Eric Cantona at 50: Reasons why he's a Manchester United legend
By Adam Bate
Last Updated: 24/05/16 1:09pm
As Eric Cantona turns 50, we recall his best moments with Manchester United and pick out 50 reasons why he will always remain an iconic figure with supporters and team-mates alike.
Arrival… Upon joining from Leeds in November 1992, Cantona's impact was instant. "He swaggered in," said Sir Alex Ferguson, "stuck his chest out, raised his head and surveyed everything as though saying: 'I'm Cantona. How big are you? Are you big enough for me?'"
Goal v Chelsea in Dec 1992… Picking up the knockdown from Lee Sharpe's cross, he swivelled to finish and mark his Manchester United debut with a goal.
Aura… Cantona had an effect on team-mates as well as his manager. "He just had that aura and presence about him," Paul Ince told Sky Sports. "He took the responsibility away from us players, it was like he said 'I'm Eric, and I'm here to win the title for you.'"
Goal v Tottenham in Jan 1993… Expertly looped a header over Erik Thorstvedt from Denis Irwin's left-wing cross to open the scoring for United in their 4-1 win.
Entertainer… Love him or loathe him, Cantona was box office and lit up the early years of the Premier League. "In my eyes, he was responsible for the Premier League developing as quickly as it did," said Peter Schmeichel. "Everyone took to him, controversy or not."
Goal v Manchester City in Mar 1993… A powerful header low into the net from a left-wing cross, this was his first derby goal and an equaliser that secured United an important point.
Charisma… Sometimes he didn't even need to do anything. "Cantona led by his presence more than anything else," said Roy Keane. "His charisma." Gary Neville agreed, saying: "He'll always have a place in the hearts of the fans because of his charisma and his daring."
Goal v Southampton in Aug 1993… Collecting a pass on the left edge of the penalty box, he deftly chipped the goalkeeper to score United's second in a 3-1 away win at The Dell.
Misunderstood… Despite the outward demeanour, that did not translate itself to cockiness off the pitch. "He wasn't arrogant at all but polite and considered," said Neville. "He always remained real. He drove a modest car, lived in a modest house in Salford."
Goal v Arsenal in Sep 1993… One of his best, a rocket of an effort from an indirect free-kick to beat David Seaman and give United a 1-0 win over the Gunners at Old Trafford.
Focus… There was an intensity to his approach that was alien to some of his team-mates. "He spent a few days in a hotel just focusing on the games," Andrei Kanchelskis told Sky Sports. "He was a little bit strange, but that is Eric Cantona."
Goal v Queens Park Rangers in Oct 1993… A fine solo effort, nicking the ball away from one marker before running into space, cutting inside and firing low into the corner of the net.
Commitment… "He would come in at half past nine in the morning - an hour before us lot - do his own warm-up and practise his skills and his touches," said Ince. "By the end of the season, there were about eight or nine players joining him at half past nine."
Goal v Manchester City in Nov 1993… After a bit of ball juggling to start the move, he also finished it off neatly at the far post. It was part of a brace in a 3-2 win at Maine Road.
Desire… Cantona's determination to put in the hard yards was obvious in training - he was anxious to get better despite his status as the team's most talented player. "He trained as hard as lesser players and strived for improvement," said Neville.
Goal v Sheffield United in Dec 1993… Not his most famous goal against the Blades, but this left-footed effort after running onto a Ryan Giggs pass from his own half was impressive enough.
Influence… "He had a massive influence on my career as a young player coming into the team," Giggs told Sky Sports. "We struck up a good relationship and he ruled Old Trafford for five years. He was unbelievable to play with, watch in games and in training."
Goal v Wimbledon in Feb 1994… This famous strike while wearing the green and yellow away kit, saw him collect a clearance, flick the ball up and volley into the net from distance.
Legacy… Cantona's way of working affected the work of others for years to come. David Beckham told Sky Sports: "When I first came into the team at United, we used to watch Eric stay behind later than any player, practising every day, and it rubbed off on us."
Goal v Chelsea in May 1994… The first of two FA Cup final penalties to send Chelsea keeper Dmitri Kharine the wrong way, putting United on the path to a 4-0 win and a first double.
Culture… Ferguson had worked for years to change the mood around Old Trafford but Cantona brought a new attitude to winning. "This guy changed everything for us," Schmeichel told Sky Sports. "It was a different approach to games. Unbelievable."
Goal v Manchester City in Nov 1994… Collecting a long pass with his right foot and finishing strongly with his left, this goal was the opener in an emphatic 5-0 derby win at Old Trafford.
Standards… "He was a perfectionist," said Neville. "Eric could make an average pass look brilliant. But even the slightest mishit, or a lost tackle, would earn you a glare. You'd feel two inches tall. A mistake was a crime in that team."
Goal v Norwich in Dec 1994… A quick lay-off to Brian McClair was followed by a neat spin to receive the return pass as he netted the only goal in a home win over the Canaries.
