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The Beginning

Eric Cantona was perhaps the most influential footballer in English footballer of the 1990s. A player of true vision and creativity, worthy of that now, much over-used word, "genius". His passing, innovation and influence was unrivalled, he could split a defence with the sort of pass that only he could create. Eric had an exhilarating array of skills, back-heels, stylish flicks, turns and lobs combined with immaculate ball control and touch.

His shooting from long-range was superb while one-on-one with the goalkeeper, he was ice cool and clinical. If opposing defenders lost concentration for a millisecond, it would be enough for Cantona to punish them and set the Red Devils on the way to another vital victory. Together with a sometimes unpredictable Gallic temperament, Cantona was a one-man footballing phenomenon.

Cantona was a unique character, a one-off, but Manchester United and Eric was a match made in heaven. When Alex Ferguson stunned everyone in English football with the deal of the decade that aquired him from Leeds United, few knew the impact Eric would make.

Most United fans thought at first he was no more than a strengthening of the squad, but a few months later it became clear that Cantona was by far the most important player at Old Trafford. From the moment he walked through the door he realised there was at last the platform he was looking for, huge potential, huge support and a working assumption that only the best is good enough. And Eric Cantona knew he was the best.

The Catalyst for Success

He was the final piece of Alex Ferguson's jigsaw in creating a team to end United's 26 year wait for a league title. Within a short while of his arrival, such was his powerful influence that the whole United team revolved around the mercurial Frenchman. With Cantona and United playing the most attractive football of the 90's they not only ended that 26 year wait and went on to do the League and Cup Double in 1994 and 1996 with another Premier League title in 1997.

The French Rebel

Cantona had numerous problems with discipline during his career in France, sendings off and tantrums prevented him making a real impact. Born in Paris, he was brought up in Marseille and made his first-team debut for Auxerre, a local club, in 1983. He signed professional forms for Auxerre in June 1986 and made his full International debut in 1987 against West Germany.
After 81 league games and 23 goals for Auxerre he signed in 1988 for French champions Marseille for £2.3 million where he won the League and Cup double in 1989. However, after a row when he angrily threw his shirt to the ground he was loaned to out Bordeaux, before signing for Montpellier, with whom he won the French Cup in 1990. He returned to Marseille again, then was sold for £1 million to Nîmes where he became Captain.

His rebellious behaviour forced him to leave after arguments with managers, referees, and team-mates. In August 1988, he insulted the French national team manager on television and was banned from the national side for a year. After he threw the ball at a referee in while playing for Nîmes he was banned for three matches. In the disciplinary hearing that followed an annoyed Cantona went up to three members of the French FA and shouted "Idiot!" in each of their faces. This led to a two month ban and Eric announced his retirement from football in December 1991, it would be only temporary however.

Cantona returned in England and made a low-key return briefly at Sheffield Wednesday before joining Leeds United in February 1992 - in time to make 15 league appearances and help Leeds win the Championship at Manchester United's expense.

He became an idol of the Leeds fans as they sang the terrace chant "Ohh-Ahh-Cantona". Then suddenly in November 1992 after 13 appearances into the new season, he was sensationally transferred to Manchester United for the comparatively small sum of £1.2 million. It was to be one of the biggest bargains in British football history. Cantona inspired United to their first League title for 26 years in 1993 and the following year another title with the FA Cup - to complete the club's first Double. He also won the recognition of his fellow professional's, winning the PFA Player of the Year award in 1994 and had also risen to become Captain of the French National team.

Manchester United's Greatest Idol

At Leeds, Cantona was an idol, at Manchester United he was a God. Fans worshipped him the like of which Old Trafford had not seen or may ever see. He was hailed as "Eric the King" with the French red, white and blue colours as prevalent at Old Trafford than the normal red, white and black. Even to this day 3 years after his departure fans still sing his name. No United player has ever had such a relationship with his fans. Eric was a player to be proud of and symbol of a resurgent Manchester United in the 1990s. He encapsulated what United fans think of our club: different, better.

