Idols: Eric Cantona – arrogance personified but class backed it up

Manchester United have had some great players over the years with children idolising players throughout the club’s history. From the likes of Sir Bobby Charlton, Denis Law, George Best to the likes of David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Cristiano Ronaldo, children and adults alike will have idolised a particular player. For me, it was the prolific Frenchman Eric Cantona that I idolised. The guy just had something about him from the day he signed for United, to the day he retired from football. Even now just seeing him makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. The guy is a legend in his own right. The iconic Frenchman will have been the idol of many young boys and girls in the mid to late 1990s.

Cast your mind back to the 26 November 1992, the day which Eric Cantona’s move to Manchester United commenced. Leeds United ended up losing a magnificent player, something they will have learned to get over, perhaps. Leeds chairman Bill Fotherby telephoned United chairman Martin Edwards in order to find out the availability of left-back Denis Irwin, who was not for sale – for obvious reasons. Sir Alex Ferguson was in a meeting with Edwards at the time and cheekily asked about Cantona, with United needing a striker at the time – unsuccessful in their attempts to sign David Hirst, Matt Le Tissier, and Brian Deane. Fotherby had to speak to then Leeds manager Howard Wilkinson, days later the deal was done – not protracted like today’s ‘soap opera’ transfers transpire.

United paid £1.6 million for Cantona – a bargain you say! The Frenchman made his debut for United in a friendly match against Benfica in Portugal, a match marking Eusebio’s 50th birthday with Cantona wearing the number ten shirt. His first competitive match came against Manchester City on the 6 December 1992 – he arrived at the Old Trafford club too late to play against Arsenal on the 28 November 1992 – Cantona wore the number twelve against City. United’s season had been disappointing up until Cantona’s arrival with the club falling behind big spenders Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers, also the inaugural season of the Premier League. Norwich City and Queens Park Rangers were also challenger’s that season – if you can imagine that.

During his first season, Cantona, playing only 23 matches, scored nine goals, which helped United to lift the first ever Premier League trophy, something they would get used to doing lots of times throughout the 1990s and the 2000s – albeit that being without Cantona. With his appearances for Leeds too, Cantona played 43 matches that season, scoring 20 goals, which just showed what the Frenchman was capable of. The following season, the first full one playing for United, Cantona would start to show himself, and show just why he became an idol. Cantona played 49 matches in the 1993/94 season, scoring 25 goals in all competitions – which was a great season for the Frenchman. He again lifted the Premier League title, the second time in two seasons.

The following season, Manchester United were looking to lift the Premier League title for the third year in a row, continuing their newfound domination but for Cantona, it would be a mixed season. In total, Cantona played 25 times that season, scoring 14 goals. On the 25 January 1995, the infamous Kung-Fu Kick happened with Crystal Palace supporter Matthew Simmons seemingly abusing the Frenchman, who launched his kick shocking the world, also showing the passion that made Cantona the man he became. United knew a lengthy ban was unavoidable with calls to kick Cantona out of the country, which was a bit harsh, especially when you figure that Luis Suarez did not suffer that for racially abusing Patrice Evra, or even biting Giorgio Chiellini! After the event, in a press conference, Cantona responding to what he did, said;

“When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea. Thank you very much.”

Eric Cantona was banned for eight months, fined £30,000 in total and did not play again for the rest of the season. Cantona returned to Manchester United the following season, playing in the North West derby against Liverpool on the 1 October 1996 – a match in which he set up a goal for Nicky Butt just two minutes into the match, also scoring a penalty, the final score ending in a 2-2 draw. Cantona was back, but the boo-boys would be there to try and provoke him again. Cantona played 38 matches that season, scoring 19 goals with United lifting the Premier League title for the third time, after missing out to Blackburn Rovers the previous season. Cantona helped beat Liverpool in the FA Cup final at Wembley also, scoring the only goal in the 1-0 victory. Collar up and digging deep for his team, doing the stuff on the pitch, not in the stands.

The 1996/97 season would be Cantona’s last at United and playing football as a whole. 50 appearances and 15 goals saw the Frenchman’s final tally being set at 185 appearances, 82 goals – which may not have been the best ratio, but for a player like Cantona to grace the stage at Old Trafford, which was much more special. Cantona was that special number seven the club needed post-Bryan Robson, leading to the free-kick specialist David Beckham, which in turn led to Cristiano Ronaldo, then the not so prolific Michael Owen, Antonio Valencia, who moved from the number 25 and back, before the number was handed to Angel Di Maria, who left after one season, then sat vacant before it was given to Memphis Depay and sitting vacant until January 2018 when Alexis Sanchez took the number, another relative failure in that shirt number.

The guy who wore the number seven throughout much of my childhood will be the best player to don that shirt, after Robson – in my lifetime at least, before it was handed to another idol of mine, David Beckham. Cantona, his ability, his ego, his swagger and everything else about him will remain an idol of mine for the rest of my life. Not that I want to be like him, or even be him – I won’t – but the guy deserves so much respect for what he did during his career, especially for Manchester United. Eric Cantona literally attempted to kick racism out of football. Whilst the Frenchman will be lauded for what he did, he did admit in 2011 that the Kung-Fu Kick on the Palace fan was “a great feeling”, also that he was happy for the fans to treasure it but “… it was a mistake.”

