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

either side. The next day, half the first team squad stayed for the extra-curricular session. “Many people justifiably acclaimed Cantona as a catalyst who had a crucial impact on our successes,” said the manager, “but nothing he did in matches meant more than the way he opened my eyes to the indispensability of practice.”

A squad who, hitherto, had little tangible success to back up their glaring promise was revitalised. Over a quarter-century of anguish and near-misses was soon a distant memory as the Reds elbowed their way to the head of a three-way tussle for the title alongside Aston Villa and Norwich City. There was even the flourish of champions – seven straight wins to end the season in style.

The winning habit had started and Cantona, chest puffed, collar upturned, was the charismatic face of the new champions. Previously something of a journeyman, the Frenchman had a loving home at last. He had achieved near-divinity with United fans, who saw an edgy visionary which had lived deep within Manchester’s favourite sons, from Best to Bez.

As adulation gushed forth from the stands, trophies flowed at a similar rate. In five seasons at Old Trafford, Cantona won four Premier League titles and two FA Cups. Indeed the only season in which the Reds failed to clinch England’s crown, the French talisman was spectacularly sidelined. Had Cantona not taken exception to the baitings of Crystal Palace supporter Matthew Simmons at Selhurt Park, collecting a nine-month ban for his troubles, the history books could tell of five successive titles between 1993 and 1997.

Cantona’s importance during his playing career was obvious: talisman and a phenomenal player. But it’s the seismic shift in mentality he instigated among the players which continues to be felt around Old Trafford. The winning habit he championed remains evident.

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