In the 1990s Eric Cantona was a football star and one of the most illustrious figures in Premier league. Like with everything else he’s done in his life, he was a controversial figure on the pitch. His fans adored him for his unique combination of technical prowess and imposing stature, as well as for his endless supply of charisma. His critics knocked him for his poor temperament and constant disciplinary issues. Either way, nobody could doubt his talent or the will to win.
Leeds United (1992)
Manchester United (1992–1997)
Club football: 308 matches, 131 goals
National team: 45 matches, 20 goals
Bad boy vibes
With the exception of a short stint at Martigues, Cantona spent the first five years of his senior career at Auxerre. Despite a few disciplinary issues (punching a teammate and going for a kung-fu tackle on an opposing player), he established himself as a future star. In 1988, he was transferred to Marseille, his favorite club growing up. In his very first season with the club, however, he threw a tantrum after being substituted and insulted the national coach on TV.
Unhappy with his behavior, Marseille loaned Cantona -- first to Bordeaux, then to Montpellier. After leading Montpellier to the French Cup, Cantona got a second chance at Marseille. Though he started off well, a coaching change led to bad blood with chairman Bernard Tapie. Before long, he was transferred to Nimes, where he was banned for throwing the ball at the referee. After insulting the members of the committee, his ban was increased to two months.
Around this time, new national team coach Michel Platini convinced Cantona to make a fresh start by going abroad. Cantona obliged by signing with Leeds United, where he became an overnight sensation. In his first season with the club, he played a key part in Leeds’ run at the final First Division title before the competition was rebranded as the Premier League. By going undefeated in their final five games, Leeds overtook Manchester United and secured the title.
That summer, Cantona played for France at the Euro 1992. Despite high expectations, however, the team failed to win a single game, with Platini resigning as coach after the tournament. In the following season, Leeds’ title defense came to an end as early as October. Shortly thereafter, manager Howard Wilkinson took him out of the team citing a “groin strain” excuse. Furious, Cantona refused to show up for training and put in a transfer request.
The king of Manchester
By late November, the deal was done and Cantona was transferred to Manchester United. Up to that point, United’s season had been a disappointment, especially on the goalscoring front. Cantona’s arrival turned everything around, and he quickly turned into the team’s main offensive weapon. From that point onward, United lost just two games in the league and won the Premier League with a comfortable 10-point margin.
The 1993/94 season was more of the same, as United won the title again behind Cantona’s 28 goals in all competitions. While en route to his third consecutive title, however, Cantona lost his nerve and kicked a fan after being sent off against Crystal Palace. The kick made headlines all around the world, causing Cantona to be banned from football for eight months. He also faced a prison sentence, though this was later overturned to 120 hours of community service.
Following this incident, Cantona never played for the national team again. Still, he stayed at United for the duration of the ban, returning to the team at the start of the 1995/96 season. He went on to play two more seasons at United without further incidents, leading them to two more Premier League titles in the process. In 1998, he retired from football at the age of 30, having scored 64 goals in 143 appearances for the club.
By Rosa Nelson
FIFA – World Cup Official Film – The Grand Finale