Eric Cantona and Alex Ferguson.

How Ferguson predicted Cantona's United career

It is 26 years since Eric Cantona made his Manchester United debut, as a substitute against Manchester City. The Frenchman made an instant impression on the Old Trafford faithful during a 2-1 win for Alex Ferguson's side and, below, you can read the manager's programme notes from that derby. How prophetic his words proved to be...

“Eric Cantona is a highly experienced French international footballer who has been around, but I think we will be introducing him to something different when we entertain Manchester City here at Old Trafford this afternoon.

A Manchester derby is something special and I am sure Eric will savour the electric atmosphere and enjoy himself. In fact, I know he will like it because he is a great entertainer with a feel for the game. 

“The reason why I am more confident about the success of this transfer than is being expressed in some quarters is that Manchester United are tailor made for a player of this Frenchman's temperament. They don't call Old Trafford a Theatre of Dreams for nothing. We have a unique stage here just right for his talents.

People are worried about his temperament and a lot of the critics have been looking at the player's latest move with a very negative attitude. I know he has had his moments in the past, but perhaps he has never been at a club big enough to cope with his particular character.

“I believe he is smart enough and intelligent enough to realise that he is now at a club which can satisfy him emotionally and that it is more than worth his while to give of his very best because the satisfaction he will draw in return will be boundless.
Alex Ferguson, 06.12.1992 says

"I believe he is smart enough and intelligent enough to realise that he is now at a club which can satisfy him emotionally, because the satisfaction he will draw in return will be boundless."

“I don't mind him having a temper. I like my players to feel passionately and care about the game and their club. Football and Manchester United are very important to me and I find nothing wrong with my players enjoying equally strong views.

It's no problem for me. This is an open club and I told Eric at our first meeting that I would always be honest with him, as I hope he will be with me. I'm not interested in all the tittle-tattle that has been flying about.

“That's all in the past anyway and there are always two sides to everything. What concerns me is now. I hope he settles and enjoys himself because I can promise him that playing for Manchester United is an experience he will never forget.

We are all different and there have been many players with what people call temperament who have played for this club… and who have distinguished themselves. I am certain Eric Cantona will be no exception. I know the fans will give him a warm welcome because there is a tradition at Old Trafford for the kind of football he plays.
Alex Ferguson, 06.12.1992 says

"I don't mind him having a temper. I like my players to feel passionately and care about the game and their club."

“I should add at this stage that writing early in the week makes it impossible for me to be absolutely sure of Eric's role against City. Certainly he will be involved but I have to bear in mind the goals our resident strikers have started to score and how things went in the game against Benfica in Lisbon in midweek.

”What I do know was that I had to get another striker in because it is obvious that, long term, we have not scored enough goals to keep us in the championship frame. Enough became enough. 

“I had to create a competitive edge up front again. I did it with Dion Dublin of course but, unhappily, he was injured almost straight away. Perhaps I should have moved immediately to make another signing, but at least we have got a player now who I know is going to make an important contribution.

”I only sign players who are keen to join us and I was delighted when Eric did not hesitate to take the opportunity offered to him. He didn't wish to talk to anyone else or try to bounce other clubs off us. He was as keen as us to agree the move.

“He is joining a big club with the biggest crowds. It's all made for him.”


Eric’s debut was a winning one, thanks in the end to Mark Hughes’s fine strike. Paul Ince had opened the scoring, and Niall Quinn got one back for City shortly after Hughes’s goal. Cantona’s first act was in a support role, then, rather than taking centre stage. But was nonetheless, the king had arrived.

Interviewed by Inside United magazine in our January 2013 issue, Sir Alex Ferguson recalled that day and in particular remembered Cantona’s first touch as a United player – enough to assure the boss his new man would be fine.
“You could tell he would fit in straight away,”
he said.
“He came on for the first time as a substitute against Man City, for Giggs. But when he came on I always remember his first pass, just a 10-yard simple pass – it was just genius. You knew then that he was fitting in.”
Gary Pallister says

"Fergie actually asked me and Brucey what we thought of Cantona. We both said he was a handful. Big and hard, but with a great touch."


The Independent:
“Old Trafford oohed and aahed to salute its new hero, but it was the old one who emerged triumphant, Mark Hughes upstaging Eric Cantona on his United debut by winning a fractious Manchester derby with a goal spectacular even by the Welsh warrior's special standards. This third successive victory lifts United into fifth place in the Premier League, above Arsenal and nine points behind the leaders, Norwich City, whose visit on Saturday was inevitably being described last night as a championship six-pointer. Despite Cantona's 45-minute cameo yesterday's result was one born of Mancunian grit rather than Gallic flair.”

The Guardian:
“An injury to the left foot of Giggs, although not as serious as first feared, saw Cantona make his United debut after half-time - a little sooner than he might have expected, given the dominance of Alex Ferguson's team in the first half. Apart from one excellent early cross which Hughes headed over, the Frenchman played a peripheral role. His time may come.”

Eric’s second-half cameo against City rightly goes into the record books as his official Reds debut. But the first time he was seen in action in a United shirt was actually five days earlier, in friendly match at Benfica’s Stadium of Light in Lisbon to mark the 50th birthday of the great Eusebio. Cantona played 90 minutes and impressed with some nice touches, even though United went down 1-0.