He wasn’t captain at the time, but he played a captain’s role that night.”
Once Cole’s punishment had been limited to a mere caution – followed hastily by a diffusive substitution – Cantona continued to perform his revel in self-appointed responsibility as United began to battle without the dismissed Butt. The Daily Mirror’s Harry Harris joked: “Not content with his Henry Kissinger role in that explosive 76th-minute flashpoint, the Frenchman then separated the warring Roy Keane and Dicks. Cantona might look like a convict with his cropped hair, but he was the epitome of restraint, and while all around him were losing theirs, Cantona was in control of his emotions.”
Despite a numerical handicap, United closed out the win in relative comfort and Cantona – having suffered sustained abuse from the home support – received unanimous praise afterwards. “Eric's a saint now,” smirked Steve Bruce, while Sir Bobby Charlton concluded: “He gets a worse reception than any other United player I can recall, but he has shown how well he can handle real pressure. If we can win the league no one will deserve it more than him.”
They would prove prophetic words from the Reds’ record goalscorer. Cantona, 1-0 would become United’s signature scorecast in a run of victories over Newcastle, Arsenal, Tottenham and Coventry, at a time when Kevin Keegan’s side began haemorrhaging points. The Magpies’ run of five defeats in eight games precipitated the first part of United’s Double, the second instalment of which was wrested from Liverpool in typical fashion: Cantona, 1-0.
The following summer, on the eve of what would prove to be his final season in football, Eric looked back on an undulating