Eric Cantona: A round-up of the maverick’s most controversial moments

Richard Bevan
Richard Bevan
3 Min Read

Eric Cantona, known as ‘King Eric’ to Manchester United fans worldwide, was a one-of-a-kind footballer with a flair for the dramatic. His electrifying performances on the pitch are legendary, yet his legacy is equally carved by his no holds barred personality off the pitch. Today, we delve into some of the most controversial moments in Cantona’s storied career.

1. The Crystal Palace Kung-Fu Kick (1995)

Possibly the most notorious incident in English football history, Cantona shocked the world when he launched a flying kung-fu kick at Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons, who was hurling insults from the stands. This extraordinary scene followed Cantona’s sending-off during the match. The incident earned Cantona an eight-month ban from football, and his infamous comment at the press conference later – “When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea” – added fuel to the fire.

2. Spitting Incident at Leeds United (1991)

Before Cantona’s stint with Manchester United, he had a tumultuous time at Leeds United. In 1991, Cantona was banned for four games and fined for spitting at a fan during a match against Torquay United. His knack for controversy was becoming apparent early in his career.

3. Cantona Retires, Then Unretires (1991)

After winning the French Division 1 title with Marseille, Cantona, then only 25, announced his retirement from professional football, blaming the pressure and attention. However, a meeting with the French Football Federation and a psychiatrist saw him rescind his retirement decision just a few months later.

4. France National Team Suspension (1988)

Cantona’s turbulent relationship with the French Football Federation started early. He was suspended from the national team in 1988 after criticising then-coach Henri Michel on live television. Cantona referred to Michel as a “bag of shit” after being dropped from the squad, resulting in a year-long suspension.

5. Throwing the Ball at the Referee (1992)

While playing for Leeds United, Cantona was handed a one-month suspension after he threw the ball at the referee during a match against Sunderland in retaliation for a decision he didn’t agree with.

6. Cantona’s Abrupt Retirement (1997)

Cantona’s final controversy came with his sudden and unexpected retirement from football at the age of 30. The announcement left the football world reeling. His manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, was reportedly shocked, having had no inkling that his star player was considering retirement.

Cantona’s career was one of brilliance interspersed with controversy. He remains one of football’s most colourful characters, bringing an unruly, rebellious, yet compelling edge to the beautiful game. Despite the controversies, his legendary status at Manchester United and impact on English football is undeniable. The ‘King’, indeed.

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