'That's just Eric Cantona for you!'
Eric Cantona’s retirement from football in 1997 came as a complete shock to all associated with Manchester United – including the players, says Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The talismanic Frenchman had just celebrated a fourth Premier League title in five years with the Reds, lifting the trophy as captain at Old Trafford after the final game of the season against West Ham United.
Aged 30 and just a year on from inspiring a young United side to a historic second Double, it appeared Eric was still close to his imperious peak, with many more magical moments to come in Manchester.
But, just days after the season’s conclusion, ‘The King’ announced that he was hanging up his boots.
That was news to all but Cantona’s closest confidantes, with our no.7 failing to disclose his plans to two of his United team-mates during their title celebrations.
“Well, that’s just Eric for you,” Solskjaer says of the enigmatic Frenchman, in an exclusive interview looking back on 25 years since signing at Old Trafford.
“After the West Ham game, when we beat them [2-0] in the last game of the season, he rented a restaurant called Tarantella in Poynton, just for his family and friends, his dad and his brother, and me and my wife and Jordi [Cruyff] and his girlfriend, and so it was just us three players there.
“We had a party, danced all night, doing the famous Pulp Fiction dancing, I can still remember Eric being up there!
“At 4am, we said our goodbyes and, a couple of days later, me and Jordi and our partners went down to London, and, as we arrived in London, we got off the train and it was on the radio that Eric Cantona had decided to retire.
“That’s just Eric for you – he had never mentioned anything to us when we were partying two days before.”
Despite the sense that he’d left the United fans wanting more, Eric stuck with his decision, moving into acting.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s second great United team, the bedrock of which was the ‘Class of 92’ Eric had helped nurture, went on to record the club’s greatest-ever achievement in 1999, winning the Treble.
Solskjaer was, of course, a key part of that triumph and, as will be the case with many others who played with him, he has fond memories of Cantona and his irrepressible personality - even if he would have liked to have shared a dressing room for longer.
“It was disappointing but I really enjoyed my year with him. What a character. I learned so much from him,” Ole adds.
“Y’know, when we had corner kicks Becks was always over there to take them and before the game the gaffer says: 'David on the corners.'
“So we come in at half-time and the gaffer’s saying: 'Eric, what have I told you? It’s Becks on the corners' because Eric had been taking them all.
“Eric shrugs and, when we go out again, first corner of the second half, who goes over to take it…? Eric. He had a special way about him.”