DAVE CAULKIN/Associated Press
Eric Cantona was the catalyst to United's success in the 1990s after joining the club from rivals Leeds. At just £1.2 million, Cantona was a bargain.
His inspirational performances on the pitch saw United end their title drought, winning the league for the first time in 26 years in his first season at the club.
In five seasons in Manchester, he won the league four times, two FA Cups and was an icon to the fans. His most infamous moment came when he kicked a racist football fan in the crowd at Crystal Palace, something Gary Neville later told The Mirror all fans respected him for.
If you asked 100 per cent of football fans – and not just United fans – what they now think about that incident they probably respect Eric for doing what he did. Supporters think, ‘well yeah, he was having a go, he was criticising’, and I believe Eric now gets a level of respect for reacting like he did. It was all about passion and emotion. Alright, you can’t condone a player going into the stands and doing what Eric did. But the reality is that’s real life. That’s what football is. You’re going to get that forever more.
Whilst not part of the team that won the treble two years after he retired, he can certainly take some credit, given he had inspired so many of the players in that team, the Fergie Fledglings.
Ryan Giggs lauded the impact Cantona had on his career in 1994, as reported on ManUtd.com.
Everything about Eric is cool. To play with him is a dream. Eric is the extra dimension in our team. When he was suspended toward the end of last season, you could see that. And when he came back it lifted us all. He is the best passer I have ever seen. He brings people into the game, up front, midfield, wherever he goes, he gives us so much variety. People try to put a block on him, but he’s forever thinking of ways to evade his marker, create space for himself. When Eric gets the ball he is brilliant at putting it out on to the wing. He can judge how fast we can run and he puts balls out to us so perfectly weighted it means we don’t even have to break stride.
He’s such a strong personality, Eric. When we won the title for the first time, it was just after he’d arrived and a lot of us players, including me, were saying: ‘OK, but when the going gets tough, where will he be?’ It’s proved exactly the opposite. Given the amount of stick he got in the press, he had to be a big man to shrug it off. And I’ve never known a player want to get involved like he does, demanding the ball all the time. Even if he’s having a bad game, he’ll work hard for the team.
All that stuff about 'the ball responding to my touch like a woman to the caresses of a man she loves' makes us laugh too, but the thing about Eric is he works so hard to justify the poetry. When you see Eric Cantona staying on for extra training, brushing up on his skills, it makes you realise you can’t be satisfied with what you’re doing.
In an interview with Sky Sports (h/t to The Republik of Mancunia) in 2008, Cantona summed up his feelings for the club.
“In the last minutes of my life I will have this club in my heart.”
Goals per game: 0.44