosmos bought the name of the old North American Soccer League team. Both the Cosmos and the New York Mets ownership group, which also is interested in an MLS team, have thus far failed to find a site for a stadium in the New York area.

"Three years ago, when I first had the idea of reviving the New York Cosmos, I couldn't have dreamt that we'd be able to attract an icon the likes of Eric Cantona," Cosmos chairman Paul Kemsley said in a statement. "It's a personal thrill for me, as he was one of my heroes during the 1990s and is a further endorsement to the tremendous global attraction and power that the New York Cosmos carries. Our name already resonates throughout the world and so will our football team."

Cantona, who won four Premier League titles with Manchester United in the 1990s, will work with former American midfielder Cobi Jones, who is assistant director of soccer.