Eric Daniel Pierre Cantona (French pronunciation: [eʁik kɑ̃tona]; born 24 May 1966) is a French actor and former professional footballer. He played for Auxerre, Martigues, Marseille, Bordeaux, Montpellier, Nîmes and Leeds United before ending his career at Manchester United where he won four Premier League titles in five years and two League and FA Cup Doubles. He won the league championship in seven of his last eight full seasons as a professional. At international level, he played for the France national team.
A large, physically strong, hard-working, and tenacious forward, who combined technical skill and creativity with power and goalscoring ability, Cantona is often regarded as having played a key role in the revival of Manchester United as a footballing force in the 1990s and having an iconic status at the club. He wore the number 7 shirt at Manchester United with his distinctive upturned collar. Cantona is affectionately nicknamed by Manchester United fans as "King Eric", and was voted as Manchester United's greatest ever player by Inside United magazine. Set against his achievements in football was a poor disciplinary record for much of his career, including a 1995 conviction for an assault on a fan for which he received an eight-month suspension.
Blanchett, the 2008 film French Film, and the 2009 film Looking for Eric. In 2010, he debuted as a stage actor in Face au Paradis, a play directed by his wife, Rachida Brakni. Cantona also took an interest in the sport of beach soccer, and as player-manager of the French national team, he won the 2005 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup.
Charismatic and outspoken, Cantona was an inaugural inductee into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002. The museum states: "The enigmatic Frenchman was one of the Premier League's most controversial players ever". At the Premier League 10 Seasons Awards in 2003 Cantona was
Eric Cantona was born in Marseille, to Albert Cantona, a nurse and a painter, and Éléonore Raurich, a dressmaker. The family home was a cave in one of the hills in the Les Caillols area of Marseille, between the city's 11th and 12th arrondissements, and it was rumoured to have been used as a look-out post for the German Army, towards the end of the Second World War. The site was chosen in the mid-1950s by Cantona's paternal grandmother, Lucienne, whose husband, Joseph, was a stonemason. By the time Cantona was born in 1966, the hillside cave had become little more than a room in the family's house, which was now up to a habitable standard. Cantona has two brothers, Jean-Marie, who is four years older; and Joël, who is 17 months younger.
Cantona came from a family of immigrants: his paternal grandfather, Joseph, had emigrated to Marseille from Sardinia, while his mother was from Barcelona. Pere Raurich, Cantona's maternal grandfather, was fighting the armies of General Franco in the Spanish Civil War in 1938 when he suffered a serious injury to his liver, and he had to retreat to France for medical treatment with his wife Paquita. The Raurichs stayed in Saint-Priest, Ardèche, before settling in Marseille.
Cantona began his football career with SO Caillolais, his local team and one that had produced such talent as Roger Jouve and had players such as Jean Tigana and Christophe Galtier within its ranks. Originally, Cantona began to follow in his father's footsteps and often played as a goalkeeper, but his creative instincts began to take over and he would play up front more and more often. In his time with SO Caillolais, Cantona played in more than 200 matches.
Cantona's first professional club was Auxerre, where he spent two years in the youth team before making his debut on 5 November 1983, in a 4–0 league victory over Nancy.
In 1984 his footballing career was put on hold as he carried out his national service. After his discharge he was loaned out to Martigues in the French Second Division before rejoining Auxerre and signing a professional contract in 1986. His performances in the First Division were good enough to earn him his first full international cap when barely in his twenties. However, his disciplinary problems began in 1987 when he was fined for punching teammate Bruno Martini in the face.
The following year, Cantona was again in trouble because of a dangerous kung-fu tackle on Nantes player Michel Der Zakarian, resulting in a three-month suspension, this was later reduced to a two-month suspension as his club Auxerre threatened to make the player unavailable for selection in the national team. He was part of the France under-21 side that won the 1988 U21 European Championship, scoring a hat-trick in a quarter-final against the England under-21 side in the process, and shortly after he transferred to Marseille for a French record fee (FF22m). Cantona had grown up as a Marseille fan.
In January 1989 during a friendly game against Torpedo Moscow he kicked the ball at the crowd, then ripped off and threw away his shirt after being substituted. His club responded by banning him for a month. Just a few months earlier, he had been banned from international matches for one year after insulting the national coach Henri Michel on TV.
