By Rob Shepherd.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s new book is not only a best-seller it has caused a media frenzy. Bizarrely some journalists are even complaining Fergie has been a bit too frank. Talk about killing the goose that lays golden eggs…
Yes, the timing of publication could have been better given it casts a shadow over successor David Moyes so soon into his reign. Then again; why not get it over and done while Moyes at least has a bit of his honeymoon period left..?
Rarely has an autobiography of any sort, let alone a soccer one, attracted such interest and inspection.
When the book was launched and Ferguson held court at a press conference in London’s Pall Mall, it was akin to listening to a sermon front the Mount: The Gospel according Fergie as the Manchester United manager of 27 years responded – sometimes sharply – to questions on the big issues he had raised.
Fergie lifted the lid on why David Beckham had to go, how Roy Keane lost the plot, his loathing of Liverpool and Rafa Benitez, his admiration for Cristiano Ronaldo, why he turned England down twice…..
The explosive revelations went on and on, there was barely enough space on the sports pages the next day to cope with the headlines.
Yet in the feeding frenzy one name was distinctly absent from scrutiny.
He will be in there somewhere of course and it will be fascinating how much credit – or otherwise – Ferguson pays to this player who more than any other shaped the silverware laden years (38 trophies) of The Fergie Era which began in 1986.
While home-grown players Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes were major and pretty much constant themes through the glory years, it was the Frenchman Cantona, to borrow a line from Ian Drury, who was the catalyst who sparked a revolution.
Remember, when Cantona joined United in December 1992 they had yet to win a league tile under Ferguson.
The previous season Cantona had in fact been a major influence on a different United winning the last Divison One championship when he was at Leeds.
When Cantona arrived United were in contention but looked as though they would blow it again.
By the end of the season they had landed the first Premier League tittle, United’s first top flight success in 26 years.
Cantona turned a very good team into what would become a great one.
He added a different dimension to the side not just in the way he played but with his attitude.
Confidence bordering on arrogance is often the characteristic of champions. Cantona had it in spades.
Cantona injected that type of confidence into a highly talented United team that had at crucial times been pitted with self-doubt. He did so with supreme skill and style counterpointed by brooding menace and sometimes raw aggression.
Cantona’s goals and guile shaped United not only for that season but even after he retired five years later.
In many ways even if there were language barriers it was Cantona, the rebel from Marseille, who understood and interpreted the message Ferguson, the rebel from Glasgow, was trying to put across to the rest.
They had much in common. Deep thinkers and readers they were rebels with a common cause.
Ferguson spoke at length about Cantona in his first autobiography 14 years ago true enough. But Cantona’s part in the United story in Ferguson’s success remains vital.
And all this from a player who Ferguson HADN’T even considered buying.
To remind you: The shock £1.2 million move from Leeds United came about because LEEDS chairman Bill Fotherby had rung United asking whether they could buy left back Dennis Irwin from them.
Ferguson said no. But a few days later rang back and asked if Cantona was available.
At the time Mark Hughes and Brian McClair had been in erratic form. Summer signing Dion Dublin had broken his leg. Bids to sign David Hirst, Matthew Le Tissier and Brian Deane had all failed.
Fotherby informed manager Howard Wilkinson, who much to the chairman’s shock agreed to sell his maverick striker.
So, Cantona, L’enfant Terrible as he had been known during a troubled time in his native France, became Un Devil Rouge and to the United fans would become Eric The King.
In this second autobiography Ferguson inevitably pays a lot of attention to events since the Treble season of 1999, a year after Cantona had departed. And as he has shown there are plenty of tales to tell.
He points out that Cristiano Ronaldo is the most talented player who has played under him in his years at United.
But in the grand scheme of Ferguson’s golden reign as Manchester United manager Eric Cantona remains the most significant player – as shown below;