As a player and a terrace icon, Eric Cantona provided United with a bit of magic and mystique. A born winner and an entertainer, he was enigmatic and influential both amongst fans and team-mates at the precise moment English football caught the continental bug.
Andy Cole arrived at United in January 1995 and instantly saw the two opposing sides of Cantona’s character. On his Reds debut, it was Eric the leader, the match-winner; in a clash with title rivals Blackburn Rovers, Cantona grabbed the game’s only goal with a brilliant header from Ryan Giggs’ raking cross. Four days later came the incident at Selhurst Park – arguably the moment the tables turned in the title.
“I remember he scored the winning goal on my debut against Blackburn and then the next game was the infamous incident at Crystal Palace,” Cole recalled in an interview with ManUtd.com. “I saw everything in those first two games. I certainly never expected to see that – and football is full of surprises. When it did happen I was like, ‘wow, did that just happen’? It was an eye-opener for me as it was for a lot of people.
"But I think you have to look at the other things that he did at the club, the positive things: the impact on the younger players at the club in particular, and the part he played in winning trophies. I always remember him going on a goalscoring spree where we won a string of games 1-0 in the run-in. He was capable of that kind of influence.”
Cole scored 12 goals in 18 games for the remainder of the 1994/95 campaign but didn’t really find his finest United form until after Cantona retired in 1997 - like the feted Class of 92, Cole was still learning. “I enjoyed playing alongside Eric and I tried to learn from him too, as I did with all the good players I played alongside.
"I was a young boy when I came to Manchester United but I never felt it was difficult to fit in, you just integrated into the system and became part of it. You just get on with. The senior professionals have that status for a reason, but what I realised at United was that everyone was respectful, mostly because those senior players had been successful before. That’s what I really enjoyed about the club was that everyone got on so well. The teams I played in, we were