Time for the next instalment in our Club Legends feature, this is #6 and features the one and only Eric Cantona. The man who was born to play at Old Trafford. Growing up Eric was probably the first player that idolised, I just loved the way he would play with his collar turned up and as if to say I’m here and I’ll do what I want.
Many people in football probably saw him as a rebel and someone who could be difficult to handle but that didn’t worry Sir Alex Ferguson and from the moment he signed for Manchester United to the day he retired he was one of Manchester United greatest players. Even today he is still idolised by myself and other United fans will always be remembered by United fans young and old, even by those that never actually saw him play in the Red shirt.
Eric Daniel Pierre Cantona was born on 24th May 1966 in the French city of Marseille, he lived with his family in what had been cave in one of the hills in the Les Caillols area of Marseille. It was rumoured it had been a lookout for the German Army towards the end of the Second World War.
By the time Cantona was born in 1966 the cave had become a room in the Cantona family home, which had been brought up to liveable standard by Cantona’s grandparents, his grandfather Joseph was a stonemason. Cantona has two brothers, Jean-Marie who is four years older and Joel who is 17 months younger than Cantona. Cantona came from a family of immigrants, his paternal grandfather Joseph had emigrated to Marseille from Sardinia, while his mother’s parents had been Catalan separatists.
Before he arrived in England he played for several French clubs including Auxerre, Marseille, Bordeaux and Montpellier. He often found himself in trouble playing in the French league, he has been fined for punching a team-mate and banned for three months for a dangerous tackle on an opponent. Though this was later reduced to two months when his club Auxerre threatened to make Cantona unavailable for the French National team.
Another incident saw him kick the ball into the crowd and rip his shirt and throw it into the crowd when he had been substituted, his club banned him for a month and just months prior to this had been banned from internationals for a year after insulting the national coach Henri Michel. At Montpellier in his involved in a fight with a team-mate and threw his boots in his team-mates face, this led to six of his team-mates demanding Cantona be sacked. During a match in 1991 he threw the ball at the referee after being angered by one of his decisions.
He was summoned to a disciplinary hearing by the French Football Federation and banned for a month and Cantona responded by walking up to each member of the committee and calling them an idiot. His ban was increased to two months and Cantona retired from football on 16th December 1991, though was persuaded by French national team coach to make a comeback.
After his troubles in France Cantona was persuaded to move to England to restart his career by Gerard Houllier. He signed for Leeds United, before this though he had a trial Sheffield Wednesday and Liverpool were made aware of his availability but Manager Graeme Souness decided against signing him because he didn’t want to disrupt dressing room harmony. He helped Leeds United win the final Football League First Division, making 15 appearances and scoring 3 goals and played a pivotal role as Leeds beat Manchester United to the league title.
Eric signed for Manchester United for £1.2 million on 26th November after the Leeds chairman had contacted United chairman to enquiry about Denis Irwin, United chairman Edwards was with Ferguson at the time and both agreed Irwin was not for and they enquired about Cantona. United were desperate for a striker at the time and had made unsuccessful bids for David Hirst, Brian Deane and Matt Le Tissier. The Leeds chairman consulted with their manager Howard Wilkinson and the transfer was completed within days of the phone call.
Manchester United had experienced a difficult start to the 1992/93 season and were falling behind the likes of Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers in the race for the first premier League Title, United had struggled for goals since the halfway point of the previous season, Cantona quickly settled into his new surroundings, not only scoring goal for his new club but also creating chances for his new team-mates.
His first United goal came in a 1-1 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on 19th December 1992. On his return to Elland Road to face Leeds United, he spat at a fan and he was fined £1,000 by the Fa. He helped United win the first Premier League title in his first season at Old Trafford, making him the first player to win back to back English top division titles with two different clubs.
The following season the Premier League introduced squad numbers and Cantona was issued with the number 7 shirt, an iconic number for Manchester United fans, with some of the greats of the game having worn the number 7 before and after Cantona. United retain the Premier League title and won the Fa Cup, beating Chelsea 4-0 in the final with Cantona scoring two penalties.
United also reached the League cup final but lost the game 3-1 to miss out on a domestic treble. Cantona was voted PFA Player Of The Year for the 1993/94 season by his peers, though the season didn’t pass without its problems for Cantona. United crashed out of the European Cup against Galatasaray and Cantona sent off, he was also sent off in two consecutive Premier League games, this saw him banned for 5 games.
Manchester United went into the 1994/95 season looking to win their third successive league title and Cantona was looking to win his fourth title in four seasons in English football, All was going well for United and Cantona, with the club once again challenging for the major honours in the English game and Cantona was scoring goals and by the 22nd January 1995 he had scored 12 league goals at United were locked in a battle at the top of the Premier League with Blackburn Rovers.
On the 25th January 1995 came the infamous incident at Selhurst Park when after being sent off in a match against Crystal Palace, Cantona launched a kung-fu style kick into the crowd after being abused by a Crystal Palace fan. Cantona followed the kick with a series of punches, he was arrested and charged with assault, he was convicted of this and given a two week sentence but this was overturned on appeal and instead ordered to serve 120 hours community service, which was carried out at United’s training ground coaching kids.
On the Football Association request United fined Cantona £20,000 and banned him for the remaining four months of the 1994/95 season. The Football Association would later extend his ban to eight months, this took his ban up to and including 30th September 1995 and also fined him a further £10,000. FIFA also confirmed that the ban was Worldwide, which stopped Cantona from moving to a club in another country to carry on playing while he was banned from playing in England.
Without Cantona United lost the Premier League title to Blackburn as they failed to beat West Ham United on the final day of the season and lost 1-0 to Everton in the Fa Cup final. Alex Ferguson persuaded Cantona to stay at Manchester United despite interest from Inter Milan and Cantona signed a new contract. Even after signing the new contract Cantona requested that the club terminate his contract as he was frustrated at the terms of his ban, United had been deemed to have broken the terms of his ban by playing him in a game against another club at their training ground. Ferguson again persuaded Cantona to stay in England and at Manchester United after meeting with him in Paris.
Manchester United would start the 1995/96 without Cantona as he still suspended until the end of September, he made his comeback against Liverpool in a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford on 1st October 1995, he made an immediate impact as he set-up a goal Nicky Butt just two minutes into the game. He then scored from the penalty spot to secure a point for United. As we reached Christmas in 1995, United were ten points behind Newcastle at the top of the league.
Over the second half of the season United won several games 1-0 with Cantona scoring the only goal in each win, Cantona score the equaliser in a 1-1 draw with QPR that saw United overtake Newcastle and they stayed there for the rest the rest of the season and clinched the title on the last day of the season with a 3-0 victory over Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium. Manchester United and Cantona also won the Fa Cup with a 1-0 victory over Liverpool with once again Cantona scoring the winner as United became the first team to win the double twice. Cantona was captain as regular captain Steve Bruce missed the game through injury, this made Cantona the first player from outside the British Isles to lift the Fa Cup as captain.
Cantona was named Manchester United captain at the start of the 1996/97 season as Steve Bruce left the club to move to Birmingham City, United and Cantona once again won the Premier League title, meaning United and Cantona had won four titles in five seasons. At the end of this season he announce he was retiring from football at the age of 30, his final competitive game came at Old Trafford against West Ham United on 11th May 1997. Cantona score 80 goals in all competitions in his five years with Manchester United.
In 1998, the football league included Cantona in its list of 100 league legends and in 2002 he was an inaugural inductee of the English Football Hall of Fame and in 2003 he picked up the Overseas Player of the Decade Award at the Premier League 10 Seasons Awards Ceremony.
We end with some famous quotes from Eric