How Eric Cantona changed United

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Expectations were sky high straight away. People spoke about him in reverential tones before he’d even kicked a ball. He played a friendly against Benfica in Lisbon to celebrate Eusebio. I went to it and it was a famous game even at the time, such was the interest around him, and then he came on as a substitute against Manchester City a few days later and settled in very, very quickly.

The cliche goes that Eric was the final piece of the puzzle, but that’s true. He was.

The players buzzed off him as well. Imagine going in that dressing room, full of egos, strong personalities, very good players including forwards like Brian McClair and Mark Hughes, and getting them all onside. He did it from the very first training session. He gave what they needed to take them to another level.

All the auxiliary factors like living in Boothstown and having a cultural hinterland which, with respect, the other players didn’t have, appealed to a lot of people. Being a foreign player was big, too. There hadn’t been many outside of Britain and Ireland until then. This big, good-looking guy came in with this reputation of being an enfant terrible, with a track record of being at cool-sounding French clubs, wearing his collar differently to everyone else, and it all added to the enigma of him.

He was so much more than just a player. He was hugely impactful on the playing side of Manchester United, but his image and his attitude were just so much more interesting than any other player – and I don’t say that to demean them – but he was. He’d be going out in the Northern Quarter in Manchester before it was even called the Northern Quarter. He was into art. His backstory was something that the fans wanted to buy in to. He’d talk about his grandfather escaping the Spanish civil war and living in a cave, and he’d just capture the imagination because he was so cool and interesting.

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