Eric Cantona turns 54: The good, the bad and the ugly

By Sports Desk May 24, 2020

Eric Cantona helped establish the mentality that saw Manchester United become the dominant force in English football during the 1990s.

'King Eric' scored 82 goals in 185 appearances for United, winning the Premier League four times and lifting the FA Cup on two occasions.

He also won league titles with Marseille and Leeds United, as well as the Coupe de France with Montpellier.

On May 24, his 54th birthday, we look back at his illustrious but turbulent career.

The good

Name a more iconic Cantona moment than his goal against Sunderland in December 1996. The brilliant footwork to get away from two players by the halfway line and surge forward. The chip, which he stood and watched as it bounced in off the upright. The turn. The stare. The collar. Straight back, chest out.

Go ahead. I'll wait.

You could say the FA Cup-winning strike against arch-rivals Liverpool in 1996.

Or the back-post volley against title-chasing Newcastle United, the looping effort that crashed in off the underside of the crossbar against Arsenal or the solo strike against Tottenham – all of which came in a six-game scoring run that helped inspire Alex Ferguson's men to Premier League glory.

Then there were the majestic chips against Southampton and Sheffield United, the magnificent first touches to set up goals against Manchester City, Wimbledon and Derby County.

For Leeds fans, it's probably being part of their last top-flight championship team in 1991-92 or his hat-trick in the 4-3 Charity Shield victory over Liverpool.

Even since retiring he's shone in the spotlight. Upon receiving the UEFA President's Award in August he quoted Shakespeare's King Lear in his acceptance speech, going viral online and initially leaving many bemused.

Enough iconic moments for you? Let's move on.

The bad

While his rebellious, defiant spirit helped endear Cantona to so many, it also led to some tetchy on-field moments.

Cantona had a touch of a nasty streak, often leaving a foot in or lunging in with two.

One such example came while he was representing Auxerre in the 1980s. Chasing back and with the ball on the opposite side of Nantes' Michel Der Zakarian, a drop-kick to the thigh of his opponent unsurprisingly landed Cantona a three-month ban.

There was also the occasional little kick in the challenge, or a stamp when he felt wronged.

And it wasn't just the opposition that could draw his ire.

At Marseille he was suspended indefinitely for kicking the ball into the crowd and throwing his shirt at the referee when substituted in an exhibition match.

At Nimes he launched the ball at a referee and then issued insults at his disciplinary hearing, consequently seeing his three-game ban was extended to two months.

Yeah, it wasn't all good.

The ugly

Whatever Cantona did to ingratiate himself with Leeds fans was undone shortly after moving to Manchester United.

In February 1993, Cantona was accused of spitting at supporters of the West Yorkshire club and ended up being fined £1,000.

However, that incident – and punishment – pales into insignificance when put against his infamous kung-fu kick aimed at Crystal Palace supporter Matthew Simmons in January 1995.

After being shown a red card for lashing out at Richard Shaw, Cantona took a detour on his walk towards the Selhurst Park tunnel and went for the Palace fan, who he claimed had been aiming xenophobic abuse at him.

The following day's headlines ran: "The night football died of shame", "Is this the end for the madman?", "Absolute thuggery in front of children".

Cantona was banned for eight months and fined the maximum of two weeks' wages.

As a media storm swirled in the aftermath, Cantona delivered one of his most memorable quotes to sum up his treatment, taking a sip of water mid-sentence to add drama that would hold him in good stead for a later career in acting.

He said: "When the seagulls follow the trawler, it's because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea."

Regardless of some opinions of him, Cantona will remain one of the Premier League's most enduring figures.

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