Manchester United chairman Martin Edwards, via Alex Ferguson, rebuffed the request. Bill Fotherby, the Leeds United managing director, was on the phone asking about the availability of United's quietly excellent full-back Denis Irwin, who had played for Leeds between 1983 and 86. But before the call was cut, Ferguson had an epiphany. Accounts relayed by him and Edwards have altered in the 20 years since, but we'll stick with the most frantic. Having been unable to mime the name successfully, the Scot scribbled it on a notepad. Eric Cantona. Two days later, on 27 November 1992, the Frenchman was paraded at Old Trafford. He cost £1.25m

Cantona's mark at United is indelible. The undisputed catalyst who ended the club's 26-year wait for an English championship, the Reds' era of domination began with his signing. He was the last and first pieces of jigsaw in separate puzzles, the talisman of two great sides who would defend their titles as Cantona, in five trophy-laden seasons with United, won four Premier Leagues and two FA Cups. Under Ferguson he found "happiness" as a footballer.

cantona

Striking the pose

Despite the light, there was also darkness. Two successive sendings off against Swindon Town and Arsenal (the latter harshly) in 1994, after a red card against Galatasaray in November, were the precursor for true madness on 25 January 1995. His kung-fu kick on Crystal Palace supporter Matthew Simmons initiated a nationwide witch-hunt against him, except among United supporters. Some supported the striker at court while others paid tribute to him literally going over the edge 10 years later at Palace's Selhurst Park by donning Cantona masks.

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  • Bonjour

  • Attending his first game as a United player at Highbury (far right, second row from front). That's Mark Lawrenson in front of him

  • An inkling of his majesty: Earning United a 3-3 draw after falling 3-0 behind at Sheffield Wednesday

  • Poetry in motion, February 1993

  • A first derby goal at Maine Road, March 1993

  • Some people are on the pitch... Party night at Old Trafford as United prepare to lift their first title in 26 years

  • A back-to-back English champion

  • No Turkish delight in Istanbul, November 1993

  • Enjoying the equaliser at Maine Road four days after Galatasaray

  • That volley at Selhurst Park, February 1994

  • Stamping on John Moncur and picking up his second red card as a United player in March 1994...

  • And harshly seeing red against Arsenal three days later

  • Bagging the first of a comeback brace from suspension against City, April 1994

  • Sorting out about collecting his winnings with Dennis Wise at the 1994 FA Cup final. Wise bet Cantona £100 he wouldn't score his second penalty of the game

  • Kissing the cup for le double, May 1994

  • The first of a famous five: Opening the scoring in the 5-0 demolition of City, November 1994

  • Matthew Simmonds, who raced down a flight of steps to tell Cantona to "f**k off back to France", meets his maker...

  • Or as Cantona would refer to it, his favourite moment

  • Shielded by Ferguson as he faces the music

  • When the seagulls follow the trawler...

  • A comeback goal against Liverpool, October 1995

  • A god amongst mortals, December 1995

  • Volleying in his most important league goal for a 1-0 win at title rivals Newcastle, March 1996

  • Cantona captains United to the 1996 FA Cup final after a 2-1 win over Chelsea on Villa Park's sandpit

  • Aesthetically-pleasing

  • A second cup final, a third cup final goal. Sinking Liverpool in May 1996...

  • To win the double double

  • The imperious pose, August 1996

  • A warning for Philippe Albert as United are thrashed 5-0 by Newcastle, October 1996

  • The last of his five European goals vs Porto, March 1997

  • Au revoir, May 1997

Had it not have happened United would surely have won a third title in succession but few would have swapped the cups for the kick. Cantona's anarchic act is remembered with genuine fondness not just by his followers but by the man himself.

"I have a lot of good moments but the one I prefer is when I kicked the hooligan," as he said himself in 2007.

cantona

Nike anticipate his 1995 comeback

An eight-month ban followed for the indiscretion, with his return coming on 1 October, when he assisted Nicky Butt's opener and scored the equaliser in a 2-2 draw at home to Liverpool. It was the first of 20 goals in another double triumph, with the Reds' talisman volleying the winner against the Anfield club at Wembley in the cup final. Cantona, spearheading Fergie's fledglings as messrs Beckham, Butt, Scholes and Neville flourished, has hailed it as his greatest triumph with United.

His retirement a year later was typical; spontaneous and shocking, but his three separate chants continue to be aired at home and away United games. He has said he is scared it will stop, but it won't.

HIS THREE GREATEST GOALS...

SHEFFIELD UNITED, 1994/95

ARSENAL, 1995/96

LIVERPOOL 1996 FA CUP FINAL

AND THREE NEAR GREAT GOALS...

CHELSEA, 1993/94

EVERTON, 1993/94

NOTTINGHAM FOREST, 1996/97