Cantona made United great

Cantona made United great

27/11/2012 at 13:29Updated

It is now 20 years since Eric Cantona signed for Manchester United. He made United a global force, feared in England and around the world, and helped instil an attractive style of play. It was Eric who made United a great team.

He brought something very different to an already historic club. The arrogance, the collar up, the shirt untucked, the goals, the titles, the brilliance. What marked him out from other great players was his manner, the respect he had from the general public and what he achieved with United.

When he signed from Leeds on November 26, 1992 it was one of those transfers that happened pretty quickly - if it had got out in the press then other parties would have tried to intervene. It was an audacious transfer to bring him in after he had won the league title with Leeds in 1992, but in my opinion he wasn't appreciated at Elland Road.

Instead of respecting someone who helped them win the last ever Football League title and brought something different to the team, Howard Wilkinson had his own ideas and Eric didn't fit in. He was his own person - you couldn't rule Eric - and everyone who played at Leeds had to do things in a certain fashion.

That was why Manchester United suited him more: he could do his own thing. His level of ability was so high that you just had to let him be how he wanted to be. We knew pretty quickly at United that he would get away with a lot more than the rest of us, but when you had someone who could make such a difference and win matches, you put your egos aside.

The first thing I really remember was Eric's arrival was his debut as a second-half substitute against Manchester City on December 12, 1992. I had played against him before and was aware of his ability, but it quickly became apparent in training and on match days just what an outstanding talent he was.

In the 1991-92 season we were too predictable. Teams knew what we were going to do: if they could stop Mark Hughes and Ryan Giggs then they had a decent chance. The signing of Eric changed all that. Suddenly we had a player who could find a pass out of nothing, who through the strength of his talent made other players lift their games. You knew if you made a run then Eric would find you, so we all became more ambitious, we all believed in ourselves more.

That is what Eric brought to Manchester United and it continued until the day he retired. He was constantly improving, adding things to his game. Without him we may not have won that first Premier League but he was the catalyst for that success and so much else. Sir Alex Ferguson always says that Cantona gave United an extra dimension, and that's what it felt like when you played in a team with him. In truth, Sir Alex just told us to give him the ball.

He was also a wonderful team-mate. People used to think he was a difficult personality, but he was no different to anyone else. If you knew he had a mood on you let him get on with it, but you respected him and you respected his privacy. He mixed in very well socially and was old school like that - he'd come out and have a drink and get involved, but he trained very, very hard too.

Often he'd turn up for training wearing some unbelievable gear. We'd all be smiling and looking at him but he had the swagger to pull it off. If anyone else tried to wear it they'd look ridiculous. We went to one event at a town hall and we had to wear the full club blazer and suit, but Eric turned up in a club tie that he had trimmed down to make it a pencil tie, and a pair of red Nike trainers on. If that had been any other player the boss would have sent them straight home, but he just said, 'Eric, no one else can get away with that but you' and started laughing. We all thought he would get a rollicking.

He was an individual, and as long as you respected that and respected him, he would respect you too. He wasn't shown a lot of respect in that infamous match against Crystal Palace in January 1995, and look what happened. I was on the bench when he kung-fu kicked the Palace fan and laughed at first, before we all realised how serious this was.

The guy got in Eric's face and questioned his heritage. Why should he accept that? The Palace fan was stupid as he didn't know Eric well enough to know that there was no way he was going to accept that kind of abuse. Eric was initially given a prison sentence, reduced to community service on appeal, and was banned for eight months, but I thought he was dealt with very harshly. Still, he didn't complain once. He served his sentence and just got on with it. He accepted his punishment like the man he was.

He was a great player, but he was a great man as well. That's what makes him such a special figure in United's history.