Home » Manchester United legend Eric Cantona reflects upon signing for the club

Manchester United legend Eric Cantona reflects upon signing for the club

by Zoe Hodges

Eric Cantona has opened up about his move to Manchester United back in November 1992.

After winning the title with Leeds earlier that year, Cantona made the switch and made an instant impact.

He helped United to win their first top-flight title since 1967 and over the five years he was a Red he helped the club to four Premier League titles and two FA Cups, scoring 82 goals in 185 appearances.

Before joining Leeds, Cantona had retired and been out of football for two months, “I didn’t want to play anymore in France,” he told The Athletic, “So I retired and went away from football for two months. But I thought England could be a good country for me.”

He spoke of other footballers playing in the top flight here that he aspired to, “Football in England was Kevin Keegan, it was George Best. It was rock ’n’ roll stars.”

Cantona thrived in England because he changed his mentality, “I realised I expected too much from people before. I thought I loved these kinds of people and I wanted them to love me. Then I realised, you become a prisoner of this idea.”

“I found the words. In French, it is to say ‘Je suis de passage’ (I am in transit). It helped me a lot as a man and a player.”

When he came to England, Cantona lived in a hotel, he found the idea that he could just hand the key back and walk away freeing.

“It was a way of being in transit. I arrived in England as someone in transit and it gave me the freedom to express myself. If I had stayed in the same mentality as before, I don’t think I would have succeeded in England,” he says.

The club was understanding and accommodating of that idea, “Manchester United understood that very well because they said, ‘If Eric wants to leave, he can leave’.”

Sir Alex Ferguson was very supportive and understanding of his star striker’s approach to the world.

The Athletic highlights two incidents where the unconventional forward came under fire from critics but Ferguson stood by his side.

The most notable incident came in 1995 when Cantona jumped into the stands at Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park and kung-fu kicked a fan who was shouting abuse at him.

The Frenchman received a nine month ban from the FA and was ordered to do 120 hours of community service.

The Athletic says on that occasion, “Ferguson travelled to Paris and rode a Harley-Davidson to secretly meet Cantona and talk him out of walking out on English football.”

Adam Crafton picks out another occasion, “It would be little, everyday things, too. Former team-mate Ryan Giggs, for example, recalled one civic function where the squad were ordered to report in formal black-tie attire, only for Cantona to turn up in a ‘white linen suit and red and white Tiempo trainers’.”

Perhaps, Ferguson indulged his antics off the pitch because of the magic he created on the pitch, “You can ask the players this — I trained very hard and when I played, I tried very hard, which is the most important.”

He continues, “He [Ferguson] knew for me to have a pair of trainers with a suit, it was not a big deal. We would not destroy our relationship for this kind of thing.”

Referring back to his new ‘in transit’ mentality, Cantona, though an inspiration to his younger teammates, didn’t want the pressure of being called a leader.

“I wanted to feel in transit and I did not want to feel this responsibility of being an example,” he says.

He continues, “Being an example, it is like being a sheep. Sometimes I reacted in a certain way that most people did not like and maybe they were right. But where they were not right is where they were saying, ‘He was an example for millions of people, he cannot react like this’.”

“The only responsibility I had was to work hard and win games and if you are an example like people say, it is because you think you are above everything.”

Though his time at United was marred slightly by controversy, he became a legend, an icon of the game but Cantona insists that he is, for the most part, a humble person.

“Most of the time I am very humble. I joke that ‘I am a legend’ because I don’t care. I know that we live in a circus, so I play the clown.”

 
 

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