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A Look At The Legends: Eric Cantona
We take a look at the career of the mercurial Frenchman
Posted Aug 11, 2010 by Legends
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King Eric. El Magnifique. Hooligan. Disgrace. Many of the game’s legendary players have courted controversy as part and parcel of their natural game, but few players have divided opinion so much as the Manchester United talisman Eric Cantona.
Throughout his storied career, Cantona was fined numerous times, as well as receiving multiple bans from football associations all over Europe, for a variety of crimes such as spitting, head-butting, punching, boot-throwing and most notoriously, for launching a flying karate kick at an abusive (and very surprised) Crystal Palace supporter.
However, for all of his many, many flaws (not least his barmy attempts at press conference philosophy, much of which he later admitted to be ‘nonsense’), Cantona is now much more favourably remembered for his mercurial playing ability talent as an assisting striker: skills that helped him lead Manchester United to four premier league titles in five years between 1993 and 1997, the first of which was not only the inaugural Premier League trophy, but was also United’s first league title since 1967.
Perhaps his most memorable season came in the 1995/96 premier league season, where he made his return to football following his eight month ban after the infamous karate kick against old rivals Liverpool. Cantona immediately set about imposing his presence on the game, setting up one goal for team-mate Nicky Butt, and then for scoring a penalty later on in the match in front of a rapturous Old Trafford crowd.
Following on from his return, he influenced a young United team that had been struggling for form, enabling them to overturn a ten point gap between themselves and league leaders Newcastle, scoring 14 goals on the way to lifting the league trophy, as well as scoring the only goal in the FA Cup final, again against Liverpool. In helping this young team to the league and cup double, Cantona secured hero status amongst the United faithful, and was soon rewarded with the captaincy.
The following season, Cantona captained United to another league trophy, scoring a goal of the season contender against Sunderland that seemed to amaze even himself, as well as a run to the UEFA Champion’s League semi-finals. Many could tell that United were getting closer and closer to their dream of emulating the 1968 Busby Babe’s Champion’s league success, and Cantona seemed like just the man to lead them to it.
However, a mere season and a half after his heroic return, Cantona was suddenly gone. In a decision that devastated the United fans, and just plain shocked everyone else, Cantona announced his decision to retire from football at the age of 30. His final competitive match was against West Ham on the final day of the premiership season, and he played his last united game five days later in a testimonial for David Busst, a player who had been forced to retire following a horrific injury received whilst playing against United the season before.
Cantona has since moved into a career as an actor, appearing in the Oscar winning Elizabeth, as well as Ken Loach’s Looking For Eric, but he’ll always be remembered by football fans for gliding around the pitch, shirt collar up, dazzling defenders with his magical ball skills, faultless delivery, and clinical finishing.