"Eric basically believes that he must go out at the top. Now he's gone, I don't feel let down. There can't be any recriminations in my heart."

- Sir Alex Ferguson

More: 12 Days of Cantona | Kanchelskis praises Cantona

06/12/2012 09:26, Report by Adam Marshall
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Cantona calls it a day

Just short of his 31st birthday, Eric Cantona announced his retirement in 1997 with a year still left to run on his contract.

For all the talk that he would end up at Real Zaragoza, the Frenchman was true to his word in ending his career at United. It came as a shock to all the Reds fans, fearful of whether success would be maintained without the talismanic No7, but few begrudged him his decision.

A European semi-final defeat to Borussia Dortmund had hit Cantona hard and, despite skippering the side to another title, many pundits felt his shining light was dimming. The Guardian's David Lacey summed it up perfectly: "His contribution to the team's fourth championship in five years has been valuable but not invaluable. He finished the season looking broody."

Cantona once informed L'Equipe: "I'm naturally a curious person. Every day, I need to find something new, even simple things. It's this permanent state of curiosity that enables me to progress.''

So there was always the danger he would quit one day and look for progression elsewhere, even if Alex Ferguson still found it hard to conceal his disappointment after managing to convince the Old Trafford idol not to hang up his boots during his period of suspension in 1995.

"It's a sad day for United," the manager said. "I know Eric was particularly disappointed after the Dortmund game. We were all disappointed. He wasn't the only one in that boat but you wondered how he was ever going to get over it. We were all gutted. We all felt we should have been in the final.

"That was the general mood around the club and not just with Eric. When he came to see me on Wednesday I got the impression that his position was unequivocal. I knew deep down that, no matter the things I was saying to him, he wasn't prepared to take them on board. I knew whatever I said I couldn't make him change his mind.

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