Memorable Cantona moments? Well, there are many: A stunning volley against Wimbledon in the FA Cup 5th Round 1994, his pair of penalty kicks that sunk Chelsea in the Cup Final of the same year, a brilliant chip against Sheffield United in the 3rd Round the following year. Then there was his individual effort against QPR in October 1993, scoring two goals against Man City in both derbies of the 93-94 season, his crucial winner at Newcastle in March 1996, his superb strike versus Arsenal that same month, his winning goal in the 1996 FA Cup Final, a delicate lob against Sunderland in December 1996.......the list could go on and on.

Super-Confident

When Eric was playing you always knew that when it mattered, United would win. Cantona would install in the rest of the team an unbeatable confidence. His presence alone was enough. Footballers need self-belief but Eric Cantona had unfathomable reserves of the stuff. His arrogance had upset colleagues in the past, but at United it only inspired them.

Eric really did intimidate opponents and wind-up opposing fans. There was his confident Gallic strut with his chest puffed out, or sometimes he'd stand with hands on hips gesturing like a movie Director. Not forgetting the way his shirt collar was always famously turned up. He was truly fascinating to watch but Cantona was no ordinary footballer. He liked philosophy, poetry, art, drama - this all added to his enigmatic character and reputation.

From Hell to Heaven

In the infamous "Kung-foo kick" Cantona's volatile state of mind led to him attacking an abusive spectator. A court sentence of 120 hours' community service was accompanied by a world-wide ban on Cantona playing football until October 1995. The French FA stripped him of captaincy of the national team and Cantona would never play for his country again. In his absence United lost the League by a point to Blackburn, a title they surely would have won had he not been banned.

Cantona's grace in accepting his punishment largely restored his popularity and he was voted the Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year for 1996. 1996 was Cantona's greatest year in which as Captain he led United to the Double, almost single-handedly. Scoring a string of vital match winning goals, including the FA Cup-final winner against Liverpool. Cantona also played a vital role in the shaping and teaching of United's young players such as Beckham, Scholes and Giggs.

The Shock Retirement

In 1996-97 Cantona had a good season but failure to get to the European Cup Final and the emergence of United's young stars led him to suspect his powers were on the wane. In June 1997 after winning the League title he stunned the footballing world and left United fans gutted by announcing his retirement. Eric did not want to be remembered as an ageing player past his best, he wanted to always be remembered at his magnificent prime, a winner.

Cantona instead planned to take up a different stage, amazingly, as a film actor. He did however return for one final game in the famous red shirt, playing in the Munich Memorial game in November 1998.

A year later Eric returned for Alex Ferguson's Testimonial in which he played with a United legends team alongside Bruce, Pallister, Hughes, Robson and Schmeichel. Even after the Treble winning heroics, Cantona's popularity with the United fans was still as strong as it ever was.

The acting career path has so far not been a huge success and Cantona has returned to the game representing France in the shape of professional Beach football - and his superb skills are still very evident. In May 2001 Manchester United announced Cantona would return to Old Trafford in an informal role to coach the youth team and younger players. If it is successful, perhaps he may yet have another role to play in the club's history.

Final Conclusion

As unexpectedly as he had arrived he was gone. The King had abdicated and his throne was empty. Consequently, Alex Ferguson reshaped his team to play more as a unit and not revolve around Cantona. United never really did replace him, there was no-one like him and no-one would ever be like him. A true great and legend, Eric "The King" Cantona, we will probably never see his like again.
 

