The timing was perfect for Cantona – and for United and English football – as the explosion in popularity of the Premier League coincided with an influx of foreign talent. “Eric came to England and he was just so different from English footballers. It was the French way, he had an aura about him, an air of mystique. He was an entertainer and a showman on the field and that’s why people loved him. He could be so aloof at times that people would think: wow, I wonder what he’s thinking? Or he’d play the game and shoot straight off after the match and people would just be in awe. Half the time he was like a whirlwind. But people would watch him and say: “I want to be like Eric”. He had that effect on people.
“Would an English player get away with saying some of the things Eric said? Hell no! If you asked Eric himself he’d probably laugh about all the stuff he used to come out with – I think he said in the past he was just talking a load of mumbo jumbo when he talked about seagulls following the trawler. If I tried any of that they’d have brought the strait-jacket out!”
The impact Cantona had at Old Trafford is astonishing considering he was only a United player for four-and-a-half years. It is thought that United’s failure in Europe in 1997 – losing to Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League semi-finals when a spot in the final appeared within reach - was a decisive factor in Eric's early retirement from football.
Cole can certainly share Cantona’s pain recollecting that game. “Eric was desperate to win the European Cup and it was in that time that we should have been challenging in Europe and we didn’t quite manage it. We lost to Dortmund at