‘I Needed This Kind of Energy’ – Manchester United Legend on Coming Out of Retirement for the First Time

Eric Cantona

Manchester United legend Eric Cantona recently opened up on retiring for the first time in 1991 and what prompted him to return to football.

The former United captain has been controversial and iconic in equal parts. During his time as a footballer and now, 15 years after his retirement, Cantona remains one of the best players to have ever graced the game. 

In December 1991, while playing for Nimes,  the Frenchman made headlines after throwing a ball at a referee. A disciplinary committee hearing by the French Football Association banned Cantona for one month. The ban was then extended to two months after he called committee members “idiots“. 

Following this incident, the legend announced his retirement from football and went skiing. However, that was not the end of his love affair with football, as he would return a few months later.

Eric Cantona Speaks About When He Came Out of Retirement

Cantona on Why Decided To Come to England

In January 1992, the Frenchman was announced as a new player for Leeds United. The then-French manager Michel Platini was hugely influential in getting Cantona back to the football field as he offered the Frenchman’s services to Liverpool and Sheffield Wednesday. The then-Liverpool manager Graeme Souness decided not to bring Cantona onboard, citing dressing room harmony. Despite clearing his trial for Wednesday, the King did not join the club as they could not afford his wages.

During a recent interview with The Athletic’s Adam Crafton, Eric Cantona opened up on why he decided to come to England. He stated that he thought England would be a good country for him and that he needed the energy of the country’s football industry: “I didn’t want to play anymore in France, or in a Mediterranean country,” Cantona explained. “So I retired and went away from football for two months. But I thought England could be a good country for me. I needed this kind of energy, this kind of football. Football in England was Kevin Keegan, it was George Best. It was rock ‘n’ roll stars.”

The United legend explained that despite being “in transit” in England, he found a connection: “At this time, I found something,” he said. “I realised I expected too much from people before. I thought I loved these kinds of people, and I wanted them to love me. Then I realised, you become a prisoner of this idea. So I tried to find the solution. I found the words. In French, it is to say ‘Je suis de passage’ (I am in transit). It helped me a lot as a man and a player.”

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The Legend Left Leeds to Join Manchester United and Become Club Captain

Cantona handed Leeds United the final league title of the pre-Premier League era. However, his stay at the club was short-lived after a fallout with management, and he decided to hand in a transfer request. The French legend then joined Manchester United on November 26, 1992, for £1 million.

After winning three league titles in four seasons for United, the icon was made the club captain for the 1996/97 season. Speaking in the same interview, Cantona opened up about becoming captain. When asked whether he wanted the captaincy, he said: “No, if you ask me to be the captain, I will be the captain. But I will not say to myself that I am ‘an example’ because I am the captain. If you give it to me, I will do it as well as possible. But without saying to myself, ‘I have to be a leader, an example.’ No, because I am not an example.”

The 1996/97 season would prove to be the last for Eric Cantona as he would retire from football at the age of 30. During his five years at Old Trafford, Cantona won four league titles and two FA Cups. He did all this while scoring 82 goals in 185 appearances.