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Discussion Starter #2
Famous Quotations By Him

"When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea."
"My best moment? I have a lot of good moments but the one I prefer is when I kicked the hooligan."
"I didn't study; I live. You can't study these things - life teaches them to you. You don't find them in a book... I've read a lot of Socrates on Page 3 of the Sun."
"Sometimes in life one experiences an emotion which is so strong that it is difficult to think, or to reason. Sometimes you get submerged by emotion. I think it's very important to express it - which doesn't necessarily mean hitting someone. I am very mistrustful of people who are constantly over-intellectualising things. It kills passion. You have to allow yourself to lose control from time to time."
"I feel close to the rebelliousness and vigour of the youth here. Perhaps time will separate us, but nobody can deny that here, behind the windows of Manchester, there is an insane love of football, of celebration and of music."
"When you are a rich man you are proud to own a Rolls Royce and when you are a poor man you are proud to own a Renault."
"France does not deserve Auxerre... England maybe, but France does not." about his youth club AJ Auxerre.
"The Irish public should bow to the feet of Roy Keane, not slate him as he is the best player they will ever have to boast."
"After his first training session in heaven, George Best, from his favourite right wing, turned the head of God who was filling in at left-back. He nutmegged him and scored a wonderful goal from 30 yards out. I would love him to save me a place in his team - George Best that is, not God."
"I am God."
"I might have said that, but on the whole I talk a lot of rubbish."
"I don't play against a particular team. I play against the idea of losing." The latter part of the quote was scrawled on Cantona's body for his official photograph for FIFA 100, Pelé's list of the 125 greatest living footballers.
Described national teammate Didier Deschamps derisively as "the water-carrier". Cantona meant that Deschamps only existed to pass the ball to more talented players.
"I had heart, and I know without heart you cannot play."
"Joga Bonito! Play Beautiful!"
"No, it is me." (After being asked whether Zinédine Zidane or Michel Platini was the greatest-ever French footballer)
"Goals are like babies... They are all beautiful."

Famous Quotations About Him

"How to create space, and then weave past a couple of defenders, McClair, here's Cantona! He's done it! That is magnificent by Cantona. And after all his problems, and his lack of form, and the criticism that's come his way, there is the perfect riposte." (Famous Words of commentator Jon Champion in the game between Manchester United F.C. vs. Sunderland A.F.C. match at Old Trafford, 21st of December, 1996.)
"I'd give all the champagne I've ever drunk to be playing alongside him in a big European match at Old Trafford." (George Best, 1960s Manchester United legend, Éric pays a fine compliment to George)
"Collar turned up, back straight, chest stuck out, he glided into the arena as if he owned the ****ing place. Any arena, but nowhere more effectively than Old Trafford. This was his stage. He loved it, the crowd loved him" (Roy Keane, Cantona's successor as Manchester United captain.)
"Who needs Pelé when you've got Éric Cantona?!" Martin Tyler commentating on Manchester United FC vs. Chelsea FC in the 1993-94 season. Cantona had just rattled the bar from the halfway line.
Paul Ince about Cantona before he entered court: 'We stayed at the Croydon Park hotel. So we got up in the morning and I've got me suit on - the nuts, know what I mean? I knock on Éric's door and he's standing in jacket, white shirt, long collars like that [he gestures to describe long, pointed collars], unbuttoned so you can see his chest. "Eric, you can't go to court like that", I told him and he says, "I am Cantona, I can go as I want"'.
"If a Frenchman goes on about seagulls, trawlers and sardines, he’s called a philosopher. I’d just be called a short Scottish bum talking crap." Gordon Strachan in response to Cantona's famous quote following the 1995 Crystal Palace-Simmons incident.
"Cantona making an early run...here he is. Lovely goal. Lovely goal." This commentary was used in a song "Ooh Aah Cantona" and Man United fans still recite the commentary to one another.

Here is the absolutely fantastic 13 match run in for the 1995/96 Domestic Double:
Eric scores in 9/13 games, 5 of them match winning goals!


 

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fantastic piece my friend........ the stats dont lie. no eric no leauge. eric made us what we are today. THE DOMINANT FORCE IN ENGLISH FOOTBALL
 
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