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Gary Neville Says Wayne Rooney Now Ahead of Eric Cantona at Manchester United

Rob Blanchette@@_Rob_BFeatured ColumnistDecember 6, 2014

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JUNE 07:  Wayne Rooney and assistant coach Gary Neville of England walk off at the end of the International Friendly match between England and Honduras at the Sun Life Stadium on June 7, 2014 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Manchester United legend Gary Neville has proclaimed that current club captain Wayne Rooney is now ahead of lauded cult striker Eric Cantona.

Samuel Luckhurst of the Manchester Evening News reports on the Sky Sports pundit's comments to FourFourTwo magazine, where Neville names his greatest ever Red Devils XI.

The England assistant coach names Rooney in his front two strikers, partnering Cristiano Ronaldo up front—ousting Cantona from proceedings:

I'd put Wayne Rooney up front with Cristiano Ronaldo in my all-time XI of Manchester United players I played with.

Above (Eric) Cantona, (Mark) Hughes, (Dwight) Yorke and (Andy) Cole. All great strikers, but Wayne has got qualities from all of those players. He's those four players wrapped in one.

DAVE KENDALL/Associated Press

The 29-year-old England skipper has been at United since he was a teenager and has an exceptional 221 goals from his 452 club appearances, per Luckhurst.

He is well on his way to becoming United and England's all-time top goalscorer—a joint record held by the legendary Bobby Charlton.

Neville went on further to explain why he thinks so highly of the Merseysider, as quoted by Luckhurst:

I see a player showing greater maturity in taking on responsibility, in his manner on the pitch and his manner around people. He understands that people look up to him.

He's entered a new phase in his career. He knows he's not the up-and-coming youngster anymore, or even a player in the middle of his career. He realises that he's got vast experience from travelling a similar journey to David Beckham.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - JUNE 19:  Gary Neville, England's coach, speak with Wayne Rooney during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group D match between Uruguay and England at Arena de Sao Paulo on June 19, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Neville's comments about his former team-mate are unsurprising, especially given the pair's relationship—working side by side under Roy Hodgson at international level.

But Rooney's exploits for United have been exceptional over the years and he deserves much credit for the bulging trophy cabinet he owns, packed with medals galore. 

However, Cantona arrived at United during an exciting transitional period—when Sir Alex Ferguson was on the cusp of knocking Liverpool off their perch. 

In the early 1990s, United struggled to make the final steps towards the old First Division title, being pipped by bitter cross-Pennines rivals, Leeds United.

Cantona was a part of that famous Leeds team and his signature from the reigning champions was a shock to everyone.

12th May 1996; Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson and Eric Cantona with the FA Cup and Premiership trophy on their arrival at Manchester's Victoria station. Mandatory Credit: Shaun Botterill/ALLSPORT
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

But Le Enfant Terrible and United were a match made in heaven—and the mercurial Frenchman was the catalyst to the Red Devils winning the first edition of the Premier League and all of the success that followed.

Cantona only stayed at Old Trafford for five seasons—deciding to retire at the grand old age of 31 years old.

In his time at the club, he won the league title four times in five attempts and solidified his status as a club great.

When Rooney leaves United in the future, he will undoubtedly be remembered more fondly—more so than many have in the last few years.

His flirtations with rivals of United hurt the fanbase greatly in the past and many have not forgiven him for the acts, per Ian Ladyman of the Daily Mail.

Jon Super/Associated Press

But Rooney is certainly up there with the club's greatest servants—whether he is universally popular or not.

His decade at the club has brought much success, but he has played in one of the greatest teams in modern history.

And United journalist Nick Coppack confirmed Rooney's current status, with the player being the most searched-for Premier League player of the past two years:

Nick Coppack @nickcoppack

Hated. Adored. Never ignored. Wayne Rooney most searched-for @PremierLeague player of last two years. #GoogleTrends http://t.co/PcTG393hez

For United fans who witnessed The King strut his Gallic stuff around a football pitch, many will not draw a direct comparison with Rooney. Eric was the ultimate showman and the Theatre of Dreams was a stage built for him.

Neville played with both men and he is entitled to his opinion. But Cantona will always be the Magnificent Seven in the hearts of a million Reds, and their favourite player for all eternity. 

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