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King Eric, as Manchester United fans like to call him, almost didn’t sign for the Red Devils according to story from former Leeds United manager, Howard Wilkinson.

The manager who brought him to England recently shared a story of how Cantona could have joined Arsenal instead of Manchester United.

Manchester United had a bit of luck in the form of then transfer target for Leeds, Denis Irwin,. As the chief executive of Leeds, Bill Fotherby, called Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson turned the tables and started asking about Cantona instead of making a deal for Irwin.

“I left him out of an away match against Queens Park Rangers and that didn’t go down too well. As soon as I told him he disappeared and went back to France,” Wilkinson said.

“We got a transfer request a week later that said he wanted to go to Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal. 

“It was out there on the football radar. We couldn’t hide the fact that he was in the squad for the QPR game and then on the Saturday lunchtime he’d gone. 

“When he’s not at training on the Monday, you can’t keep it quiet. People knew he’d disappeared and that there had been a problem.

eric cantona paul merson
Credit: Ross Kinnaird/ALLSPORT

“At the time we had to make a decision and there were no other offers. You can only get what you are offered.”

As Manchester United were the only club really interested in a deal for a man whose reputation didn’t make him the most desirable player at the time, Wilkinson continued, “There was no argument over the fee, just a question of do we sell or don’t we?”

The rest is history.

Cantona was sold for £1.2 million in what was a shocking transfer between the two clubs that surprised many.

He led United to four league titles in five seasons with another two league and FA Cup doubles.

He was also a pivotal figure in developing young players that became known as the Class of ’92 including the likes of Giggs, Beckham and Scholes.

Cantona’s work on the training ground and on the field played an important part in what would become the greatest generation of players in the history of the Premier League.

It’s doubtful that Cantona could have made the same impact at Arsenal or Liverpool that he made at Manchester United, but his impact on English football would still have been significant.

As one of the greatest players of his generation, Cantona became a legend of English football. His charisma and showmanship made him a fan favourite, and his goals still amaze and entertain, much more than his TV ads.

Unfortunately, after all the victories he brought to United, he lost himself and that karate kick on a supporter disrupted the progress of his career. He never came back properly after that incident and his lack of passion made him hang up his boots early.

And to think his move to England was on the brink of failure as Sheffield Wednesday rejected him and Leeds only brought him in as a temporary replacement for Lee Chapman…