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On this day: Manchester United sign Eric Cantona

Twenty-one years ago today, Eric Cantona joined Manchester United for £1.2m from Leeds United.

It is hard to fathom today, but there was once a time when Manchester United rarely challenged for the league title.

By the time the 1991-92 campaign had come round, not since the days of George Best, Sir Bobby Charlton and Denis Law in 1967 had the Red Devils finished top of the pile in England.

Having struggled initially, it appeared that Alex Ferguson (pre-knighthood), had finally cracked it. They were pipped to the post, though, by Leeds United, who were inspired by the late arrival of a certain Frenchman named Eric Cantona.

He may only have scored three goals in his 15 outings, but his assists for Lee Chapman and overall influence on the team were seen as major contributing factors to Howard Wilkinson's men lifting the Division One trophy. As far as United and Ferguson were concerned, it was back to the drawing board.

Eric Cantona celebrates scoring against Manchester City on April 23, 1994.© Getty Images

Although they had overcome a poor start to the 1992-93 season to move up to the higher echelons of the newly-named Premier League, a run of two defeats and a draw with no goals scored at the end of October and beginning of November resulted in United dropping down to 10th.

It prompted Ferguson to move for a centre-forward to lessen the burden on Mark Hughes and the likes of David Hirst and Brian Deane were mentioned as reported targets, but it would be the man who masterminded Leeds's success the previous term who would capture the United manager's attention.

The story goes that Leeds made contact with United in an attempt to sign full-back Denis Irwin. Ferguson had no intention of selling the Republic of Ireland international, but when he asked about the availability of Cantona, the reply was that he could be signed for £1.2m.

So, on this day 21 years ago, Cantona made the switch across the Pennines. While his talent was there for all to see, few would have predicted the impact that he would have at Old Trafford.

Eric Cantona in action for Manchester United against Liverpool on May 11, 1996.© Getty Images

He scored nine times as United ended their 26-year wait for a league title, before going on to find the net on a further 25 occasions in all competitions as United ended the 1993-94 season with a Premier League and FA Cup double.

The following year would see him suspended by the Football Association for eight months as punishment for his infamous kung-fu kick on a Crystal Palace supporter at Selhurst Park.

The club stood by their frontman, though, and he marked his return in October 1995 by scoring the equaliser in a 2-2 draw with Liverpool. Another goal against the same opposition in the 1996 FA Cup final then sealed a second domestic double.

He scored a further 15 goals during the next campaign as United retained the title and reached the semi-finals of the Champions League, where they slumped to a defeat to Borussia Dortmund.

It was shortly after he had won his fourth title with the club that Cantona dropped the bombshell that he would be retiring from professional football with immediate effect at the age of 30, having scored 82 goals in five years.

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Tables
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
CManchester CityMan City38322495237298
2Liverpool38307189226797
3Chelsea38219863392472
4Tottenham HotspurSpurs382321367392871
5Arsenal382171073512270
6Manchester UnitedMan Utd381991065541166
7Wolverhampton WanderersWolves38169134746157
8Everton38159145446854
9Leicester CityLeicester38157165148352
10West Ham UnitedWest Ham38157165255-352
11Watford38148165259-750
12Crystal Palace38147175153-249
13Newcastle UnitedNewcastle38129174248-645
14Bournemouth38136195670-1445
15Burnley38117204568-2340
16Southampton38912174565-2039
17Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton3899203560-2536
RCardiff CityCardiff38104243469-3534
RFulham3875263481-4726
RHuddersfield TownHuddersfield3837282276-5416

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