In just five years at Old Trafford, Eric Cantona built up a mutual love with United supporters which hasn't diminished in the time since he called time on his colourful career...
Eric Cantona remains the most popular player ever to pull on the famous red shirt. George Best was arguably more skilful, Sir Bobby Charlton and Ryan Giggs played more games and scored more goals, and Denis Law was a huge fan favourite and crowned ‘the King’ by the Stretford End.
Yet even in their pomp, none of the Reds’ holy trinity enjoyed the affinity with the supporters that the Frenchman achieved. He was at Old Trafford just shy of five years, but his impact was enormous. Cantona was catalyst to United's recent successes, the ultimate showman, a goalscorer and an inspirational leader. Yet United supporters’ enduring love affair with Eric goes far further than this.
What he did with a football helped, of course - Sir Alex Ferguson described him as his “dream player” – but he also had the other two key ingredients to becoming a United idol: passion and fight. Those attributes sometimes got him in trouble - OK, often got him in trouble - but United fans loved him for it. Some called him a ‘flawed genius’ but to us Reds he was perfectly imperfect. We just saw his readiness to fight for the cause – a virtue particularly appreciated at a time when “Stand up if you hate ManU” could be heard all across the country, even at cricket matches.
And it wasn’t a one-way love affair. Back in 1995, during his eight-month ban for single-handedly attempting to kick racism out of football, he said: “I cannot stress enough how important United fans are to me. They are one of the reasons why I continue doing what I’m doing. The fans here are really special. They make me happy, and when I’m happy I perform.”
Such heart-felt declarations were common, and meant more because they were from someone who rarely wasted words (even his "when seagulls follow the trawler” quote had the desired effect of confusing a room full of journalists). He wasn’t the first to openly express his affection to the fans, but it just seemed to mean more coming from him.