On 26 November 1992, Manchester United made on of their biggest and most successful signings, when they brought in Eric Cantona from Leeds United for £1.2 million.
The then 26-year old Cantona took little time to settle into the new surroundings and led the Red Devils to the top spot in the inaugural Premier League season – United’s first English league title in 26 years since they had last won it 1967.
“He [Cantona] illuminated Old Trafford. The place was a frenzy every time he touched the ball,” said Sir Alex Ferguson about the Frenchman’s impact at the club.
Between 1992 and 1997, Cantona went on to win 4 Premier League titles with United, along with 2 FA Cup trophies as well as three Charity Shields, playing an integral part in establishing the Red Devils as the modern superpowers of English football.
“Collar turned up, back straight, chest stuck out, Eric glided into the arena as if he owned the place.” Those were the words of former Manchester United captain and Cantona’s teammate Roy Keane, giving an inkling into the aura and the attitude that Cantona carried himself with.
While his spell at Old Trafford was extremely successful, it was equally controversial as well, the biggest one coming in the 1994-95 season. Facing Crystal Palace on 25 January 1995, the mercurial Frenchman was sent off for a kick of Richard Shaw. On his way back to the tunnel, Cantona jumped into the crowd, launching a “kung-fu kick” on one of Palace’s fans – Matthew Simmons, and followed it with a series of punches.
Cantona was reprimanded severely for his actions and was banned from playing football for the rest of the season. In a press conference held post the incident, the French legend was quoted as saying: “When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea. Thank you very much.”
He may have been mercurial, he may have been controversial, but in his time with Manchester United, Cantona showed the world he was one of the finest footballers of his era and wrote his name into the annals of the English giants’ rich history as a true legend.