Written by John Walker

Bruno Fernandes has drawn comparisons to Eric Cantona; the midfielder has responded gracefully

Manchester United midfielder Bruno Fernandes has downplayed comparisons to United legend Eric Cantona and insisted that he still has a long way to go before he can be compared to the Frenchman in the same breath. It would seem that the Portuguese midfielder is down to earth and will not take praise that he feels is not deserved, which today is great to see. You see many players that think they are the bee’s knees despite not achieving much in their careers. Fernandes is so much different than that based on what has been said.

Recently, several former United players have compared Fernandes’ impact to that of Cantona when Sir Alex Ferguson signed the Frenchman from Leeds United on the 26 November 1992. Phil Neville, speaking to Premier League Productions, said:

“Cantona? [Wayne] Rooney when he came in? You talk about the great Manchester United players that have been brought in, Cantona probably had the biggest influence of all-time.

“You think now that United have gone a long time without winning a league title, at the moment he’s [Fernandes] lit up the whole place.”

Ryan Giggs credited Fernandes for “giving everyone a lift:” with David May stating that Fernandes was the “missing piece of the puzzle” like Cantona when he was at Leeds. The Portuguese magnifico will have been proud of the comments from former United players, players who won the treble at the club during the 1998/99 season, at least in respect of Neville and Giggs with May playing a slight role in that squad that season.

Speaking in the pre-match press conference ahead of United’s UEFA Europa League semi-final against Sevilla in Cologne on Sunday, the Portuguese midfielder was complimentary about the praise he has been given but feels that he should do a lot more than Cantona before he can be mentioned alongside him. Reported by The Mirror, Fernandes said:

“For me it is really good to talk about those names. But for me Cantona was an amazing player for the club, but I need to do much, much better to be compared to him.

“For me coming to Manchester is about winning trophies. I will be happy if we win the Europa League.”

Since signing for United in January, Fernandes has made a total of 21 appearances for United this season, scoring 11 goals and eight assists, which is a great start to his career at the club. In this season as a whole, Fernandes has made a total of 49 appearances, playing for both Sporting Clube de Portugal and United, scoring 26 goals and 22 assists – have 48 goal involvements which is nearly one every match played. Fernandes, who scored the penalty which beat FC Copenhagen, concluded by saying:

“I can’t say it was easy! The team helped me a lot, the staff. It was much easier for me.

“Maybe I already played in Italy so I know how it is to be in different leagues, but Premier League is different.

“I have the confidence from my club, my teammates and that helps you do your game.

“It is time to step up for big players, big game moments. You have to have 100% focus.

“We have learnt it is very painful to lose a semi-final.”

Written by John Walker

Dion Dublin: If it wasn’t for me, Manchester United would not have signed Eric Cantona

Sunday 26th November 2017 was the 25th anniversary of Eric Cantona leaving Leeds United and signing for Manchester United. The prolific Frenchman cost just £1.2 million, a steal. Leeds chairman Bill Fotherby had telephoned United chairman Martin Edwards to see if he could sign Denis Irwin from the Old Trafford club but Edwards was in the middle of a meeting with Sir Alex Ferguson at the time, with both Ferguson and Edwards declaring that Irwin was not for sale. United

United were seeking a new striker with Dion Dublin breaking his leg and the club failing to sign David Hirst, Matt Le Tissier, and Brian Deane, Cantona was now a man United were chasing. The deal was done within a few days with the Frenchman signing for United on the 26th November 1992. Dublin’s career as United was near enough done before it really took off, playing his last game on the 8th May 1994. This was a shame as injury was the main thing which ended his United career, Cantona’s form being the other.

Dublin, aged 25 at the time of his departure from the Theatre of Dreams, had made 17 appearances, six of them starts, scoring just three goals. Cantona left the club at the end of the 1996/97 season, playing 185 times, one appearance off the bench, scoring 82 goals for the club. Dublin has given his take on a few things from Cantona, naming the best player he had played with from his time at the club, also talking about the famous Class of 92. Dion Dublin, speaking exclusively to 888Sport, was asked a series of questions, his responses being:

Did you ever get to play with Cantona (even in training) and just how good was he?

“Eric Cantona was very unique in the way that he played the game. I think he saw the game differently to most people. He was fearless towards any other human being and he was fearless towards failure so he tried all sorts. He was outstanding.

“When I broke my leg Manchester United had to find somebody of a very, very high standing to take my place so they turned to Eric Cantona (laughs). He didn’t just fill my boots; he took it to the next level and he was brilliant. I do consider myself the catalyst to Manchester United’s success because if it wasn’t for me they wouldn’t have signed Eric Cantona. They don’t have to thank me though, it’s fine.”

Who was the best player you played within your time at Manchester United?

“Bryan Robson. Next question. No problem in choosing that one at all.”