Inspiration… While Cantona put pressure on his team-mates by expecting the best, it was something they responded to. "You didn't feel belittled, it just made you strive to do better," said Neville. "We were desperate to impress him."
Goal v Sheffield United in Jan 1995… In space on the right channel, this wonderfully executed wedge over the goalkeeper ranks among the Frenchman's finest goals.
Transformation… Cantona was joining a club that had not won a title for a quarter of a century. It was pressure but he was unfazed. "It took those qualities to shoulder the responsibility of finally bringing the title to Old Trafford after 26 years," said Neville.
Goal v Liverpool in Oct 1995… A routine penalty, this goal was symbolic nevertheless as he marked his return from a nine-month ban by earning a point for his side at Anfield.
Belief… His confidence aided achievement. "When he came to the club I knew we'd win the title," said Ince. There was no European trophy with United, but Cantona did predict the success that followed. "Eric told us we were going to become kings of Europe," said Neville.
Goal v Sheffield Wednesday in Dec 1995… This game saw him score his first goals at Old Trafford in almost a year with the second a particularly sweet strike into the corner.
Titles… The 1995/96 overhauling of Newcastle owed much to Cantona. "We were struggling," Schmeichel admitted to Sky Sports. "For some reason we didn't play the way we should, but we kept winning games 1-0. He scored all of them."
Goal v Newcastle in Mar 1996… This volley, struck low into the ground, separated the sides at St James' Park and helped turn the tide in a memorable title race.
Penalties… Eighteen of Cantona's 82 United goals came from the spot. He only missed twice and scored afterwards in both games. His technique of watching the goalkeeper was very effective with the keeper also diving the wrong way 90 per cent of the time (18 of 20).
Goal v Arsenal in Mar 1996… David Seaman came for the ball but didn't claim and United's No 7 responded by blasting the ball home off the underside of the bar for a vital 1-0 win.
Headers… For all his reputation as a player of sublime skills, Cantona's heading ability cannot be overlooked either. He offered a real target, scoring 13 of his United goals with his head and often powering past his markers to force the ball home from close range.
Goal v Tottenham in Mar 1996… Another important goal in a 1-0 win as he collected the ball on his chest, taking it away from two markers before tucking away neatly with his left foot.
Bravery… "Vinnie Jones tried to do Cantona," said Ferguson, recalling a Wimbledon clash in 1994. "All our players ran towards Jones, but Cantona said, 'Leave him alone.' Then he patted Jones on the back as if to say, 'You can kick me if you like but you won't stop me.'"
Goal v Liverpool in May 1996… An underrated finish while leaning back, this late winner in the FA Cup final against United's great rivals secured the club's second double.
Temper… The kung-fu kick at Crystal Palace earned infamy but United supporters - and the club - stood by their man. "That temper is part of the legend," said Neville. "People loved him because he did, and said, things they would love to have got away with."
Goal v Wimbledon in Aug 1996… A game remembered for David Beckham's late goal from the halfway line, Cantona's early effort, dismissively smashed home, set United on their way.
Fear… The mystique that Cantona was able to build around himself meant that nobody at the club could relax too much. "Respect for him contained a little dash of fear because we had all seen how he could erupt," said Neville.
Goal v Nottingham Forest in Sep 1996… Having had a free-kick squared to him by Giggs, he set himself before drilling low into the bottom corner in a 4-1 win at Old Trafford.
Fighter… Cantona led the fight in more ways than one, particularly when struck by police at Galatasaray. "Eric was steaming," said Neville. "[His team-mates] had to drag Eric in and hold him there. They ended up walking him to the coach to stop him going after the police."
Goal v Sunderland in Dec 1996… Perhaps his most famous goal, twisting and turning away from two before exchanging passes with McClair and lofting the ball into the top corner.
Special… "He was the only player I saw who the manager never had a go at," said Andy Cole. "We all went to a film premiere and were told to wear black ties. Eric turned up in a cream lemon suit and Nike trainers. The manager told him he looked fantastic."
Goal v Southampton in Feb 1997… His last winner at Old Trafford, stretching at the far post to reach Giggs' left-wing cross and force the ball home first time.
Incomparable… Perhaps there have been better players since but even Cristiano Ronaldo could not compete when it comes to hero worship. "He could never have matched the idolatry that came with Cantona," admitted Ferguson.
Goal v Derby in Apr 1997… A sublime first touch, bringing the ball down from the sky, was the highlight of this goal as he nudged the ball away from his marker before finishing well.
Retirement… He played his last game aged 29. "He had so much more to give," Ince told Sky Sports. Others saw the positive side. "There'd be no diminishing of his legend, no slide into mediocrity," said Neville. "He certainly left us wanting more, which isn't a bad way to go."
Goal v Blackburn in Apr 1997… His final goal for the club came at Ewood Park after great work by Andy Cole and he celebrated wildly with the travelling United support.