Cantona also acknowledges the influence of Alex Ferguson, with whom he has struck up a relationship of mutual admiration. “Alex Ferguson is a guy who can be your friend, and at the same time he’s someone you have enormous respect for. Everyone respects him. That’s abundantly clear and it’s a phenomenon I’d never seen before either in France or in England. He certainly knows his football, and he has everything he needs to be what he is. It’s not by chance that he’s won everything he’s won.”
Time and time again Cantona, “the loner”, insists it is his colleagues at the club who are responsible for his success. He loves the passion and the commitment, which are a feature of the sport and its supporters here. “In the rest of Europe, the game is played negatively. Playing not to lose. Winning is often seen as the icing on the cake. In England, we play to win. I love the speed of the game here. Playing from goal to goal, keeping the momentum going at all times. There’s beauty in the game here because spontaneity is beautiful.”
His affection definitely extends to us fans. Cantona may sometimes display haughtiness unparalleled in English sport, but when it comes to the supporters he always has time for a photo or an autograph. “It’s as it should be,” he explains. “They give me support and I give them something in return. It is the perfect exchange. A quarter of an hour with the supporters now and then is the least I can give. In France I have often refused to sign autographs, and I have gone as far as to criticise the public violently. But that’s different. There’s no love there. No passion.” It’s a passion returned every Saturday as the Old Trafford choir sing the Marseillaise. Unheard of this side of the tunnel since 1066.
It is well known that Cantona’s career in England has not been free of controversy. We’ve all seen the endless action replays of his tackles and his fuming Spitting Image; his behaviour on the pitch, and the subsequent sendings-off which have seen him sidelined for some of the most important matches