Having struggled to settle at Marseille, Cantona moved to Bordeaux on a six-month loan and then to Montpellier on a year-long loan. At Montpellier, he was involved in a fight with teammate Jean-Claude Lemoult and threw his boots in Lemoult's face. The incident led to six players demanding that Cantona be sacked, but with the support of teammates such as Laurent Blanc and Carlos Valderrama, the club retained his services, although they banned him from the ground for ten days. Cantona was instrumental as the team went on to win the French Cup and his form persuaded Marseille to take him back.
Back at Marseille, Cantona initially played well under coach Gerard Gili and his successor Franz Beckenbauer. However, the Marseille chairman Bernard Tapie was not satisfied with the results, and replaced Beckenbauer with Raymond Goethals; Cantona was continually at odds with Goethals and Tapie and, despite helping the team win the French Division 1 title, he was transferred to Nîmes the following season.
In December 1991, during a match for Nîmes, he threw the ball at the referee, having been angered by one of his decisions. He was summoned to a disciplinary hearing by the French Football Federation and was banned for one month. Cantona responded by walking up to each member of the hearing committee in turn and calling him an "idiot". His ban was increased to two months, and Cantona subsequently announced his retirement from football on 16 December 1991.
The French national team coach Michel Platini was a fan of Cantona, and persuaded him to make a comeback. On the advice of Gérard Houllier as well as his psychoanalyst, he moved to England to restart his career, "He [my psychoanalyst] advised me not to sign for Marseille and recommended that I should go to England."
On 6 November 1991, after Liverpool's 3–0 victory over Auxerre in a UEFA Cup second round, second leg tie at Anfield, Liverpool manager Graeme Souness was met by Frenchman Michel Platini at the end of the game, who told him that Cantona was available for sale to Liverpool. Souness thanked Platini, but declined the offer, citing dressing room harmony as his reason.
After being turned down by Liverpool, Cantona was given a trial at Sheffield Wednesday when Wednesday manager Trevor Francis was approached by Platini and Francis' former agent, Dennis Roach. In a 2012 interview Francis explained that he had agreed to take Cantona on as a favour to Roach and Platini, who he knew from his time playing in Italy, and that it was intended as an opportunity for Cantona to put himself in the "shop window": Wednesday had only recently been promoted back to the top flight, with most of the squad still being on Second Division-level wages, and the club could not afford to sign him. Cantona spent two days with Wednesday, training and playing in an indoor tournament at Sheffield Arena.
Cantona's arrival at Leeds United was announced in January 1992. Leeds would pay £100,000 to Nîmes to take him on loan until 15 April, after which they would have to pay another £900,000 to sign him permanently. Cantona made his debut for Leeds in a 2–0 loss at Oldham Athletic on 8 February 1992. At Leeds, he was part of the team that won the final Football League First Division title before it was replaced by the Premier League as the top division in English football. He made 15 appearances, and despite only scoring three goals, he was instrumental in their title success, primarily with assists for leading goalscorer Lee Chapman. Cantona scored his first goal for Leeds in a 2–0 win at home to Luton Town on 29 February, and set up the other goal for Chapman. Having played little football in the six weeks before signing for Leeds, Cantona struggled to find a place in an established line-up, with manager Howard Wilkinson preferring to put him on against tiring defences. Against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane on 7 March, Cantona came off the bench to set up a goal for Gary McAllister, securing a win that moved Leeds two points ahead of Manchester United, who had a game in hand, in the title race. Cantona was deployed as a part of a front three, along with Chapman and Rod Wallace, in a 5–1 thrashing of Wimbledon at Elland Road on 14 March, scoring Leeds' fourth goal of the game. Leeds' title ambitions survived the difficult tests of Arsenal at Highbury (a 1–1 draw with Cantona denied a late winner by David Seaman) and West Ham (a 0–0 draw with Cantona being denied a first-half goal through a dubious offside decision); however, they lost 4–0 to Manchester City on 4 April at Maine Road, allowing Manchester United to take pole position in the title race again. Against Chelsea on 11 April, Cantona came on for Wallace with 20 minutes to go and Leeds leading 1–0; he then set up Chapman's 20th goal of the season before rounding off the scoring with a lob over Chelsea defender Paul Elliott. Two days later, Wilkinson announced that Leeds intended to complete Cantona's transfer from Nîmes for £900,000. Cantona was paid a generous £7,000 a week, a huge cost in an era without television or European football revenue. Starting with that Chelsea match, Leeds went unbeaten in their final five games, securing the league title on the penultimate weekend with a 3–2 win over Sheffield United after Manchester United had lost to Liverpool.
