Eric Cantona’s dazzling career in English football began 20 years ago today on his way to becoming a Manchester United legend.
The iconic striker played for United 144 times; scoring 64 goals in the five years he was at the club between 1992 and 1997.
He became an ominous presence on football pitches across the country not only for his superb ability, but also for his fiery temper, highlighted by the infamous karate kick in the Red Devils’ clash with Crystal Palace in 1995 at Selhurst Park.
Cantona began his senior career in France in 1983 where he played for the likes of Auxerre, Marseille and Nimes before crossing The Channel for a one-week trial with Sheffield Wednesday in January 1992.
The controversial figure then had a spell at Leeds United after declining an extension to his trial with The Owls before finally moving across the Pennines to join the red half of Manchester in November of the same year.
The Marseille born star settled quickly into a side that was struggling for goals at the time and he netted his first in a 1-1 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on December 19.
Controversy was never far away from the Frenchman and incidents including spitting at a Leeds United fan in his first season with his new club marred his career to a certain extent.
However there was no question surrounding his talent and the following 1993-94 season proved to be the striker’s most influential in a red shirt, scoring 25 goals in 49 appearances for the club.
In 1996 Cantona became the first player from outside the British Isles to lift the FA Cup as captain after taking over the armband in place of the injured Steve Bruce.
Cantona was confirmed as United’s captain the following campaign, a season that would be the striker’s last in his playing career, as he announced his retirement at the age of 30.
He scored a total of 64 league goals for Manchester United, 11 in domestic cup competitions, and 5 in the Champions League, bringing his tally to 80 goals in less than five years with the club.
In his brief but distinguished career in England, Cantona won four league titles in five years with Sir Alex Ferguson’ side.
Ferguson himself deserves praise in taking the leap of faith on a player that former Liverpool manager Graeme Souness declined to sign when made aware of his availability by the then France manager Michel Platini in 1991.
In recent years the former France striker has turned to acting, starring in the 2009 film Looking For Eric and even, somewhat comically, putting his name forward to run for the French presidency, but he will always be remembered in Manchester for his services on the football field.
The converted player will, quite rightly, go down as one of the best strikers ever to play in England and there is something quite endearing and loveable about a character that could be a magician one moment and a criminal the next.