“When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.” – King Eric Cantona
The words ‘He came, He saw, He conquered’ will never be apt for any Manchester United player other than Eric Cantona. No one has ever come close to replacing him at Old Trafford and you can still hear fans reminiscing about the man, over 20 years after he announced his shock retirement at the age of 30.
Eric, or should I say ‘King Eric’ was the final piece missing from Sir Alex’s jigsaw that took almost six years to assemble. He fired United to four Premier League titles in just five years and two doubles in the same time. A large, powerful, intimidating and hardworking forward, he was known for his disciplinary issues as much as goal scoring heroics. He once ‘Kung Fu’ kicked a fan and was banned for 8 months. The King was lucky to escape prison but, the issue cost the team a third consecutive Premier League crown.
Eric’s personality almost single-handedly salvaged United’s season when he first arrived. The club dropped just two games following the charismatic Frenchman’s arrival from rivals Leeds. Sir Alex never backed away from a shouting contest and often got into them with his players. But Sir Alex often let the Frenchman off the hook.
Controversially, Eric is best remembered for the Kung-Fu kick on a Crystal Palace fan. No story on Eric is complete without the tale of him jumped into the crowd to kick Palace fan Matthew Simmons, who ran down 11 rows of seats to goad and abuse the sent off Cantona. Cantona followed up the infamous kick with a serious of punches. The King had to be escorted out of the playing surface by stewards and players. An eight-match ban was given to Cantona. In the months that followed, United missed out on the League title by a whisker to Blackburn Rovers.
A lot changed at United when Cantona was banned. The old guard led by Mark Hughes, Andrei Kanchelskis, and Paul Ince were sold. In their place came in the now famous ‘Class of ’92’. Cantona now had to become an adult on the pitch and he put his disciplinary issues behind him. He led another revolution at Old Trafford and the club won another Premier League crown. Sir Alex looked to Cantona to guide the likes of Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, the Neville Brothers, Nicky Butt and David Beckham as they burst into the first team.
But, a couple of seasons later, he shocked the footballing world with his decision to retire at the age of just 30. Cantona took leave of the game when he was at the top of his’. His title at Leeds before joining United meant he was on the winning side in five of his last six season as a player. Sir Alex tried his best to persuade Cantona to reconsider but it was to no avail.
King Eric was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2003. The museum states: “The enigmatic Frenchman was one of the Premier League’s most controversial players ever.”
Sir Alex once said: “He illuminated Old Trafford. The place was a frenzy every time he touched the ball.”
Roy Keane once said: “Collar turned up, back straight, chest stuck out, Eric glided into the arena as if he owned the place.” And yes he owned the place. He was the King after all.