In the 1992 FA Charity Shield that August, with Leeds missing several key players, Cantona scored a hat-trick in a 4–3 victory over Liverpool, the first hat-trick in the Charity Shield since Tommy Taylor in 1957. Cantona's hat-trick places him among the small group of players to have scored three or more goals in games at Wembley Stadium. Leeds started their title defence with a 2–1 win over Wimbledon on 15 August; Cantona started alongside Chapman up front, but had a quiet game, although he did pick up his first yellow card in English football, after 17 games. After Cantona scored his first league goal of the season in a 4–1 defeat at Middlesbrough, and followed it up with another hat-trick, the first in the newly created Premier League in a 5–0 win over Tottenham on 25 August. Cantona then flew to Paris to join the French national team for a friendly against Brazil on the very same day, due to newly installed manager Gérard Houllier's desire to have the whole squad present for his first match.
Leeds slipped towards mid-table with a pair of 2–2 draws despite excellent performances by Cantona, drawing two excellent saves from a young David James against fellow title challengers Liverpool on 29 August and scoring a brace against Oldham three days later. Leeds then fell 2–0 to Manchester United at Old Trafford on 2 September, with Cantona coming off the bench and nearly scoring with a bicycle kick. Leeds' first foray into the European Cup since 1974–75 started poorly with a 3–0 defeat at Stuttgart on 16 September; Cantona, struggling with a hamstring injury, had a pass intercepted that led to Stuttgart's opening goal, exacerbating a growing rift with manager Wilkinson. Cantona missed the next two games, a 1–1 draw at Southampton and a 4–1 win over Scunthorpe United in the League Cup, through injury but returned immediately to help Leeds win their first league game in six, a 2–0 victory over Everton on 26 September.
Four days later, Leeds faced Stuttgart in the return leg of the European Cup. Dubbed the 'Mission Impossible', Cantona and Gordon Strachan combined to set up Gary Speed, who scored with a left-footed volley. Andreas Buck equalised for Stuttgart in the 34th minute, the away goal meaning that Leeds needed another four to progress. McAllister scored a penalty just before half-time to make it 2–1 to Leeds before Cantona's looping shot in the 66th minute was deflected into his own net by Günther Schäfer. Chapman's header at the near post made it 4–1 in the 78th minute but Stuttgart remained firm and denied Leeds the decisive fifth goal. However, Leeds received a stroke of luck when it emerged after the match that Stuttgart's coach, Christoph Daum, had fielded four 'foreign' players, one more than allowed. Leeds were awarded a 3–0 victory by UEFA, and a play-off match was ordered at the neutral Camp Nou in Barcelona on 9 October.
An exhausted Leeds then stumbled to a 4–2 defeat at Ipswich Town, with Cantona's form dipping through fatigue and injury. He had a poor game as Leeds won the play-off against Stuttgart 2–1. A return to national duty then saw Cantona and Jean-Pierre Papin score in a 2–0 victory over Austria. He brought his revived form back to England, helping in a 3–1 victory against Sheffield United in October. This game would, however, be Cantona's last win while with Leeds.
Leeds were drawn against Rangers in the European Cup, a tie billed as 'The Battle of Britain' by the press. Despite McAllister's first-minute goal, Cantona and Leeds struggled against the physical Rangers side and fell 2–1 amid a hostile Ibrox crowd. Cantona walked straight to the dressing room after being substituted, not an uncommon practice in France, but it was interpreted by Wilkinson as disrespectful to the other players. Leeds also lost the return leg 2–1, Rangers scoring through Mark Hateley and Ally McCoist, before Cantona scored a late consolation goal. In between the two games, Cantona was an unused substitute when Leeds travelled to Queens Park Rangers as Wilkinson, favouring a more direct approach, found no room for him. Leeds lost 2–1, with Cantona leaving for France after being granted leave on the morning of the match. Wallace was preferred to start over Cantona in a fighting 2–2 draw at home to Coventry City. Managing just one win in four, Leeds' title defence had imploded in October, just as Arsenal's had in the previous season.
