Eric Cantona is one of the most colourful and iconic figures in the history of English football. A legend of English football.
In the mid-1990s, Eric “The King” Cantona was in his prime. Wearing the iconic number no.7 shirt with his popped up collar, theatrical swagger and slick skills, the Frenchman was one of the greatest football players European fans had ever seen. His sublime skills made him a natural scorer and the man fans loved to watch. He was born to play for the successful Manchester United team.
The Frenchman was signed across the Pennines from their fierce rivals Leeds United where he famously won a League title in the 1991/1992 season. Given the success that he had at the Yorkshire team, it was a surprise to many that an enquiry by Sir Alex Ferguson as to whether the French player was for sale was met with a nod in December 1992. He was transferred to the Red Devils for a measly £1.2 million but he immediately went to work.
This led to a new era in the Premier League and the start of a period of unrivalled success for the Salford based team.
During his career with Manchester United, he won four Premier League titles, two FA Cups. By the time he left the club in 1997, he had become a living legend. He is still considered one of the best players to ever play for the club.
He made his debut for Manchester United in 1992 and his 9 goals in 22 league appearances helped bring home a first premiership trophy for Sir Alex Ferguson in 1993. He was the type of player that they needed in a young team of players such as David Beckham, Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs.
He would fail to win the Premier League only once in the 4 campaigns that he played in and Cantona would be a leading scorer in 2 and 2nd in the other. He was the talisman who led by example and never gave in. He had a three-way relationship between him, his teammates and the fans and if he thought it was possible to produce a piece of magic on the field, so did you.
He was a tenacious and hardworking forward who physically strong but he was always to combine his technical skill and creativity with goalscoring ability and power. A key player in such a dominant team.
As a football player, Eric Cantona was a pioneering genius, helping to develop and popularize the game’s tiki-taka style. This involved short, quick passes, and a lot of movement off the ball, to manipulate the defence and create openings for goals. (Cantona himself was fond of a deft backhand-to-feet pass from midfield into the path of a player running right behind him.)
However, when he was banned for 9 months in the 1994/1995 season for kicking a Crystal Palace fan at Selhurst Park, that event alone nearly ruined his reputation and legacy as a great in the English League. This led to 120 hours of community service and his absence helped Blackburn win their first-ever Premier League trophy.
Of course, there were no complaints from him for his actions and when he did return to action against rivals Liverpool in October the following season, he let everyone know that he had returned. The French maverick scored a penalty to salvage a point for the Red Devils at Old Trafford and this result led the team to become an irresistible force in the 1995/1996 season.
He managed to bag 19 goals in all competitions (1 in 4 players to achieve double figures that season); including scoring in 6 consecutive Premier League matches from March to April. The team faced a real stiff challenge against Newcastle to bring back the title to Manchester, which they achieved, and their season was rounded off with a well-deserved FA Cup victory against Liverpool. This completed a second double for the club in 3 seasons, a truly impressive feat.
Many can agree that that was the high point of his career at Manchester United.
Once again Manchester United won the League in the 1996/1997 season which was his last season as he retired at the grand old age of only 30. His stand out moment in the season being the memorable goal that he scored against Sunderland in December 1996 when he deliciously chipped the Sunderland goalkeeper from inside the penalty area. He then celebrated by standing still and slowly turning with his arms outstretched with no emotion on his face. Pure arrogance after such a classy goal.
In less than 5 years, the legend scored a total of 64 league goals for the club and forever will be a player whose deeds burn brightly and will never burn out.
Vive la resistance!