I used to watch him as a kid with my mouth wide open, I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing from this guy. Even now, twelve years after he retired, a clip will come on TV, an advertisement might appear with him in it or I see a clip from his movie “Looking For Eric” and I can still feel the excitement in my stomach, the butterflies that used to fill me with anticipation, it’s all brought back by just hearing Cantona’s voice, just seeing him is enough for me to have a head full of memories of him playing for United. He had such a presence on the field and in so many of our hearts.
After a nomadic career in France involving six clubs in eight years,Eric Cantona made a shock move to England, ‘L’Enfant Terrible’ signed for Leeds United in 1992 – and helped the Yorkshire club to the title Fergie then announced he had signed Cantona for £1.2 million and I was dumbstruck, what a bargain, maybe the best bargain in the history of football.
In five seasons at Old Trafford, Cantona won four Premiership winners’ medals and the FA Cup twice, scoring the winner in the 1996 final against Liverpool. His only season with no medals was in 1994-95, during much of which he was suspended after his most infamous act – a karate kick at a Crystal Palace supporter who taunted him as he left the field after being sent off.
True to form, the eccentric Cantona told a press conference afterwards: ‘When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea’ After being persuaded to carry on playing by Fergie who flew over to Paris to see Cantona, he led United to yet another title in 1996-97 before retiring abruptly aged just 30. His final match for United was against West Ham on May 11, 1997.
He lived football as it is supposed to be lived. Like a game you have to play honestly. The first thing is to work hard, without losing the notion of pleasure. That is what he did. More players need to do the same. There is the ‘football’ Manchester United and the ‘merchandising’ Manchester United, these two worlds coexist, but for Cantona Manchester United is the club, it is football. A culture of the “beau jeu”, a philosophy that has been existing for years.
Manchester United always show us how to win with class, with fire in their bellies, with attacking, fast football that sweeps sides aside with ease. Eric Cantona revived all of these things in Manchester United, and then some. He was so convinced of his own abilities and talents that he would score an outrageously difficult goal, then just stand there hands on hips and wait for the crowd to explode in ecstasy at his brilliance.
Even the other players would run up to him and stop, waiting for him to allow them to mob him, but only after he had milked the applause from the supporters.Twelve years on they still sing his name loud and clear from the terraces! He was the catalyst that finally dragged United over the finishing line in first place after a long 26 year wait for the title. Down the years there have been some truly great United players…
…I could list 50 of them right here, right now. But for me the best of the best is Eric Cantona, ‘L’Enfant Terrible, Le Roi du Monde’.