Cantona did however start in the 4–0 defeat at Manchester City on 7 November, but put in a hapless performance along with the rest of the team. Cantona was then guilty of "two dreadful misses" as Watford knocked them out of the League Cup on 10 November. Despite suffering along with his team, Wilkinson, rather than Cantona, was held responsible, after having to reinvigorate a side with a number of ageing stars. Despite Cantona scoring (with his shoulder) for France against Finland four days later, Wilkinson kept him out of the team, citing an unconvincing excuse of a "groin strain", as Leeds pulled off an improbable but resounding 3–0 win over Arsenal, ending the Gunners' six-game winning run. Furious at being dropped, Cantona refused to report for training and faxed a transfer request to the club on 24 November, stating a preference to join Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal.
The news of Cantona's impending transfer from Leeds to fierce rivals Manchester United was met with hostility from Leeds fans. The transfer was, however, seen as a good piece of business by most football pundits, removing a turbulent player from the team.
Cantona left Leeds for Manchester United for £1.2 million on 26 November 1992. Leeds chairman Bill Fotherby had telephoned Manchester United chairman Martin Edwards to enquire about the availability of Denis Irwin. Edwards was in a meeting with manager Alex Ferguson at the time, and both agreed that Irwin was not for sale. Ferguson had identified that his team was in need of a striker, having recently made unsuccessful bids for David Hirst, Matt Le Tissier and Brian Deane, and instructed his chairman to ask whether Cantona was for sale. Fotherby had to consult with Wilkinson, but within a few days the deal was complete.
"He [Cantona] illuminated Old Trafford. The place was a frenzy every time he touched the ball."
Cantona had arrived too late to register to play in Manchester United's 1–0 win at Arsenal on 28 November, but was in the crowd at Highbury as his new team secured a vital win. He made his first appearance for the club on 1 December 1992 in a friendly match against Benfica in Lisbon to mark Eusébio's 50th birthday, wearing the number 10 shirt. He made his competitive debut as a second-half substitute against Manchester City at Old Trafford on 6 December. Manchester United won 2–1, though Cantona made little impact that day.
"The Frenchman waltzed into The Cliff, United's old training ground, and had team-mates in his thrall with barely a word. In his first season, the first of the Premier League era, he cultivated what would become the hallmarks of United for two decades: attacking football, ingenuity, aggression and an utter insistence on winning. As Paul Ince recalled: "He just had that aura and presence. He took responsibility away from us. It was like he said: 'I'm Eric, and I'm here to win the title for you'."
Manchester United's season had been disappointing up to Cantona's signing. They were falling behind the likes of big-spending Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers in the race for the first Premier League title, as well as surprise challengers including Norwich City and Queens Park Rangers. Goalscoring had been a problem since the halfway point of the previous season – when it had cost them the league title as they suffered defeats or were held to draws at the hands of teams they had been expected to beat.Ferguson had first tried to sign Alan Shearer from Southampton during the 1992 close season, but lost out to Blackburn Rovers. He then spent £1 million on Dion Dublin, who suffered a broken leg a few games into the season and was out of action for six months. A £3 million bid for Sheffield Wednesday striker David Hirst was turned down, and by 7 November, Manchester United were eighth in the Premier League.
Cantona quickly settled into the team, slotting in alongside Mark Hughes, while Brian McClair was switched to midfield. Cantona contributed greatly to a quick upturn in the team's fortunes, not only scoring goals but also creating chances for the other players. His first Manchester United goal came in a 1–1 draw against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on 19 December 1992, and his second came on Boxing Day in a 3–3 draw against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough, where they claimed a point after being 3–0 down by the hour mark. However, controversy was never far away, and on his return to Elland Road to play Leeds a few weeks later, he spat at a fan and was fined £1,000 by The Football Association. Manchester United only lost twice in the league after Cantona's arrival, and finished the season 10 points clear at the top of the table, finishing as champions for the first time in 26 years, and making Cantona the first player to win consecutive English top division titles with different clubs. He had won a domestic league title with different clubs for three successive seasons, having helped Marseille win the French league title in 1991.
