5 of the greatest challenges overcome by Alex Ferguson at Manchester United
#2 Standing by Cantona
One of the biggest stars of Ferguson’s original Premier League title winning sides was French striker Eric Cantona. An amazingly gifted player, he was also an enigma with a volatile side, which was partly why United were able to get him so cheaply from rivals Leeds United. While 1993/94 saw Cantona help United to a second league title, finish as top scorer with 25 goals and be named PFA Player of the Year, controversy was never far from the Frenchman.
He’d already been involved in some unsavoury incidents – stamping on an opponent, spitting at a Leeds fan – when January 1995’s game against Crystal Palace saw him go way too far. Following a red card for a late tackle, Cantona launched himself into the crowd in order to kung-fu kick a Palace fan who decided to taunt him.
Charged with assault and hit with a sentence of 120 hours community service, Cantona was also banned from football for eight months by the FA, a ban upheld by FIFA as a worldwide one. It would’ve been easy for Ferguson to simply throw his striker under the bus and send him packing from Old Trafford, deeming him simply too much of a liability.
Instead, Fergie stuck by his man. While he never defended his actions, he did persuade Cantona to stay at United when he considered a move abroad and managed to prevent him from terminating his contract – instead, signing a new deal with the club.
It was a gamble that paid off for Ferguson. Cantona returned to action in October 1995 in a game with Liverpool, scoring and assisting in a 2-2 draw. From there he almost single-handedly led United to overhaul a 12-point gap between them and league leaders Newcastle United to allow the Premier League title to return to Old Trafford.
It was a phenomenal achievement that showed not only incredible talent from Cantona but also incredible judgment on the behalf of Ferguson, whose faith in ‘King Eric’ was repaid in the best possible way.Published 24 Apr 2018, 22:18 IST