1966 was a great year for English football. Eric was born.
Eric Daniel Pierre cantona was born on May 24th, and was just a month old when England secured their first and only World cup title. He was brought up in the outskirts of Marseille, where he and his brothers (who also went on to play football professionally) lived in a cave in the hills. With his granddad having been a stonemason, it wasn't so much a cave as a house with very thick walls!
He began his professional career with Auxerre, making his debut in 1983, aged just 17. Just as his professional career was getting started, it was put on hold - Eric had to complete two years of military service for the French Army, and only returned to play football professionally in 1986.
In spite of his time in the army, you would never describe Eric as disciplined...!
By this time he had already established himself as a creative force, with his quick and inspirational passes and his clever finishes earning him a reputation - and an international cap within just months of his return.
Whilst nobody doubted that Eric had the ability to make it at the very top, there were many French commentators questioning his personality - he had a number of spats with players, managers and fans, resulting in ban after ban after ban. In 1991 he threw the ball at the referee in a red-mist moment after a decision had gone against him, and was banned for a month. At his hearing he walked up to each judge in turn and called them an idiot. Unsuprisingly, his ban was extended to 3 months, so Cantona called time on his international career, aged just 25.
Eric was quickly becoming out of favour in France, so opted to move abroad, to somewhere that would appreciate his talents. Trials at Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds followed, with Cantona impressing manager Howard Wilkinson enough to win a contract. 15 games later, Cantona's 9 goals helped Leeds to pip Manchester United to the league title.
Just months later, he was playing for the United in red. Legend has it that Leeds United phoned up the Manchester United chairman Martin Edwards whilst he was in a meeting with boss Sir Alex Ferguson, enquiring about the availability of Denis irwin. United said he wasn't for sale, but asked whether Cantona was available. Within days a transfer had been sorted for £1.2m.
Eric's fancy footwork and sometimes outrageous passes helped his new team-mates to victory, scoring his first goal within just a matter of weeks, and creating chances that his strike-partners dreamed about. United powered on to win the inaugural Premier League title, and they would never look back.
Sir Alex Ferguson recently said that it was this title victory that helped United to open the door, and build a dynasty. Eric was the catalyst.
Cantona went on to score some sublime goals, including this one against Sunderland. His mix of arrogance and sheer brilliance excited the fans, and had them loving his every move.
United won the 93/94 title, and would have won their third title in a row had Eric not been suspended for 8 months. Having been sent off against Crystal Palace, Cantona was walking towards the tunnel when he was abused by a number of fans. The hot-headed genius launched himself into the most abusive fan with an infamous 'kung-fu' kick. United struggled without him, and Cantona struggled without United.
Whilst some doubted whether he would ever play football again, Cantona returned, and captained Manchester United to two consecutive league titles before announcing his shock retirement in 1997, when he was at the top of his game and just 31 years old.
Cantona remained much-loved by the English football fans, who had enjoyed his rollercoaster of a career. He continues to have a place in fans hearts, and admits that he only ever felt 'at home' when he was playing for United.
He has since gone on to play Beach Soccer, dabbled in movies, and is now the Director of Football at the New York Cosmos.