Manchester United retained the Premier League, and Cantona's two penalties helped them to a 4–0 win over Chelsea in the 1994 FA Cup Final. He also collected a runners-up medal in the Football League Cup, which the team lost 3–1 to Aston Villa. He was also voted PFA Player of the Year for that season, and finished as Manchester United's top scorer with 25 goals in all competitions. However, the season was not without its moments of controversy; Cantona was sent off as the team exited the Champions League against Galatasaray, and he was also dismissed in successive Premier League games in March 1994, firstly against Swindon Town and then against Arsenal. The two successive red cards saw Cantona banned for five matches, including a FA Cup semi-final clash with Oldham Athletic, which Manchester United drew 1–1. Cantona was available for the replay and helped them win 4–1
1993–94 was the first season of squad numbers in the Premier League. Cantona was issued with the number 7 shirt, a squad number he kept for the rest of his Manchester United career, and which already had iconic status, having previously been worn by club legends including George Best and Bryan Robson. However, squad numbers were not set for the UEFA Champions League matches and Cantona wore the number 9 shirt in the four fixtures home and away against Kispest Honvéd and Galatasaray.
On 19 December 1993, he scored two against Aston Villa (the previous season's runners-up) in a 3–1 victory that put Manchester United 13 points clear at the top of the league. They extended their lead to 16 points soon after, and eventually finished eight points ahead of runners-up Blackburn. Cantona was United's top scorer with 26 goals in all competitions.
In the 1994–95 season, Manchester United looked to win a third successive league title, and for the first half of the season things went smoothly enough for player and club. The season began with a 2–0 Wembley win over Blackburn Rovers in the Charity Shield, in which Cantona scored a penalty.Cantona frequently scored for Manchester United, who put intense pressure on a Blackburn side that led the table for much of the season, particularly with a 4–2 win at Ewood Park in late October, in which Cantona was on the scoresheet. He was also on the scoresheet the following month in a memorable 5–0 derby win over Manchester City, and on 22 January he scored the winning goal in a 1–0 home win over Blackburn that made the title race even tighter and brought Cantona's tally of league goals for that season to 12. He had also scored a further goal in an FA Cup third round win at Sheffield United, and a second double seemed like a real possibility. The arrival of striker Andy Cole from Newcastle United on 10 January further boosted these hopes, even though Cole was cup-tied for FA Cup fixtures.
On 25 January 1995 he was involved in an incident that attracted headlines and controversy worldwide. In an away match against Crystal Palace, Cantona was sent off by the referee for kicking Palace defender Richard Shaw after Shaw had frustrated Cantona throughout the game by closely marking him. As he was walking towards the tunnel, Cantona launched a 'kung-fu' style kick into the crowd, directed at Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons, a fan who had run down 11 rows of stairs to confront and shout abuse at Cantona. Simmons was alleged to have used the words "Fuck off back to France, you French bastard". Cantona followed the kick with a series of punches. A lengthy ban from the game was regarded as inevitable, with some critics calling for Cantona to be deported and never allowed to play football in England again, while others called for him to be banned from football for life.
As well as disciplinary action from his club and The FA, Cantona was also faced with a criminal charge of assault, which he admitted to on 23 March, resulting in a two-week prison sentence, although he was freed on bail pending an appeal. This was overturned in the appeal court a week later and instead he was sentenced to 120 hours of community service, which was spent coaching children at Manchester United's training ground. At a press conference called later, Cantona said, in a slow and deliberate manner:
"When the seagulls follow the trawler, it's because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea. Thank you very much.”
Cantona then got up from his seat and abruptly left, leaving behind him a packed media room surprised and baffled – some roared with laughter – with those in the room trying to decipher his cryptic words. In accordance with The FA's wishes, Manchester United's initial action was to fine Cantona £20,000 for the assault and confirmed that he would not play for the first team for the rest of the season, which ruled him out of first-team action, as Manchester United were still in the hunt for a second double. He was also stripped of the captaincy of the French national football team by national coach Aimé Jacquet. The FA then increased the ban to eight months (up to and including 30 September 1995) and fined him a further £10,000. The FA Chief Executive Graham Kelly described his attack as "a stain on our game" that brought shame on football. FIFA then confirmed the suspension as worldwide, meaning that Cantona could not escape the ban by being transferred or loaned to a foreign club. Cantona never played for the French national team again. His club eventually lost the Premier League title to Blackburn Rovers.
