IT was the transfer that changed the face of English football.
The bargain buy that saw arguably the world’s biggest club end their 26-year wait for the title and set them on the road to two decades of dominance.
From languishing tenth, they lost just two more games and became champions for the first time since 1967.
Cantona spent only five seasons at Old Trafford before his shock retirement in 1996 but inspired them to four titles, two FA Cups and was voted the club’s greatest ever player by fans.
Yet probably his most infamous moment was kung-fu kicking Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons after being sent off — earning an eight-month ban.
Sunsport’s Phil Thomas spoke to Stoke boss MARK HUGHES about life alongside the Frenchman.
“Eric Cantona’s arrival was totally from left field and quickly we realised he was different in terms of demeanour.
“He wasn’t out there, not loud or drawing attention to himself. He just sat in his corner, listened, and chuckled to himself.
“We’d come close the season before he signed. We just needed that spark, that catalyst and that was Eric.
“His influence on the younger players coming through, the Paul Scholes, David Beckhams and the rest…they would watch how he did things.
“He was always on the training ground a long time after everyone else. In the end he would drag us seniors out there as well.
“We’d think ‘he’s playing that well, we may as well do it too,’ and we’d be practising shooting, volleying or whatever 35-40 minutes after the session.
“In the end Fergie would be banging on the window shouting ‘get yourself in.’ That was the consequence of Eric, wanting to keep practising his technical abilities.
“His English was better than he made out. He understood what was going on, and now and then you’d see his shoulders going up and down at something that had been said.
“Eric integrated straight away. You always test new players in the group, but straight away he was doing things we hadn’t seen before in terms of technical ability.
“You’d rap a ball at him and he’d control it instantly. We thought then ‘he’s Man United level.’ He was a big personality who seemed to grow into the shirt. The place was made for him.
“Straight away you saw he was a bit different. Predominantly those days it was 4-4-2, with two strikers and a bit of a battering ram.
“When Eric came he would drift into areas. I used to think ‘where’s he gone?’ and he would be on the wing and all of a sudden join in at the right time.
“He was a big guy and quick, which people don’t speak of. I’d never played with anyone like that, he was very much a European style of player. He’d create space and then come alive.
“It wasn’t a close personal relationship but on the pitch it was. He was good for us and good for me. It was a joy to play with him because of the impact he had on opposition teams.
“I’d gone when he came back from his ban, but I think he always had to have a goal in life, something to prove – that probably stimulated him initially.
“He actually rented a house off me. After I signed for Chelsea, I’d just had a house built. Typical footballer – just before I was sold.
“Anyway, I was trying to sell the one I already had and people assumed Eric moved into my new one. I wasn’t upset because when people thought that, then it wouldn’t get robbed.
“There were loads of games I remember about him, but City springs to mind, when we were 2-0 down at half time not playing well.
“That group of players were strong and we were thinking ‘we can’t have this, we’ve got to do something about it. Then it would be crash bang wallop and we’re up and running.
“Eric scored two and I’m still a bit upset I didn’t get the winner. I was diving in for the cross at the front post and missed it by that much and it went to Keany at the far post to score.
“We all lived in the same area, and would go out socially as well, which is a bit different to now. I think he enjoyed that, I don’t think he experienced it in France or even at Leeds.
“As soon as he walked through the door he felt comfortable with United, what it represented, the players and our ability – he felt he’d help us and we’d help him. He was right.”
HUGHES ON CANTONA’S KUNG-FU KICK
I MISSED that Palace game through injury and maintain that if I’d played, Eric might not have gone into the crowd.
I’d see him change in games when someone whacked him.
His eyes would go blank and he would lose it for 20 or 30 seconds. You’d think ‘Aye, aye, something’s going to happen here’. So I’d run over and say “I’ll sort him out, Eric”.
But I wasn’t there that day and I still think if I had been, and seen his eyes go, I might have stopped it happening.
You never know . . . mind you, his ban allowed me to stay at Old Trafford a bit longer because I think I was about to get replaced!
We felt Eric was a bit of a target for teams and refs . . . you saw that in our reaction when he was sent off twice in quick succession at Swindon and Arsenal.
We looked after him because we respected what he gave to the team.