The Sun King of English Football
Eric Daniel Pierre Cantona is widely regarded as a true icon of British Football. Born in 1966 this man from Marseille, just 26 years later would begin to make his mark in the English top flight.
He started out at Auxerre in 1981 then signed to their senior team two years later and in five seasons had made 82 appearances and scored only 23 goals for the club. In the early days he rarely played for the first team, but following the 85/86 season on loan at Martigues, he returned and became a regular in the starting eleven.
A dream move to Olympique de Marseille in 1988 as they were well on the way to the league and domestic cup double, but the dream would quickly become a nightmare… Following a red card, Cantona stripped off his shirt and threw it to the ground. The punishment swift – loaned out to Bordeaux for the rest of that season.
It is ironic that the player famed for playing with his collars up, should get so hot underneath them.
He spent 1989/90 at Montpellier, helping them to the French Cup before returning to Marseille who won the French League title in 1991. That summer he was sold to Nimes and became their team captain. Here Cantona threw a ball at a referee, insulted his disciplinary panel and had his original ban doubled. He announced his (first) retirement in 1991.
Michel Platini talked him back to the game he loved. With Gerard Houllier acting as intermediary and agent Dennis Roach setting up trials at UK clubs, Cantona promised Nimes he would buy himself out of his contract and in December 1991 he did.
Leeds United was tussling with Manchester United for the 1991/92 league title. Howard Wilkinson signed Cantona in February. Four months later the Mighty Whites were champions of England and the Leeds faithful had a new hero, despite him mostly being used as a substitute for those remaining 8 games.
The 1992/93 Charity Shield was Leeds Utd v FA Cup Holders Liverpool and thrust Eric ‘Ooh Ah’ Cantona onto the world stage. Undoubtedly his best game for the Yorkshire team. He scored a hat-trick in the 4-3 victory.
He scored again in the opening league defeat to Middlesborough and bagged another hat-trick as Leeds destroyed Spurs 5-0. Then things turned sour. Dumped out of Europe by Rangers and the League Cup by Watford the following week and that was Cantona’s last match in a Leeds’ shirt.
There followed, one of the most controversial transfers in English League history. Undervalued and sold at a mere £1.2million to their Lancashire rivals, Cantona branded a traitor by the Leeds faithful.
When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.
Michel Platini described him as ‘The man himself and the man who talks.’ Platini told him in 1991 that English football could be his saviour, ‘A place where you play football and don’t talk too much.’
He was at Man Utd from 1992-1997. Scored 64 goals from 143 league appearances and helped them to four Premier League titles in five years and two league and FA Cup doubles. ‘Eric the Red’ played a pivotal role at the club. Alan Hansen may have said ‘you can’t win anything with kids’ but the 95/96 side also contained goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, centre-backs Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister and centre forward and creative play maker ‘King Eric’ Cantona.
He scored 17 of the 19 penalties he took for Man Utd and played 14 FA Cup matches (winning all of them). But for Eric the Red Devil, the red mist would once again descend.
In the 1994/95 season United played Crystal Palace. Cantona was red carded. On his way off the field he lost it at Matthew Simmons, a fan berating him from the front row. Cantona launched himself into the stand with that kung-fu kick. He followed up with a volley of punches before being dragged away by the stewards. In the press conference afterwards he should have taken Platini’s advice and kept his mouth shut rather than say ‘when the seagulls follow the trawler it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea’.
20 years on he remains unapologetic and told the Daily Mail he ‘should have punched him harder’. Along with a 9 month ban, he was given 120 hours of community service.
In 1997 Cantona retired from football for the second and final time and took up acting. He went on to star in over 20 movies. He should now be called the man himself and the man in talking pictures.