‘I am not a man, I am Cantona’: MM celebrate 21 years since Manchester United crowned Eric Cantona The King

By Scott Hunt

It is 21 years ago today since Eric ‘The King’ Cantona made his Manchester United debut.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Arguably the most gifted player English football has ever seen, Cantona brought an arrogance and a swagger to Old Trafford that would prove the catalyst for over two decades of dominance.

Cantona was signed from league winners Leeds in November 1992 at a time when United were struggling badly.

The club had not won a league title since 1967 but would go on to claim the inaugural Premier League in Cantona’s first season.

It is said that Ferguson made the audacious bid for Cantona when Leeds enquired about signing Denis Irwin from United.

The story goes that when told about the fee for Cantona, believed to be between £1million and £1.2million, United assistant Brian Kidd asked if the Frenchman had “lost a leg or something.”

Cantona would stay at United for just over five years, scoring 65 goals for the club before going into retirement – where he would continue to make his mark on the world.

MM takes a look back at the last 21 years of Cantona…

His Manchester United debut came as a substitute in the victory over Manchester City at Old Trafford on December 6, 1992.

Before Cantona’s arrival United were languishing in eighth in the league and had been knocked out of two cup competitions.

While it is believed the players were not totally thrilled at the acquisition of the Frenchman, Ferguson described him as ‘the can-opener’.

United’s season only really started once Cantona had arrived with Ferguson believing he was made to play for Manchester United.

Ferguson said: “He swaggered in, stuck his chest out, raised his head and surveyed everything as though he were asking: ‘I’m Cantona, how big are you? Are you big enough for me?”

With Cantona on board, United went on to win the Premier League title by ten points.

Cantona inspired United to another Premier League success the following season but it was in 1994-95 that his most widely-seen moment in a United shirt occurred.

The Frenchman had started the season in great form but in January 1995 he became embroiled in an incident which would attract headlines across the globe.

In an away match against Crystal Palace, Cantona was sent off and was the subject of abuse from Palace fan Matthew Simmons.

Cantona reacted by launching a kung-fu kick into the crowd, aimed at Simmons, before unleashing a series of punches.

As a result of his extraordinary actions, Cantona was arrested and convicted of assault and sentenced to two weeks in prison – later reduced to 120 hours of community service.

He was also banned from worldwide football for nine months and was stripped of the French captaincy, never going on to represent France again.

After his ban, Cantona was placed in front of the media on the advice on club legal adviser Maurice Watkins.

That was when he produced his famous seagulls quote.

It was felt at the time that Cantona had made the quote up off the top of his head but Watkins has since revealed that he wrote down the quote in advance.

Cantona told the Jonathan Ross show in 2009 that the quote had no real meaning and that he just wanted to throw the press from asking him questions.

United failed to win the league title in the season in which Cantona was banned.

He returned from the ban in October 1995 to a sea of affection from the Old Trafford crowd who welcomed back their talismanic forward with open arms.

United would go on to win the league that season and would retain it the following year.

In 1996-97 the enigmatic Frenchman announced his retirement from football.

Cantona will be remembered as one of the greatest players in Manchester United history – a player who was at the heart of much of the clubs success in the 90s.

He was blessed with a superb touch and vision and scored several phenomenal goals in his time at Old Trafford.

In particular his strike against Sunderland at Old Trafford in 1996 stands out as his most spectacular goal – and most memorable celebration.

After football, Cantona has not been quiet, moving into several other careers.

Shortly after United departure, Cantona became captain of the France national beach soccer team – later going on to manage the team.

Cantona has also starred in a number of high-profile TV commercials, with companies drawn to his charisma, perhaps most notably Nike.

In more recent years Cantona has become involved in politics and in particular acting.

In 2009 he was the star of his own film ‘Looking for Eric’ which told the story of a United fanatic postman who receives philosophical advice from his hero Cantona.

So 21 years on from the day that Cantona made his Manchester United bow, he remains as popular with the fans as he ever was.

Still, to this day United fans can be heard at Old Trafford singing to the tune of Le Marseillaise:

What a friend we have in Jesus,
He’s our saviour from afar,
What a friend we have in Jesus,
And His name is Cantona.

Ooh-aah Cantona,
Ooh-aah Cantona,
Ooh-aah, ooh-aah, ooh-aah Cantona.

Image courtesy of MUFC, with thanks.

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