To most Manchester City supporters, admitting to love for Manchester United's French genius is tantamount to sleeping with their wife, mother and sister. Well I was guilty as charged...
Throughout my teenage years, the success of Manchester United Football Club was torturous. Their FA cup victory in 1990 provided the catalyst for Fergie’s glory years, as the Reds began eating trophies for breakfast on a regular basis. And all the while, my fellow Man City fans were subjected to many years of false dawns, ridicule and badly hidden jealousy.
Whilst United were by no means a one-man team, there was one player whose inspiration to the rest of the team was unquantifiable. The young players in Giggs, Butt, Scholes, Beckham and the Nevilles gleaned his flair, arrogance and winning mentality. The fans idolised him. I should have hated him. Instead to my shame, I adored him.
I am of course talking about philosopher, actor, kung-fu master and unbelievably talented and awe inspiring footballer, Le Roi – Eric Cantona. I would have traded my Game Boy, my Raleigh Racer and my subscription to Viz to have Cantona move across to the Blue half of Manchester. The guy was simply magic.
It was as if he was more than just a footballer, more than just a man in fact. He played the game with the improvisational brilliance of an artist with a blank canvas. And there were many masterpieces to behold in his years at United. Goals would be conjured from unlikely situations, whether through moments of genial individuality or through his instigation of jaw dropping pass and move combinations with his younger teammates. Cantona possessed outstanding skills in every department.
We made two big name foreign signings in 1993/94- Alfons Groenendijk and Kare Ingerbritsen. Big names, s**t players.
But most predominantly, his footballing brain was superior to the other 21 on the pitch in any given match. This lent itself to moments of wonder, such as chipping in from the edge of the box after spotting the keeper had wandered all of two yards off his line, and moments of right place-right time-right decision clinical finishing, such as his last gasp winner against Liverpool in the FA Cup final with the ball coursing between five bodies with almost supernatural accuracy.
All this while City were a team very much in need of a messiah. We made two big name foreign signings in 1993/94- Alfons Groenendijk and Kare Ingerbritsen. Big names, s**t players. Uwe Rosler, Paul Walsh and Peter Beagrie came along in 1994 to add some much needed instinctual talent to the team and Georgiou Kinkladze, who signed in 1995, was our best ever player in our worst ever team. None of these players could provide for us what Cantona provided for United. We were relegated in 1996, and deservedly so. On the same day as our relegation, the Reds sealed their 4th league title in 5 years at Middlesbrough.
United only failed to win the league in 1994-95 because Cantona was banned half the season for karate kicking a Crystal Palace fan. This was symbolic of his influence over the club’s fortunes. If only Eric Cantona could have come to City instead of United. Maybe they would have become relegation fodder and we would have been champions.
Such delusion was at the core of every Manchester City fan back then. The United fans had a brilliant Cantona chant, which I secretly wanted to sing along to every time my schoolmates sang it. To the tune of “On The First Day Of Christmas” it went “5 Caaantonnnaaas. 4 Cantonas, 3 Cantonas, 2 Cantonas and an Eric Cantona.” City fans also had a chant in response to this, “Who needs Cantona when we’ve got David White?” As I said, delusion.
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