29/11/2012 08:00, Report by Steve Bartram
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Cantona: The showman

mouthguards - it could easily have been Vinny Jones’ Wimbledon). Inevitably, it was Eric who had the killer line and the starring role. Who else could stop the ball, upturn his collar and mutter ‘au revoir’ before belting a shot through the devil’s chest?

Previously, a Nike campaign accompanied the completion of Eric’s nine-month ban for assaulting Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons. “He’s paid for his crimes, now it’s their turn,” billboard posters ominously advised ahead of his comeback against Liverpool. Followed from start to finish by camera lenses, Cantona took just two minutes to lay on Nicky Butt’s opener before having the final say with a late penalty of his own. Not content with the goal, Eric embarked on a jubilant pole dance at the Scoreboard End, giving the world’s press their Monday morning lead. Never before has an individual been so scrutinised during a match, but to Cantona it was just another chance to shine in the spotlight. Another big occasion which cried out for a star man. Two FA Cup Final appearances featured three goals, with two more scored across three Charity Shields. 

He top-scored in the 1993/94 and 1995/96 Premier League title charges, bagging a string of vital winners along the way. The more pressure, the better Cantona performed. Some may justifiably point to the Frenchman’s inconsistent form in the Champions League (five goals in 16 appearances), but the fact that United never truly came to terms with the unforgiving nature of Europe’s elite competition during his time at Old Trafford provides some mitigation.

It was one such defeat, to Borussia Dortmund in April 1997, that contributed to Cantona's decision to call it a day. The departure, when it came the following month, was inevitably dramatic - a press conference held without any warning. There was no fading away, no slinking to the back of the stage, merely a step forward, one last emphatic bow and an exit, stage right. Like any great showman.

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