Eric Cantona transformed a team, a club and its league; there is no better measurement of greatness.
Cantona arrived in England the season before the formation of the Premier League, ending up at Leeds in January 1992 having been turned down by Liverpool and then rejecting Sheffield Wednesday.
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During his spell at Elland Road, the Frenchman helped - but did not lead - Leeds to the First Division title. Cantona took his wares to Yorkshire owing to his pariah status in his home country following a slew of disciplinary issues, culminating in his retirement at Nîmes in December 1991. His talent, though was never in doubt.

Eric Cantona lors de ses débuts à Leeds

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Despite his on-field success, the then 26-year-old handed in a transfer request due to a deteriorating relationship with Leeds boss Howard Wilkinson, citing one of three prospective destinations: Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United.
When his move to Old Trafford finally came about in November 1992, the Red Devils, who had faltered in the previous season's title run-in, sat 10th in the table after 15 games, having drawn six and lost four averaging roughly a goal a game. Come season's end, they won the title by 10 points - their first in 26 years. Cantona had a transformative effect on United. His signing set the wheels in motion for a period of United dominance that would run for two decades.
For all his technical footballing excellence, it is perhaps the intangibles that stands Cantona apart from his contemporaries. The swagger he instilled at United and, by extension, a league, that by its own conception was an admission it had a severe and long-standing branding issue. Cantona, it can be argued, was the catalyst that changed English football, a revolutionary, whose presence set forth in motion its repositioning as a world leader. His brilliance was as symbolic as it was material.
To measure Cantona's greatness purely in terms of his on-field excellence would do him a great disservice. Yet, that contribution was - certainly at the time - a level above anything else within the English game, and, while making comparisons between generations is often reductive, Cantona's talent and professionalism was before his - and would stand the test of - time.
His commitment to his craft rejuvenated the careers of those around him when he first arrived - most notably Mark Hughes - but also set the tone for the generation to come. The Class of '92 were in and around the United squad during Cantona's first season, many of whom would partake in extra training with the Frenchman. If only Alan Hansen was privy to that information ahead of his appearance on Match of the Day in 1995.
His talent and his drive - as his chat - was absurdist, and it would be absurd to define the greatness of Cantona outside the context of his Kung Fu kick on Matthew Simmons at Selhurst Park. It was a retaliatory act that Cantona never sought to defend. He did it, and begrudgingly accepted the consequences before returning to reel in Newcastle United in the 1995-96 title race, scoring in six games on the bounce in the run-in.
If there is one familiar weakness in great athletes, it is an unwillingness to recognise when their time has passed. Not Cantona, he played on for one more season, leading United to another title, his fourth in five years at the club, before retiring at the age of 32.
And in that final season Cantona produced the essence of his greatness: having scored a ridiculous lob against Sunderland, he pushed out his chest, spun around and stared down the stadium.

English Premier League match at Old Trafford. Manchester United 5 v Sunderland 0. United's Eric Cantona celebrates his goal, 21st December 1996.

Image credit: Getty Images

The talent and the swagger that defined a league and a generation.
English football had seen nothing like him before, and while similar may have followed, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
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