Friday’s football flashback 2

Thankfully, the international break is becoming a distant memory and many of the top teams are still working their way through a grueling September. However, that’s not your problem! Relax, it’s Friday, grab a coffee and come for a trip with us down memory lane as we re-visit some of the more memorable days or events in football. This week, let’s look at one of the bad boys of football, Eric Cantona.

Eric Cantona – The Enfant Terrible of football

Even today, there is something magical about Cantona that is hard to quite put your finger on. Is it his self-confidence or is it his arrogance? His poetic ramblings that make us smile and confused at the same time? Is it his constant fall-outs with the authorities and total disregard for the status quo?

One thing is for sure; the ‘enfant terrible’ knew how to play football!

Cantona’s transfer to Manchester United from bitter rivals Leeds United in 1992 certainly raised eyebrows. It wasn’t his footballing ability that was in doubt. Far from it in-fact, as he was instrumental in helping Leeds win the last ever Division 1 title in the 1991-1992 campaign. It was more the fact that where-ever Eric went, trouble followed. Some felt that Alex Ferguson had bitten off more than he could chew with Eric.

The concern wasn’t totally unjustified. In 1987, Cantona had famously punched a team mate in the face (he just received a fine, can you imagine that now?), the next year he performed a Kung-Fu kick on a Nantes player. This time he was banned for three months which was later reduced to two. The same year he received a ban from the French national team for a year for insulting the French coach on TV, while for his club, he received a month ban for ripping off his shirt in disgust when he was substituted in a ‘friendly’.

friday football flashback

Eric Cantona’s kung-fu kick was a defining moment of 1990’s football

In 1991, during a game, he became so incensed with the referee that he threw the ball at him. This led to a hearing with the French Football Federation. When handed a one month ban, rather than apologise and publicly say how sorry he was, Cantona went to each and every member of that panel and called them an idiot individually to their faces. His ban was instantly upgraded to two months.

Cantona at Manchester United

In 1992, the year Cantona signed for Manchester United, Eric faced his old club Leeds and in true Cantona fashion he received a £1,000 fine for spitting at a Leeds fan at Elland Road. The next year in 1993, Manchester United faced Turkish team Galatasaray. This would be later described as ‘The night when all hell broke loose’.

The banners on display by the Galatasaray fans proclaimed that the players had just 48 hours to live, others stated ‘RIP Manchester’ and of course the infamous ‘Welcome to Hell’. For many years, English teams and supporters had been portrayed as aggressors in European football but in Galatasaray they were definitely the victims. The bus carrying the team was attacked and had its windows smashed and players in the hotel rooms had calls from Galatasary fans all through the night to unsettle the team.

The match itself was a fiery affair and towards the end of the game Cantona swore at the referee and was promptly sent off. As Eric was leaving the pitch a policeman attacked Cantona with his baton. Notorious hard man Roy Keane would later recount what happened in his biography:

In the dressing room, Eric went crazy, while the rest of us just wanted to get out of there, Eric was determined to sort out the rogue cop who had been wielding his truncheon. Eric was a big, strong lad. He was serious. He insisted he was going to kill that f***er. It took the combined efforts of the manager, Brian Kidd and a few of the players to restrain him. The players were ordered to shower two at a time so Cantona would not be left alone in the dressing room. Then he was led to the bus, which was soon to have bricks put through its windows.Roy Keane, Assistant Manager of Ireland

If that was bad, it was nothing compared to what happened the following season.

On the 25th of January 1995, United were playing Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. Cantona was sent off for a petulant kick out at Palace’s Richard Shaw. During a slow walk back to the tunnel, Cantona suddenly started running and launched a two footed Kung Fu kick into a spectator. The pair then traded punches.

At a press conference after the game, Eric gave his most famous interview ever in which he said, “When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea. Thank you very much”. He then promptly left the room. The reporters in the room just looked at each other with mouths open.

The aftermath of this incident was an eight-month worldwide ban for Cantona, he also never represented his country again after this incident.

Cantona nowadays

What makes Eric so unique is unlike today, when everyone seems to be offended by everything and you see footballers making forced grovelling apologies, Cantona never said sorry if he didn’t mean it. You can see this even today, in an article for fourfourtwo, Cantona talks about his career and answers questions from fans which gives a great insight into the mind of the Frenchman.

It’s easy to concentrate on the imperfections of Cantona, but in many ways his imperfections made him who he was. In Eric, Manchester United found the missing piece of the jigsaw and in United, Eric found a spiritual home. In 156 Premier League games, he scored 70 goals and won four Premier League trophies and two FA Cups.

Nowadays Cantona works for Eurosport as the self-styled commissioner of football, bringing a sense of humour that was a million miles away from his persona whilst playing. I imagine that’s the point! You think you know Cantona, but I suspect that not even Eric knows Cantona.

A bad boy for sure but in a sport that feels like it’s losing its soul sometimes, I’d love to see another Eric. The king is dead, long live the king!

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