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Seagulls, trawlers & kung-fu – Cantona´s most memorable Manchester United moments

6 December 2017 10:00

A host of world-class players have graced the pitches of the Premier League down the years, but few – if any – can rival Eric Cantona's iconic blend of technical brilliance and chaotic infamy.

The Frenchman split opinion more than most, as his undoubted ability and self-assuredness were tempered by a short fuse and general notoriety.

Cantona was introduced to the Premier League by Leeds United in 1992, but on November 26 that year he went on to join bitter rivals Manchester United – a move you could conceivably believe was engineered by the striker purely to feed his own infamy. A debut as a half-time substitute against Manchester City at Old Trafford followed 10 days later.

Ultimately it proved to be the transfer which made his career, as Cantona led the club to four Premier League titles and two FA Cups, helping to awaken a sleeping giant under the management of Alex Ferguson.

There was so much more to his United career than a few trophies, however, and here we look back at his most memorable moments on the 25th anniversary of his switch to Old Trafford.

 

THAT GOAL, THAT CELEBRATION

When pondering Cantona's most prominent characteristics, swagger, justifable arrogance and undeniable brillance should right up there.

Many moments throughout his career showcased these, but arguably the most iconic is his goal against Sunderland in December 1996.

A stunning turn and unexpected burst of pace just inside the Sunderland half caught the visitors out, before a quick one-two with Brian McClair left Cantona with two defenders closing around him and goalkeeper Lionel Perez rushing out.

But an early, delicate 18-yard chip left all around him helpless, leaving Cantona to celebrate as only he could; deadpan, taking in the crowd's adulation before nonchalantly raising his arms up to the sky, all without cracking a smile.

 

DOWNING LIVERPOOL AT WEMBLEY

While it may not carry quite such significance these days, the FA Cup final was once the showpiece of the football season in England and the 1995-96 edition saw United and sworn enemies Liverpool face off.

In many respects, the match did not live up to the hype, but it certainly provided another classic Cantona moment.

With the game still goalless in the 85th minute, United won themselves a corner that Liverpool appeared to have done enough to clear.

But Cantona - lurking just on the edge of the area - managed to sort his feet out just in time to meet the bouncing ball with a fierce effort which found the bottom-right corner, clinching glory at the expense of United's rivals and securing a second double in three seasons.

 

EVERYBODY WAS KUNG-FU FIGHTING

While immense technical talent and an enigmatic persona are synonymous with Cantona, there is one particularly controversial moment from his career you are likely to be aware of regardless of whether or not you can remember him playing.

It was January 10 1995 at Selhurst Park. Cantona had just been sent off for kicking Crystal Palace's Richard Shaw to conclude a tempestuous tussle and, prior to heading for the tunnel, the red mist descended.

Palace fan Matthew Simmons shouted abuse from the stands and Cantona marched over before unleashing a flying "kung-fu" kick, making contact with his torso.

The FA banned him for eight months, while he was sentenced to two weeks in jail - later reduced to 120 hours of community service - for the kick, though in the long run, it simply added to the Frenchman's legend.

 

"WHEN THE SEAGULLS..."

If - as is the case in the eyes of many - the "kung-fu" kick is Cantona's most memorable moment in English football, then his baffling and bizarre statement at a media conference a few days later is his most unforgettable quote.

With camera bulbs flashing incessantly and scores of journalists crammed into the room like canned sardines, Cantona sat down at the table, appearing to relish the spotlight.

"When the seagulls," he began, before taking a sip of water and continuing, "follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea. Thank you, very much."

And with that he stood up and walked out, the confusion in the room leading to audible laughter as the Frenchman sauntered away after uttering what has become one of the most famous - if utterly peculiar - utterances associated with English football.

 

KING KEV CONQURED BY 'THE' KING

United were unable to stop Blackburn Rovers from winning the title without their talismanic forward, but after his return during the 1995-96 season, they were an entirely different beast.

Although 12 points behind Newcastle United in January, Ferguson's side ultimately usurped them and a 1-0 win over Kevin Keegan's men in March was the start of that fight-back.

Unsurprisingly, Cantona was in the thick of it, finishing a brilliant move with a volley at the back post to wrap up the points.

Keegan's infamous "I would love it if we beat them" rant later in the season is arguable the most memorable part of that season, though many pinpoint the St James' Park defeat to United as the moment the wheels came off.

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