091. Eric Cantona
An extremely talented but often controversial attacking midfielder, French star Eric Cantona was one of football’s most famous faces during the 1990s. His volatile temperament often caused him to get into trouble with the football authorities both in England and in France, but his abilities on the pitch were never in question and he won many domestic honours.
Eric Cantona’s football career began when he joined AJ Auxerre in 1983, although he rarely played for the first team in the early years of his stay with the club. After a loan spell with Martigues in the 1985-86 season, he became a regular in Auxerre’s first team and became an international in 1987. One year later his performances were rewarded with a dream move to his hometown club Olympique de Marseille.
With Marseille on the way to the league and cup double in 1989, Cantona found himself in trouble when he threw his shirt to the ground having been sent off, and he was loaned out to Girondins de Bordeaux for the remainder of the season. Cantona then spent the 1989-90 season with Montpellier, with whom he won the French Cup in 1990, before returning to Marseille later that year.
The 1990-91 season saw Cantona win the French League title with Marseille, and that summer he was sold to Nîmes where he became team captain. Early in his first season with Nîmes he was again involved in controversy when he threw the ball at the referee and then insulted a disciplinary panel, and his subsequent ban led to the end of his club career in France. Returning to football in England with Leeds United, he won the English league title in 1992 before playing for France in that summer’s European Championships.
In the autumn of 1992, Cantona signed for Leeds’ rivals Manchester United and went on to become a legend at the club, winning four league titles and two F.A. Cups in just five years, but his stay at the club also saw the most controversial moment of his career. In 1995, after being sent off in a game against Crystal Palace, he attacked an abusive spectator at the front of the crowd and was banned from football for several months. Once his ban was over, Cantona did not return to the French national team but continued to inspire Manchester United, and many were stunned in 1997 when, aged just 31, he announced his retirement to pursue an acting career.