Eric Cantona.

Welcome back, no.7: Cantona in 1995

Thursday 09 September 2021 07:00

Old Trafford will be at fever pitch if Cristiano Ronaldo does make his second debut for Manchester United in Saturday's Premier League clash with Newcastle United.

There have been many precedents over the years of anticipation levels going through the roof for individuals getting to step out at the Theatre of Dreams.

Ronaldo's first debut against Bolton Wanderers in 2003 was exciting while the expectation around Wayne Rooney's bow, following his injury at Euro 2004, was fully justified when the striker scored a hat-trick against Fenerbahce.

See the way Old Trafford welcomed Eric Cantona back and how his comeback unfolded.

There were emotional first returns to their former stamping ground for Ronaldo (with Real Madrid) and David Beckham (with AC Milan), not to mention stand unveilings for Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Bobby Charlton, plus Sir Alex's tear-jerking final home fixture in charge against Swansea City.

However, some fans are sensing parallels between Saturday's occasion and Eric Cantona's comeback against Liverpool in 1995.

The wait for this famous no.7 to reappear was nowhere near as long as the one for Ronaldo, of course. But the flamboyant Frenchman was still sorely missed when his suspension for assaulting a Crystal Palace fan at Selhurst Park was extended to eight months.

In that time, United's Double hunt collapsed with the last-day agony of a draw with West Ham United enabling Blackburn Rovers to lift the Premier League title before Everton won the FA Cup final 1-0 at Wembley with a Paul Rideout goal.

So King Eric's absence was clearly felt and, by coincidence or clever TV scheduling, the big game against Liverpool turned out to be the one to mark his return.

Fans brought French flags and there was a carnival atmosphere outside Old Trafford, and within the ground, as an already huge clash was given added spice.

After a matter of seconds, the centre-forward provided an assist for Nicky Butt to score to ramp the volume up even more as the crowd celebrated the opening goal.

Robbie Fowler scored twice but there was no way Cantona was ever going to be upstaged on his big day. The no.7 slotted in a penalty after Jamie Redknapp fouled Ryan Giggs to level the scores and earn a point on the way to what would turn out to be another Double, with Eric netting the only goal against the Merseysiders in the FA Cup final at the end of the campaign.

"Eric did well," commented Sir Alex afterwards. "But the hype is over - thank goodness!"

Look out for more hype around this weekend if Ronaldo does feature - the atmosphere promises to be even more electric than back in 1995.