Although we only had the flair-laden Frenchman for one year.
but oh what a year! It was an eventful period in United's long
history. The 38 matches he played
for us were at a pivotal time in the club's history and if you
look carefully at the highlights of his Leeds United career you
can see many pointers of the extreme and outrageous behaviour
that made him even more famous as a personality rather than just
a sports star.
He may now have teetered off into a brilliantly eccentric career
path in the same way the Gerard Depardieu has, but there is no
doubt that his legacy survives in nearly all the clubs he played
for. He has gone on record for saying that his time with the Mighty
Whites was a content and positive one in many ways, and there
is no doubt what he learned from our coaches and our tacticians
played a small but important part in the player he was and even
the player he went on to be.
Cantona had played for Nimes with impressive results in the early
1990s. He was purchased by the Leeds management for an eye-wateringly
small £900,000 in 1992.
Straight from the off the fans could see that this powerful young
man had a great presence on the pitch. It was easy to say with hindsight
but every time the ball came to him the electricity in the stadium
increased a tiny imperceptible notch, many betting
experts were putting good odds on him doing well.
It is true that in the championship winning year of 1992-1993
(the last year it was the First Division before it switched to
becoming the Premier League) Cantona only played 15 times for
us but the presence was vital to our winning run. It was especially
interesting that we would put Manchester United into second place
that year. This no doubt had a great influence on Alex Ferguson
when he realised he needed a new striker and was having trouble
filling the spot.
It is rumoured that Ferguson didn't have Cantona near the top
of his hit list, but he was persuaded by other board members.
It is also ironic, given Cantona's strength and his dominating
personality, that in those fifteen appearances he only scored
three goals. This is a statistic that history forgets. But it
is also important to note that he made many great assists in the
season too, although data harvesting wasn't as accurate in the
early nineties as it was today, and there are no official records
of the exact number of assists. Leading goal scorer of that season
Lee Chapman would not have totalled anywhere near as many goals
if it hadn't been for the generous talents of the young Frenchman.
Another highlight for Cantona in his Leeds era was his display
in the 1992 FA Charity shield. This performance was one of poise
and athletic brilliance. He was sowing the seeds for experts to
see what a powerhouse he was to become. That day he became one
of the few players to score a hatrick at Wembley. A rare feat
that remains an elite club to be able to join.
Cantona has often come in for stick concerning his aggression
and disinclination to hide this
forceful side of his game. The famous Kung Fu kick is an iconic
moment in soccer history, and even though it happened in the Manchester
United era, there is no doubt that several incidents during his
Mighty Whites years could be said to have foreshadowed this amazing
He received a higher number of red and yellow cards in that era
than almost all other Leeds players. He was respected by his peers,
but other fiery tempered players would always end up doing more
than muttering a few choice words at him in the pitch under their
breadth. All the autobiographies of players from this era corroborate
this fact and show that in equal amounts they both loved and hated
Cantona was incensed when a spectator in the front of a Premier
League match against Crystal Palace on a cold January evening
stared throwing verbal abuse at him. Cantona had just been sent
off for foul play during a particularly difficult and tight section
The spectator, who the world would later come to know as Matthew
Simmons, was hurling standard Anglo Saxon abuse at him, but something
clicked in the head of the Leeds United player. Cantona went flying
over the security barrier in a astonishing Kung Fu style leap
and landed a pretty hefty blow on Simmons' chest. Simmons was
winded but sustained no long term injuries.
Cantona was sentenced to 120 hours community service, fined £30,000
and, worst of all, he was forced to spend eight months at home,
a full ban from professional play. Thankfully he recovered and
went on to a great career. Thanks for the memories, Eric.
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