It’s fair to say that Eric Cantona’s signing was not universally acclaimed as one that would change the face of English football.
The Daily Mirror’s coverage featured an exclusive column from the late Emlyn Hughes and the former Liverpool defender pulled no punches in his assessment of the transfer.
Under the banner ‘the last big gamble of United’s Alex Ferguson’, the headlines screamed: ‘A Flashy Foreigner’ and ‘It will be Oooh-Arrgh Cantona’.
“A master stroke… that’s what some people are saying about Manchester United’s signing of Eric Cantona,” wrote Hughes. “Me? I say it’s a panic buy. One last frantic roll of the dice to see if the Frenchman can hit the jackpot for Alex Ferguson.
“It could either win him something this season or cost him his job. Break the bank – or bust him. And I’ll admit when I heard the news, I was simply staggered. Cantona looks the business but, in my opinion, he’s a flashy foreigner. He’ll score two goals for United.. when they are two up. But don’t look for him to get in there when it hurts or to decide a game and be a matchwinner.
“For Fergie to sign a player who looked as if he was being phased out at Elland Road suggests he pushed the panic button. What he has done represents perhaps the biggest transfer gamble of his career at the club.
“Ferguson is becoming desperate in his quest to win the League for United, but his side can’t score goals. I’m certain Cantona is not going to put that problem right. I cannot see him being the man who’ll either get the goals or start Mark Hughes scoring.
“Alan Shearer was his man. Should have been and Fergie is now getting stick from the fans for missing him. He has to expect it and now he is forced to go clutching at straws. If United win the League, then it will prove to be the best buy of all.. but if they don’t…”
Hindsight is always a wonderful thing but at least there was some glimpse into the future with that final line. Elsewhere, the jury was out although Norman Fox of The Independentsuggested it may have been better if Cantona had joined United instead of Leeds in the first place.
“Patience is not one of Cantona’s strong points,” wrote Fox. “He walked out on French football, the French team and several French clubs. He also walked out on Sheffield Wednesday when they wanted him to submit to an extended trial period (he said it was an insult and, briefly, he hated everything about Britain).
“His skills are not in dispute but his commitment to fierce, predominantly long-ball football is somewhat short of that expected in a traditional English club. In fact, it might have been better if he had gone to Manchester United in the first place. United’s football is, in theory at least, more in line with his own, but the question is whether now that he has got his man, Ferguson will know how to use him.
“Clearly, he has not rescued Cantona from the Leeds bench to leave him on another, but his dilemma now must be whether he can plan for the long term with someone who can so quickly become disenchanted. Manchester United fans have always had a great affection for audacious goalscorers such as Denis Law and likeable renegades, not least Tommy Docherty and George Best. That must give hope to Cantona, who says: ”If it had not been for football I would have been a drop-out”.”
Also in The Independent, Phil Shaw stated: “If Leeds fans are disappointed, those from Manchester United are likely to be savouring the opportunity of watching one of the Premier League’s undoubted crowd-pleasers. His popularity will know no bounds if he can help cure their recent malaise. However, the move does place a question mark over the futures of Mark Hughes and Brian McClair, whom United have relied upon to provide the goals.”
Of course, both Hughes and McClair did continue to contribute to the Reds’ success even if Shaw was spot on about Cantona’s popularity.