Eric CantonaAfter leaving Manchester United at the end of the 1997 season, Eric Cantona moved to Barcelona with his family. This of course meant when he was in the same city as our lads when they lifted their first European Cup since the Busby era.

In Andy Mitten‘s brilliant book, Glory Glory!, Cantona reveals he wishes he had been able to join in.

“When you see teams win things you want to be involved,” he said. “But I had been away from football for two years. I was proud and happy. I knew ten of the players and Ferguson. I was very happy for him. I would have loved to have been on the pitch in Barcelona, of course.”

Cantona’s trademark in his time with United was of course the lifted collar, a fashion tip copied by little lads all over the city on school playgrounds. Rumours circulated it was because he had a Leeds United tattoo on his neck but the reason was much more simple than that.

“That was not a gimmick,” he said. “I put my shirt on. It was a cold day. The collar stayed up so I kept it like that. We won so it became a habit to play with my collar up.”

Cantona recently returned to Manchester to film Looking For Eric which brought back some fond feelings for the city.

“I do miss Manchester a lot,” he said. “I like the culture. Oasis, and the others. The Stone Roses. I liked The Smiths before I moved to Manchester. Morrissey, I liked the things he did and the way he did them. Very much. Manchester United is so strong and you can feel that in the city. There is a lot of energy in Manchester in football, music and culture. Maybe it’s because of the rain. I only lived there when I was a player. I went back to live there recently for one month to shoot Looking For Eric with Ken Loach recently. Some cities you have beautiful things to see and visit; in Manchester they have energy.”

Aside from the attitude and talent and excitement that Cantona brought, it’s hard to ignore that his arrival at United was the catalyst for the past almost two decades of success. The kids had Cantona to look up to, to admire, to aspire to be like, and after he left, already had a few league titles to their name and all the confidence needed to go on to be the main men of the team.

Cantona has reflected on the feelings inspired of that first title win in 1993 though and his feelings towards the fans before the final game of the season.

“We had been crowned champions of England by default the day before,” he said. “Now we wanted to play like champions. The lid was ready to jump off, mouths were ready to open. It was a feeling of the greatest delight and madness. The songs that came from the depths of the crowd were so beautiful that for an instant I didn’t want to have to play, but would have liked to stand still somewhere and just listen… We brandished the cup before Sir Matt Busby, the man whose most beautiful children had perished in that air catastrophe. We did a lap of honour to cheers from all around the ground. When I compare this spectacle to all the shows in the world, this isn’t far from being the most perfect because, just as in certain theatres, the audience is almost part of the play.”

Glory Glory! is a great read which gives loads of behind the scenes stories from the likes of Cantona, Andy Cole, Lee Sharpe, David May etc. We’ve already given away one copy of this book as a prize for the winner of the Cantona mask competition, signed by the author and Andy Cole. Another one will be up for grabs tomorrow…