Revisiting Eric Cantona’s illustrious legacy on his birthday

(Football news) Few players have been as adored by the Manchester United fans as “King Eric” Cantona. And why wouldn’t they? He has been instrumental in the club’s success in the 1990’s, scoring a total of 165 goals and winning four Premier League titles, two FA Cups and three FA Charity Shields. It’s testament to Sir Alex Ferguson’s managerial ability that he was able to get the best out of the Frenchman as Cantona had a reputation for being notoriously hard to manage, was prone to combustibility, a true maverick in every sense. 

Ferguson, throughout his managerial career, has been known to have a hard and unwavering stance with regards to what he expects from the players working under him. However, Cantona was the one and only exception in Ferguson’s almost 27 year old career at Manchester United. The Frenchman was given a longer rope than most, often at the envy of his teammates, but the preferential treatment he received paid dividends on the pitch. Cantona had it all, he was one of the best one-to-one finishers the Premier League has ever seen, technically excellent, had a good vision and excellent leadership qualities. 

However, there was also a dark side to him, situations where he lost control of his emotions on the pitch. In December 1991, he threw the ball at the referee in a game against St. Etienne. He has also thrown a boot in the face of Montpellier teammate Jean-Claude Lemoult as well as a “dropkick” tackle on Nantes’ Michel Der Zakarian. His most controversial moment came while playing for Manchester United against Crystal Palace on January 25th 1995 when he launched a “kung-fu” style kick on Palace supporter Matthew Simmons followed by a series of punches. The incident created a worldwide controversy and what followed was disciplinary action from both Manchester United and the FA as well as criminal charges. The club fined him £20,000 and he was stripped of captaincy for both club and country. The FA then went on to ban him for eight months and fined him £10,000. 

It could have been very easy for Cantona to give up and leave Manchester United with links to Inter Milan surfacing in the newspapers. However, Sir Alex Ferguson persuaded him to stay despite the Frenchman handing in a transfer request. Moreover, he announced that attacking Simmons was “a great feeling” and a memory he is “happy to treasure” but also called it a mistake. Eventually, he came back for the 1995/96 season, going on to win the double (Premier League and FA Cup) in his comeback season. He was subsequently renamed club captain for the 1996/97 season in which Manchester United retained their Premier League title after which he shocked the football world by announcing his retirement at the age of 30.

Such was Cantona’s legacy that he was included in the Football League’s list of 100 League Legends and was inducted in the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002. He was also awarded the Overseas Player of the Decade Award in 2003 and was also bestowed with the UEFA President's Award in August 2019. Post retirement, the Frenchman pursued a career in acting, direction and production as well as working alongside Nike for several promotions and becoming captain of the French national beach soccer team. 

Also read: Erik ten Hag speaks about his future plans for Manchester United


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