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Remembering The Things You Might Have Forgotten From Eric Cantona's Weird And Wonderful Career

Remembering The Things You Might Have Forgotten From Eric Cantona's Weird And Wonderful Career
By Conor Neville Updated

We all know the main points of Eric Cantona's career - joining Man United from Leeds after Howard Wilkinson wanted Denis Irwin, becoming the 'catalyst' for United's success in the 1990s, kung-fu kicking young Matthew Symonds in Selhurst Park, coming back and winning double and scoring the winner in the Cup final, retiring abruptly and becoming an actor...

But what of the stuff that is less well known, the bits of career that are shrouded in obscurity, the bits that have been overlooked, the bits that departs from cliche...

On the 22nd anniversary of his signing for Manchester United, here are some things you might have forgotten from the career of the great man.

 A hat-trick in Highbury for the French U-21s

Eric's time in French club football represents the dark Old Testament chapter of his career before he stepped into the light in England. Here is a brilliant compendium of goals from his weird and wonderful career in French football, including those strikes for the U21s against England in 1988.

He played for Auxerre for five years between 1983 and 88 under his saintly mentor Guy Roux. There followed a move to kingpins of French football, Marseilles, where he endured an unhappy relationship with coach Raymond Goethels and was regularly shipped out on loan to clubs like Bordeaux and Montpellier, before eventually being sold to Nimes

His greatest achievement on the international stage remains winning the U21 European Championship with France in 1988.



Quaffing champagne on Yorkshire television

Roy Keane claimed that Cantona actually spoke reasonably good English but simply pretended not to understand the language just to dodge journalist's questions. Well in that case, here is one of his bravura performances as he delivers an insightful response to a question of John Helm's/Lee Chapman's.



This goal for Leeds

With the Leeds fans actually believing that they could go the whole hog and win the championship, Eric Cantona scored this glorious goal as they strolled past Chelsea 3-0.


Charity Shield hat-trick

Howard Wilkinson has spent the last couple of decades gracelessly arguing to nostalgic sporting documentary makers that Cantona's contribution to Leeds' 1992 title success is grotesquely overstated.


This is largely true. Posterity, however, has decided that lumbering front-man Lee Chapman wasn’t a striking enough emblem for this success and has decided to overstate the role of the much more box office Cantona.

He only scored 3 goals and started 7 games for Leeds after arriving in January.

However, it can't be denied he looked to have settled in at the start of the following season. He banged a superb hat-trick in the 1992 Charity Shield against Liverpool, a game also remembered for Gordon Strachan scoring the most comical own goal of all time.




Never did it for France?

Cantona's international career is most recalled for the games he didn't play than the ones he did. Amie Jacquet wanted him back in the squad for Euro 96, but he was still outraged by the French Federation's decision to pile on in the melee over the Selhurst Park unpleasantness in early 95 and ban him from the international setup for an indefinite period.


However, he played for France for eight years between 1987 and 95, scoring 20 goals in 45 matches, hardly an ignoble return. Sadly, France missed both the 1990 and 1994 World Cups and the only major championship he played in was Euro 92, where he and every other French player played shite.

He was France's mainstay up front during the 1994 World Cup qualification campaign (which was going swimmingly until the final two games). Here he is grabbing both goals for France as they beat Sweden in the Parc des Princes in the spring of 1993.




The forgotten goal against Bulgaria

17 November 1993 - the most evil day in the history of French football. 21 years on, David Ginola and Gerard Houllier can't be in the same room together because of it. France needed one point from the final two games at home to Israel and Bulgaria and they were on their way to the USA - they were coasting.

After a night of drinking and cavorting with escorts (not all the players and not Cantona it should be said) France proceeded to lose 3-2 to little Israel (then absolute minnows, Ireland used to hammer them at that time). Three days later, Bulgaria beat an impossibly nervy France with a last minute strike and both the buck-passer supreme himself, Gerard Houllier, and the future champ Aime Jacquet looked like they'd seen a ghost.

Cantona featured that night, and it's understandably forgotten that he struck the opening goal that night.


Ballon D'Or shortlister - He suggested Paul Ince instead

The Ballon D'Or was the prize handed out for European Footballer of the Year back in those days. Cantona was shortlisted in 1993, the year where he inspired United to a first League title in years and then raced into a lead which would prove unassailable by the end of the following season.

He finished third behind the winner Roberto Baggio and the runner-up Denis Bergkamp (then at Ajax). When picked, he suggested that players like Paul Ince should get honoured more often as they allowed lads like him to shine.


His European record - that bad?

It has become an article of faith, even among those broadly sympathetic to Cantona and his career, that he never did it in Europe. The assumption in some quarters being that he couldn't do it in Europe. Is this fair? The truth is Cantona never got much of a run in the Champions League, except in his final year at United - a season when he was in decline anyway.

In 93-94, he was one their best players in that sorry two-parter against Galatasary, scoring a late equaliser to drag them back into the tie in Old Trafford. And we all know how impressive he was Turkey - after the final whistle went.

Thanks to his late red card in 'Hell', he missed four of the six games in United's ill-fated 1994-95 campaign, returning for the 3-1 loss in Gothenburg, where he laid on the goal for Mark Hughes with an adept flick on and he also played the final game against Galatasaray (them again) which United won 4-0.

The following year, when he helped carry the kids to the double, United weren't even in the Champions League. And in his final season, he merely replicated his (average) Premier League form on the European stage.


Matthew Symonds got off lightly

Of course, most people have seen this. You couldn't keep a clip like this off the internet for too long.


Showing Ray Wilkins how it's done

Cantona seemed altogether more unhinged during his time in France. Here he is throwing a wobbler while playing for Nimes in 1991.

He flings the ball at the ref in a rather more pointed and violent fashion than did Ray Wilkins in the 1986 World Cup.

At the subsequent disciplinary hearing, he was banned for one month. He proceeded to walk up to each member of the committee and call each of them an idiot to their faces. This ensured his ban was increased to two months.

He then announced is retirement in December 1991.



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