Arguably the greatest foreign footballer to ever play in the FA Premier League is Frenchman Eric Cantona. Cantona helped United to top the Premiership Table in 4 of it’s first 5 years and established Man Utd as the top FA Premier League team.
Cantona brought with him flair, high skill, goals and was quite simply the catalyst for Manchester United’s dominance in the 90s. He had physical prowess and was strong in the air but also had the most deft touch and such great vision that he will surely be remembered at Old Trafford for his clever flicks and back-heels as much as for his goal scoring record (a total of 82 goals for the club). Cantona also had the ability to pop up with a goal at the most crucial moments.
The talismanic French forward played in the Premiership for 6 seasons with 2 Premiership teams, Leeds and Manchester United. In 171 Premiership games ‘King Eric’ scored 73 Premiership goals and became a fans favourite for the Red Devils.
Why Eric saw the need to quit the game so prematurely will forever remain a mystery, but he left with a flood of great goals, wonderful memories and must surely rank as the best £1.2m Sir Alex has ever spent.
Always a figure of controversy Cantona made the headlines in 1995 for leaping over the advertising boards and “kung fu kicking” Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons. In the following press conference Cantona made this statement:
“When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea. Thank you very much.”
When speaking of the incident in retrospect he said:
“My best moment? I have a lot of good moments but the one I prefer is when I kicked the hooligan.”
Since retiring from professional football Cantona has been captain and then manager of the French beach soccer team managing them to World Cup victory in Brazil, 2005. He has also acted in several films and recently starred as himself in Ken Loach’s “Looking for Eric”.
Cantona is not only a legend for his ability as a player, but for his charisma, intelligence and even his sheer arrogance and self-belief. He had the best vision and touch I have ever seen in a player and if he played at his best he had the ability to raise the spirits of the whole team.
“I’m so proud the fans still sing my name, but I fear tomorrow they will stop. I fear it because I love it. And everything you love, you fear you will lose.” – Eric Cantona