published AUG 23 98
"Munich, Memories and Small Minds"
I can only find one thing wrong with Eric Cantona's return to Old Trafford this past week, and that is that I wasn't there to see it. What I would have given to have been among the lucky ones to witness, in person, the magic of King Eric at the Theatre of Dreams one more time. And for such a great cause as well. Having devoured every word I could find on the Munich Benefit game, I find myself recalling specific moments from those five great seasons of Cantona's reign at Old Trafford in my mind.
Some recurring images:
THAT goal against Sunderland and Eric's reaction. No running around the pitch as if those chasing him were not team mates, but debt collectors. No dive-bombing run ending in a plummet to the grass. No, Eric just stood his ground, hands on hips, slowly turning his head to those assembled as if to say "Well, that wasn't half bad, was it?"
The infamous kung fu kick on the Crystal Palace cretin who went way over the top that day at Selhurst Park.
The cup final goal against Liverpool, a sublime piece of skill forever imprinted on my mind.
The disdainful glare Eric would direct at a fellow United player whose play wasn't measuring up.
I shouldn't have started a list, for there is nowhere near the room here to recall all of those special moments Eric Cantona gave us.
Was he the best ever to wear a United shirt? That question has been asked many times this past week and it can't be ignored here either.
First, some quotes from people whose opinions you have to respect.
Bobby Charlton, a man who would receive more than a few votes in any poll for the best Red ever:
"For this club for the time he was here he was unsurpassed." says Bobby. "We caught him at the right time and got the best out of him. One of 2 United men to have ever been knighted for their services to football, Sir Bobby concludes "Eric was something really special to this club and one wonders if there will ever be anybody like him here again."
Alex Ferguson, who paid £1.2million to Leeds United for Cantona in November of 1992:
"He (Cantona) stuck out his chest as if to say I should have been since I was born. A lot of other players have come here, particularly in the period after Sir Matt's 1968 European Cup success up until winning the league again, who were completely overawed by Old Trafford. They were intimidated by it and having to carry the albatross of being the player who was going to have to win the league for Manchester United. But Cantona was born for that kind of pressure - he was just made for it. He was the catalyst - there's no doubt about it." To sum up, Ferguson concludes "Eric had the most effect any player has ever had on any of my teams."
Ferguson also believes the Cantona transfer was the best deal he ever made for United, and on the evidence who can disagree.
Harry Gregg, the former United goalkeeper, and a hero of that awful day in Munich:
"As far as I'm concerned he has been the most influential figure at Old Trafford since Feb. 8, 1958. You can talk about others since then, but they did not have the influence this person had. People talk over the years about the big things that have happened at Old Trafford, but you tell me one person who had the effect that he had in those five years - there isn't anyone. He was the catalyst for the whole thing coming together again."
In paying further tribute to Cantona Harry Gregg says "As far as I'm concerned Cantona was always the one, when I watched United, who stood out from the rest. He had that thing about him which is greatness. On the pitch he was a genius and there are not too many I would say that about. Others talk a good game, but he didn't - he just played one instead."
The record shows that in the four-and-a-half years Eric Cantona wore a United shirt the club won the league championship four times, the FA Cup twice, and did the Double twice. In fact the only year in which United won nothing was 1995, and that was the year Eric was suspended for what happened at Selhurst Park.
Fans from the 50's will tell you Duncan Edwards was great, and he was. The sad truth is we will never know just how great he would have become, and how different United's history would be had it not been for Munich.
Those of us privileged enough to have seen the team of the mid 60's play will talk of the contributions of Charlton, and the man we called the King back then, Denis law. We marveled at the skills of George Best and to this day shake our heads at what we saw him do, not quite believing any player could actually do those things. We remember the courage of David Herd, rising from the floor after a bone shattering tackle, to stand on his good leg and knock the ball into the net with the one broken a second or two before.
