The Man Who Would Be King
This Monday marks 20 years since Eric Cantona signed for United. Author Iain McCartney writes a piece on our enigmatic hero.
Few footballers can have made as much of an impact on a club as Eric Cantona did with Manchester United. Certainly, no individual’s name rings out from the terracing’s and stands on a regular basis as that of the enigmatic Frenchman.
If you were allowed only one image of the man, what would it be?
The up-turned collar on the red shirt? The right footed lunge into the crowd at Crystal Palace on that never to be forgotten night in south London? The goal, and indeed the celebration of the strike, against Sunderland at Old Trafford? The Wembley goal against Liverpool. Only a quartet of many.
It was undoubtedly the best £1.2m Sir Alex Ferguson ever spent and it is strange to even contemplate that he was possibly within days of splashing out £3.5m to secure the signature of David Hirst from Sheffield Wednesday. David who?
Cantona was never an angel, but before putting pen to paper on his move across the Pennines, the vast majority of the United support were well aware that the Frenchman was indeed a talented footballer. Why then were Leeds, a team who considered themselves as rivals, happy to off-load such a player?
There was, however, always that small thread of doubt surrounding the move, but as the weeks and months rolled on, the goals and genius shone through, we were happy with his contribution to the cause and if he could play a part in any trophy success, well and good.
But Cantona gave us more. Much more.
The crowd warmed to him. His team mates accepted him and his manager gave him the stage he craved, allowing him a free hand, whilst at the same time putting an arm around his shoulders when it was required.
Cantona responded in kind. He now had a sense of belonging.
Yes, his act of stupidity at Selhurst Park, doing what thousands of professionals across the globe had always wanted to do, cost United dearly, but he was instantly forgiven by the majority. Returning like royalty to carry United forward yet again.
We are thankful for what he brought and gave to the club and he is an individual who will never be forgotten. There will be no statue to the man, but those who were around in those not too distant days don’t need one as we can still picture him clearly.
Oh for a Cantona today!
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