Eric Cantona was the head of the French foreign legion of the Premier League, the man who won the title in consecutive seasons in Leeds and Manchester United.
The Frenchman became an instant hit at Old Trafford, winning four top English crowns and two FA Cups during a memorable five-year stint under the leadership of Sir Alex Ferguson.
A new book, King Eric: Portrait of the Artist, which changed English football, tells the story of Cantona with eyewitness accounts of key moments in his career.
Here, in the first extract of Mirror Sport, we revisit the night when his red card to expel Crystal Palace defender Richard Shaw broke out in one of the craziest episodes in football.
The sheer scale of what happened in Selhurst Park on January 25, 1995 meant that everyone had an opinion – and everyone wanted to express it.
A 1-1 draw in South London has undoubtedly become the most written game in the history of the Premier League.
In the fall from his red card, Eric Cantona was charged with assault, banned for nine months and fined £ 10,000.
While Manchester United manager Ferguson saw nothing of the accident, President Martin Edwards was looking directly at it.
“It happened right in the perfect view of the directors box,” said Edwards. “As soon as Eric got involved with the player you knew he would be expelled. As he walked along the touchline, some of us looked at the players and wondered what had been said.
“Eric is led to the dividing line and suddenly stops and launches himself into a kung-fu kick against a supporter. I was thinking,” Damn it, he lost it. He has gone mad. ‘
“Afterwards I went to the locker room and it was completely silent. We were all amazed, really. I don’t think Alex said anything to him.
“The controversy was about being at Manchester United, but I had never seen anything like Selhurst and I don’t think anyone else has ever seen him. It was deeply unusual.”
Palace manager Alan Smith, speaking to the BBC in 2015, seemed to have been seduced by a theatrical vision, saying: “What struck me distinctly was that they played in black all night.
“None of them had shaved and they looked like a pretty fierce team. I was thinking, “It’s going to be a long evening.”
“I don’t have much sympathy for Cantona. He is a great man and has given a good dose.”
Ferguson went to bed at 2 am but was unable to sleep and got up at 5.25 to watch the video. He confessed that what he saw was “quite frightening”.
He said: “I have never been able to get an explanation from Eric, but my feeling is that anger towards himself for the ordination and resentment for the referee’s previous inaction, combined to bring him to the brink. I’m sure Eric is obsessed with everything now. But I felt he had to go. “
It would take Ferguson a month to make a turn and become defensive towards his player, as he was in his diary of February 21: “We are proud of the credibility of the club and we have tried to defend it.
“The Cantona thing really affected us a lot. You cannot leave your character in the locker room, he goes out on the field with you. “
Ferguson’s initial stance softened because he felt that his player was hanging out to dry in a public trial by the media.
United banned Cantona for the rest of the season. He was told to attend a meeting with Ferguson at Old Trafford, where he was informed of the club’s position.
While there, he took his son Raphael to the club shop to get a “Cantona 7” replica shirt on the back.
Weeks later, when Cantona was suspended for nine months and fined £ 10,000 by an FA disciplinary commission, Ferguson said the only way he expected another player to receive a similar ban was if they “invested (the FA president ) Bert Millichip’s dog. “
He said: “I think the commission has gone too far. You can’t have people responsible for an organization like media-driven FA. “
Cantona’s teammates gathered in his defense. In his first autobiography, midfielder Roy Keane said: “My immediate reaction was: so what? Good f ****** plays with Eric.
“I could have done the same on my own. When I saw the photos I saw that it was a bad accident.
“But my attitude hasn’t changed. My heart came out of him. All the kids practically felt the same. We didn’t pat him on the shoulder and said” well done “, but Eric was a good guy and we didn’t want to turn our backs on him.
“While Eric had been seriously off duty, he had done nothing to justify the end of his career.”
Adapted by Mike Walters
King Eric – Portrait of the artist who changed English football, published by Reach Sport and written by Wayne Barton, is now on sale by Amazon in ebook or hardback format