Eric Cantona is seen as one the greatest players to ever wear a Manchester United shirt, but his move from Leeds in 1992 was a huge shock considering the club’s rivalry.
Leeds had just won the final season of the old First Division, finishing four points above arch-rivals United, with Cantona scoring just nine goals in 28 appearances. Sir Alex Ferguson had failed to bring the likes of David Hirst and Matt Le Tissier to the club so risked signing the Frenchman for £1.2m, and the rest is very much footballing history.
So, how did the transfer shake Man United?
United’s six seasons with Cantona up top earned them five league titles and that says a lot about his time at Old Trafford. He scored 64 goals in 142 appearances and became a cult hero who is still admired now, but his influence carries much further than the seasons he held onto the famous number 7 shirt.
His confident attitude and winning mentality had embodied United throughout the Premier League era and created a mould for a strong striker that the club have attempted to replicate since, through the likes of Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Robin Van Persie and now Romelu Lukaku. Those early successes gave Sir Alex Ferguson a blueprint to use over his next 20 years of management that didn’t serve the team too badly at all.
How did the transfer shake the world?
As Cantona swapped Elland Road for Old Trafford, the fortunes of two of England’s most successful clubs polarised, and that was down to the success of the Red Devils during the first few years of the Premier League. English football became a global game with billions at stake and millions of impressionable young fans around the world, so United rode that wave and have reaped the benefits ever since, but Leeds’s 17th place finish that season did the opposite.
If Cantona hadn’t been sold the summer before the inception of the Premier League, United may not have gone on to have the success they did, and the landscape of world football may have been completely different. His goals may not have been enough to retain the title for a floundering Leeds, but the financial gap that opened up between United and many other teams may not have been so wide.