You were there when the class of ’92 were coming through. Did any of them stand out particularly?

“They all had their tick-box list and they all did exactly as they were supposed to do. They didn’t complicate things which is one of the clever things about the Class of 92. Gary Neville defended very, very well. He was vocal and confident. David Beckham…I’ve never known anyone to strike a ball like he did. He put it where you said. As for Giggsy he was one of the quickest I’ve ever seen whilst running with the ball and keeping it under control then having an end product. And Paul Scholes, well, say no more.”

Did anyone think that Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs would go on to achieve everything that they have?

“I think they did. Ryan Giggs would possibly be in the top three of players I’ve ever played with because of his achievements, and his longevity, and his craft and professionalism. I always knew Giggs would do well. Always, always. And Scholesy, well his nickname is SatNav because he knows where everybody is. At any given time in a game Scholesy would be able to find you with a pass. Left, right foot, he wouldn’t talk about, he’d just do it: he was that good.”

Dublin may not be a player to have won the lot at the Theatre of Dreams like many before and after him, but he still has a place in the history of the club, his injury being one of the many factors for Cantona being a United player, and that telephone call from Bill Fotherby, which was just as important.

Read the full 888Sport interview with Dublin, including his thoughts on the class of ’92.

My Favourite Three: Sir Alex Ferguson signings; Schmeichel, Keane, Cantona

Sir Alex Ferguson signed around 105 players during his time as Manchester United manager. Some were good, some were bad and some were that good they named him twice (Eric Djemba-Djemba). Over the last few days, some of the writers have talked about their favourite three Manchester United signings which were brought in by Ferguson. I am a little old school with my choices as these were the players I grew up watching, the ones who I feel made United the dominating club they were in the 1990’s. Ferguson signed some true stars including Cristiano Ronaldo, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wayne Rooney (the old one not the new one) and many, many more. but these three are my favourites…

Peter Schmeichel

The Danish goalkeeper signed for Manchester United from Brøndby on the 6th August 1991 for a fee of only £505,000, which considering the player he became at United, it was a true bargain. Schmeichel did it all with United, becoming one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League, if not the best, which could still be the case today. His son, Kasper Schmeichel plays for Leicester City, winning the Premier League himself during the 2015/16 season. Schmeichel played a total of 393 matches for United, scoring one goal, which is not something you would expect from a goalkeeper. The Danish giant won the Premier League five times, lifted three FA Cup trophies, won the League Cup once, four FA Charity Shields, one UEFA Super Cup and a UEFA Champions League title, after winning the treble with United in his final season, which was such a fairytale ending. After United, Schmeichel played for Sporting CP, Aston Villa and Manchester City before hanging up his gloves. He was an ambassador for United until recently, vacating that position. Schmeichel will also be considered one of the players who made Manchester United the team they were in the 1990’s.

Roy Keane

Roy Keane, his relationship with Ferguson may have been bittersweet, but there is no taking away what the player achieved for Manchester United. Keane was Mr Manchester United in the midfield, a player who brought the fear into the opposition, a player not scared by anyone, especially Patrick Vieira – ‘I’ll see you out there’. Keane was signed by Ferguson from Nottingham Forest for just £3.75 million, a British record transfer at the time. The Irishman was a tough tackler, a player which never gave up and dug deep to achieve what he helped United achieve. In the treble-winning season, Keane suffered the unimaginable – he missed the UEFA Champions League final due to suspension along with Paul Scholes, which was a big blow for United, but something they gon on with and overcame, going 1-0 down in the first six minutes, but scoring two goals through Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, both from corners taken by David Beckham. Keane left United in December 2005 after an interview he did with MUTV, playing his first match for Celtic in January 2006. Keane had a testimonial with United, against Celtic with United winning 1-0, Keane playing a half for each of the clubs. Keane was a problem to replace for United with Michael Carrick taking his old number, being the best replacement for him, despite not being in any way similar to the Irishman, filling in the void in his own way.

Eric Cantona

Eric Cantona is my favourite Manchester United player. He just had it all and it was a shame United did not keep him for longer. He could have been one of the best players of his time, which he probably was, but his legendary status could have been much better. Signed from Leeds United for just £1.2 million with the chairman of the club, Bill Fotherby telephoning United chairman Martin Edwards to see if he could sign left-back Denis Irwin. Ferguson was in a meeting with Edwards at the time, both being in the same room. They both agreed that Irwin was not for sale but Ferguson needed a striker and Cantona’s availability tested with Fotherby having to ask manager Howard Wilkinson and the transfer was concluded a few days later. The prolific Frenchman spent just five seasons at United before retiring from the game. A kung-fu kick against Crystal Palace supporter Matthew Simmons saw him being banned from the game. The same Eric Cantona never returned. He famously said the following at a press conference; “When the seagulls follow the trawler, they expect sardines to be thrown into the sea.” That puzzled many and the man left the game standing still, never to return to the pitch as a player again. Cantona made 185 appearances for United, scoring 82 goals. Not the most prolific, but Cantona was a genius, one which Leeds United missed out on, which makes it so much better.

copyright: JW