There had been media speculation that Cantona would leave Manchester United to play for a foreign club when his suspension finished, and many observers felt that he would not be able to cope with the inevitable goading from rival players and supporters, but Alex Ferguson persuaded him to stay in Manchester, despite interest from Italian club Inter Milan (who had managed to lure his teammate Paul Ince to Italy that year).
Even after signing his new contract, Cantona was frustrated by the terms of his ban (which did not even allow him to play in friendly matches behind closed doors), and on 8 August, he handed in a request for his contract to be terminated, as he no longer wanted to play football in England. This came after Manchester United had been censured by the FA for fielding Cantona in a match against another club at the club's training ground, which was defined as a friendly match despite the club organising the match as being within the context of training – as his suspension allowed him to play in this type of match only. The request was turned down and two days later, following a meeting in Paris with Alex Ferguson, he declared that he would remain at the club. In 2011, Cantona said that the attack on the Crystal Palace supporter was "a great feeling" and a memory he is happy for fans to treasure, but "... it was a mistake". In 2002, the notoriety of the Kung fu kick saw it ranked number 12 on Channel 4's poll of the 100 Greatest Sporting Moments.
In his comeback game against Liverpool on 1 October 1995, Cantona set up a goal for Nicky Butt two minutes into the game, and then scored a penalty after Ryan Giggs was fouled to secure a point for Manchester United in a 2–2 home draw against their great rivals. However, eight months without competitive football had taken its toll and Cantona struggled for form prior to Christmas – by 24 December, the gap between Manchester United and league leaders Newcastle United had increased to 10 points.
However, after defeat to Tottenham on New Year's Day, United went unbeaten for 12 consecutive league matches, including Cantona's first visit to Selhurst Park since he was banned, during which he scored twice in a 4–2 win over Wimbledon. Victory over Arsenal on 20 March, with Cantona scoring the only goal of the game, saw United overtake Newcastle in the title race, where they would remain for the rest of the season. The goal came as part of a personal scoring run of six consecutive league matches for Cantona, four of which saw him score the game's only goal. He scored the fifth in a 5–0 win over Nottingham Forest on the penultimate day of the season, a result that meant that United realistically only needed to avoid defeat at Middlesbrough on the final day; they won 3–0 to secure their third league title in four years. Cantona finished the season as the club's top scorer with 14 goals from 30 league appearances.
Cantona's ban meant he was not eligible to appear in their League Cup or UEFA Cup campaigns, but he did score in four of Manchester United's six matches on the way to the 1996 FA Cup Final against Liverpool, their third in a row in the competition. In the absence of regular captain Steve Bruce due to injury, Cantona wore the armband for the final and took on the captain's responsibility by volleying in the only goal of the game in the 86th minute after Liverpool had failed to clear a corner. Manchester United's victory made them the first club to win the Double twice and Cantona the first FA Cup-winning captain from outside the British Isles.
"The terrace chant of "Ooh Aah Cantona", sung with such fervour by the Manchester United faithful whenever their French hero scored, looks set to become a trademark."
Cantona was named as Manchester United's captain for the 1996–97 season following the departure of Steve Bruce to Birmingham City. Manchester United retained the league in the 1996–97 season; Cantona had won four league titles in five years with the team, and six in seven years including those won with Marseille and Leeds United, the exception being the 1994–95 season which he had missed the second half of through suspension. Cantona's stand out moment in his final season was a chipped goal followed by the memorable goal celebration against Sunderland in December 1996. After chipping the Sunderland goalkeeper from 25 yards out, Cantona celebrated by standing still, raising his arms aloft, holding his chest out and presenting a blank expression while scanning the crowd.
At the end of the season he announced that he was retiring from football at the age of 30. His final competitive game came against West Ham on 11 May 1997, and his final appearance before retiring was five days later on 16 May in a testimonial for David Busst (whose career had been ended by an injury suffered against Manchester United the previous year) against Coventry City at Highfield Road. Cantona scored a total of 64 league goals for Manchester United, 13 in domestic cup competitions, and 5 in the Champions League, bringing his tally to 82 goals in less than five years.
