Just hours after Manchester United‘s loss to Borussia Dortmund in the semi-finals of their 1996-1997 Champions League campaign, Sir Alex Ferguson received some news that would change the club forever.
After the grandest prize in the game had evaded the United manager once again, the iconic Eric Cantona informed him that – at the end of that season – he would hang up his boots at the age of 30.
The Frenchman, the signing largely credited with raising the standards at Old Trafford as they embarked on a period of domination that would run until Ferguson’s own departure in 2013, had only been back in the game for around 18 months following the kung-fu kick scandal and the lengthy ban that followed.
However, Cantona had lost the desire to make the kind of sacrifices in his personal life elite-level footballers have to in order to compete at the top of the game, leaving a gaping hole in the United attack.
Of course, Ferguson would go on to replace him with Teddy Sheringham who, while perhaps not as all-consuming a personality as Cantona, would prove crucial in helping the Scot finally win the Champions League in 1999.
24 years ago today, Ferguson wrote to Cantona in what is a prime example of why players to have plied their trade under the legendary figure are still so enamored by him today.
As you can see above, Ferguson speaks to his former star like an old friend. In fact, he stresses that Cantona is always welcome back to see him for a chat and that, while he is no longer a student of his craft, the United boss is always there to help on a personal basis.
Another interesting tidbit is the admittance that Ferguson’s failure to win the European Cup ‘does get to’ him at times, such was his desire to finally conquer the continent.
“Players sometimes don’t realise how difficult it is to play at our level,” he wrote.
If there’s one man who did, it was Eric Cantona.
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