26/11/2012 13:03, Report by Steve Bartram
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Cantona: The catalyst

Eric Cantona's Old Trafford impact extends beyond his on-field exploits. Over the next 12 days, we assess the myriad ways he built a lasting legacy as a true United great...

That Eric Cantona's arrival from Leeds only slightly preceded the end of United's 26-year wait for the League title was no coincidence – the Frenchman was the brooding, swaggering catalyst the Reds had craved.

Prior to his signing, United teetered between nearly men and battle-hardened winners. So much was already in place for success: The unflinching defence, a midfield of industry and incision, and a blend of brutality and subtlety in attack. It was a side which could claim to be the finest in the land, yet missed that telling je ne sais quoi of champions. Cantona’s arrival provided the Gallic flair to send United over the tipping point - just as he had with Leeds nine months earlier as the Whites pilfered the 1991/92 title.

Midway through the following campaign, with the Reds in steady but unspectacular form, a phone call from Leeds chief executive Bill Fotherby provoked a moment of opportunism from Sir Alex. Fotherby had broached the potential signing of Denis Irwin. Instead, less than an hour later, he and Leeds boss Howard Wilkinson had agreed to send Cantona across the Pennines for a cut-price £1million.

With that spontaneous counter-offer, Ferguson bought the player who would bring glory back to United. As the manager later admitted: “One of the most extraordinary periods in our history was about to begin.” Beyond simply signing a top-class talent, the Reds had snared a man with the mentality and charisma of a champion. Even the manager was taken aback by Cantona’s off-field impact.

At the end of his first training session at The Cliff, Eric asked Sir Alex for two players and a goalkeeper. An extra half-hour was spent with the Frenchman volleying crosses from

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