If Sir Alex Ferguson is the architect of Manchester United's 20-year dominance of English soccer, the cornerstone is Eric Cantona. Before the mercurial Frenchman arrived at Old Trafford the league championship trophy had eluded United for 26 years. In the five seasons following his debut it graced the Old Trafford trophy cabinet on four occasions. For two of those it had the FA Cup for company.
Cantona was the enfant terrible of French soccer, bewilderingly gifted but with an unpredictable and fiery temperament that left coaches and officials exasperated. After making his debut with Auxerre he won the French league and cup with Marseille, before moving to Bordeaux and then Montpellier where he won the French Cup again. He then captained Nimes, before his temperament led to a ban and - in fine Cantona fashion - a declaration of retirement.
Michel Platini and Gerard Houllier persuaded him on a move to England and he joined Sheffield Wednesday and then Leeds United, winning the league in 1992. In December Cantona became part of the Ferguson revolution and helped United net the inaugural Premiership title in 1993. Cantona proved to be the magic ingredient in the Man United mix and under his influence a new breed of player broke through, with names like Beckham, Scholes and Giggs.
In 1994 Cantona took the famous number seven shirt and his talismanic performances won him the PFA's Player of the Year. In 1995 his passion got the better of him and he was banned for seven months for kung-fu kicking an abusive fan during a game against Crystal Palace. Cantona finally retired at the height of his powers in May 1997. Cantona won 45 French caps but it is his immeasurable influence on his adopted soccer nation of England that has turned the genius Cantona into an almost mythical figure in the game.