United supporters of any era have had their heroes. Players such as Buchan, Coppell, Whiteside and Robson come to mind in more modern times. But did any player of any other era lead the team to glory the way Eric Cantona did? There is only one answer, and that is "No". He was the constant in all of the winning campaigns of the 90's, and it is sad that he doesn't have a European Cup winners medal to go with the others he won with United. And Eric did not wait for his skills to fade, as have others, before he retired. When his passion for the game left, so did he. I believe United were fortunate indeed to have had him for the time the club did, and it was a great gesture on his part to agree to return to Old Trafford for the Munich Benefit.
And Eric finally got his chance to speak directly to the Old Trafford faithful, saying "It has been a very special night for me. It is a wonderful feeling and I thank you all for coming and I hope to see you all soon."
Addressing the question of why he called it quits so suddenly in May of 1997 he said "I lost my passion for the game. I'm sorry but I gave the game more than 10 years and I had five wonderful seasons here. They were the best times of my career and I love you all very much."
As we do you, Eric.
Long live the King.
From the King to the son of Yorke, To be precise, Mrs Yorke's boy, Dwight. After a ridiculous couple of weeks of will he-won't he, the deal was done just in time for United to register the Trinidad and Tobago international for the group stage of the Champions Cup.
The stupidest statements of the whole Yorke affair came out of Villa Park, and they continued after the transfer was completed. While the haggling was going on John Gregory rambled on about "Why should Yorke want to go to Manchester United when Villa are just as good a club" etc. Right John, the Villa trophy case has just been bursting at the seams the last few years, hasn't it? Every time this clown opens his mouth he proves just what a fool he is, and what he said about wanting to shoot Yorke when the player told him he would prefer to leave Villa for United was the stupidest thing he has said throughout this entire saga. Whatever you do John, donít give that gun to Stan Collymore. You know he would miss the intended target, even from point blank range. Villaís chairman is no better. Doug Ellis's comments about Unitedís behaviour, accusing United of "tapping" Yorke, are laughable, especially in light of the Villa man's own actions in the past. I have two words for Doug E
I hope the Ellis-Gregory partnership lasts a long time. They deserve each other.
The saddest thing about the signing of Yorke would be the loss of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. As of this writing some sources had him all but signing for Spurs, while others insist he will stay at Old trafford to fight for a place in the first team. As late as Friday afternoon Alex Ferguson was quoted as saying he didn't want to sell the Norwegian, and Ole as saying he didn't want to go anywhere else. Taking both at their word I have to believe pressure was brought to bear by the people who pull the purse strings at Old Trafford, the "suits" who care less about table position and trophies won, than they do about the bottom line at the end of the financial year.
All along Fergie has been talking of the importance of having a good squad from which to choose. If that is the case then why weaken it by selling a man who scored 18 goals in his first season with the club? I'll repeat what I said in this space two weeks ago. Solksjaer's second season at Old Trafford was marred by injury, but given playing time he would be finding the net again with regularity. Of course the "suits" see a chance to recoup some of the money which has gone out on transfers this summer and want to grab it. To hell with the fact the manager wants to keep him, to hell with the fact the player wanted to stay, and to hell with the supporters too. As long as their earnings stay high why bother about the players and the supporters? It's time they realized the football played at this club over the years is the basis of it's success. Without it's marvelous history, and without itís great managers and players, past and present, there would be no megastores, and no huge investm
Manchester United pulls in staggering amounts of money each year, and like it or not, you guys in the boardroom, the foundation of that mountain of cash is the product on the pitch, and what it means to all of those "little people" who love this club even more than you love money. You know the little people. Those who fill the stands each game, those who still follow the club faithfully and buy the merchandise, those who live thousands of miles away but make the occasional trek to Old Trafford at great expense just to drink in the atmosphere, and treasure those moments till the next time. You owe it to all of us to re-invest the money this club makes in the very best players. We the fans, and the players, present and past deserve no less.
Especially those who died in Munich in 1958.