In 1998, the Football League, as part of its centenary season celebrations, included Cantona on its list of 100 League Legends. Cantona's achievements in the English League were further marked in 2002 when he was made an inaugural inductee of the English Football Hall of Fame. Later in 1998, Cantona organised a match of Manchester United players against other players from around the world in what was originally designed to be a memorial for the victims of the Munich Air Disaster in 1958 and their families, but which was merged with a testimonial for Cantona himself.
In his 1999 autobiography Managing My Life, Alex Ferguson claimed that Cantona had informed him of his decision to retire from playing within 24 hours of Manchester United's Champions League semi-final defeat to Borussia Dortmund, though the decision was not made public for almost a month afterwards. During that time, there had been speculation about his future at Manchester United, including talk of a move to Real Zaragoza of Spain.
Returning to Britain in 2003 to pick up the Overseas Player of the Decade Award at the Premier League 10 Seasons Awards, Cantona said of his premature retirement, "When you quit football it is not easy, your life becomes difficult. I should know because sometimes I feel I quit too young. I loved the game but I no longer had the passion to go to bed early, not to go out with my friends, not to drink, and not to do a lot of other things, the things I like in life."
In 2004, Cantona was quoted as saying, "I'm so proud the fans still sing my name, but I fear tomorrow they will stop. I fear it because I love it. And everything you love, you fear you will lose."
Cantona being interviewed on stage at the Lowry in Salford, Greater Manchester in February 2017
He was interviewed in the Number 7s issue of Manchester United's official magazine, United, in August 2006, stating he will only come back to Manchester United as 'Number 1' (meaning not return as assistant manager or coach) and would create a team like no other and play the way he thinks football should be played.
Cantona opposed the Glazer takeover of Manchester United, and has stated that he will not return to the club, even as a manager, while the Glazer family is in charge. At this stage, it had been expected that manager Sir Alex Ferguson would retire in 2002, but the manager later had a change of heart and would go on to manage until his retirement in 2013.
In March 2014, Cantona was arrested and cautioned for an act of common assault on Regent's Park Road in Camden, North London. The victim did not require medical attention.
Cantona received the UEFA President's Award in August 2019. Dressed in a flat cap, he began by quoting William Shakespeare's King Lear – "As flies to wanton boys we are for the gods" – before referencing science, war and crime. Similar to the response to his "seagulls" press conference in 1995, the puzzled audience watched in silence.[
Cantona was given his full international debut against West Germany in August 1987 by national team manager Henri Michel. In September 1988, angered after being dropped from the national team, Cantona referred to Michel as a "bag of shit" in a post-match TV interview and was indefinitely banned from all international matches. However, Michel was sacked shortly after that having failed to qualify for the 1990 FIFA World Cup.
The new coach was Michel Platini and one of his first acts was to recall Cantona. Platini stated that whilst he was coach, Cantona would be selected for France as long as he was playing competitive top-class football; it was Platini who had initiated Cantona's move to England to restart his career. France qualified for Euro 1992 held in Sweden, but failed to win a single game despite the striking partnership of Cantona and Jean-Pierre Papin. Platini resigned after the finals to be replaced by Gérard Houllier.
Under Houllier, France failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup in the U.S. after losing the final game 2–1 at home to Bulgaria when a draw would have sufficed. Houllier resigned and Aimé Jacquet took over. Jacquet began to rebuild the national team in preparation for Euro 96 and appointed Cantona as captain. Cantona remained captain until the Selhurst Park incident in January 1995. The suspension which resulted from this incident also prevented him from playing in international matches.
By the time Cantona's suspension had been completed, he had lost his role as the team's playmaker to Zinedine Zidane, as Jacquet had revamped the squad with some new players. Cantona, Papin and David Ginola lost their places in the squad and were never selected for the French team again, thus missing Euro 96. Though there was media criticism about Cantona's omission, as he was playing his best football in the Premier League, Jacquet stated that the team had done well without Cantona, and that he wanted to keep faith with the players who had taken them so far. In a 2015 interview with French radio network France Info, Cantona stated that had he still been involved with the national side, he would have extended his career to feature in the 1998 FIFA World Cup, held in Cantona's home nation.
Cantona still harbours resentment for the people at the head of his national team but also admiration for his adopted football country; at Euro 2004 and the 2006 FIFA World Cup, he supported England and not France