Eric Cantona has likened leaving Manchester United to ‘quitting’ a heroin habit. The Frenchman said he had rarely returned to Old Trafford because he found it so hard to leave in the first place. He admitted that “If you are a heroin addict and you’ve gone through the agonies of withdrawal, you don’t go back and start hanging out with your dealer. I found leaving ManchesterUnited very, very hard.”
“It was, as I say, like quitting a class A drug” he emphasised “psychiatrists have demonstrated that the body of a retired professional footballer can replicate the kind of symptoms that you get with abrupt opiate withdrawal. And that’s why I’ve avoided going back.”
The star who scored 82 goals in 185 games for United said he even struggled to watch them on television but added that he was lucky to have other ‘consuming’ interests. He told GQ magazine “You retire, but you’re still aching to play but in order to play, you have to resist certain temptations and train hard.” However Cantona confessed that “I just didn’t have the desire to do that any more.”
Sir Alex Ferguson was recently reminiscing with Gary Neville about the man from Marseille saying that “If there was ever a player in this world who was made for Manchester United, it was Cantona. I think he had been searching all his life for somebody who looked at him and made him feel that a place was his home. He’d travelled around so many different countries, there is a wee bit of the gypsy about some people. But when he came here he knew ‘this is my place.’ You could just tell.”
Neville remembers “Occasionally we’d have a night out and hide it from the boss. We’d all say “Don’t tell anybody about this, especially where, or at what time, we are meeting.” And then at training Eric would say “Right! I’ll see all of you later! This evening! At nine! In…” such and such a place. And everyone was going ‘Shut up! The boss is here!’
The point was that he was so proud and so excited to have nights out with the boys even though he wasn’t a big drinker. Just a beer or a glass of wine but he just loved being part of that culture, of the players being together which he’d never experienced in France.”
Little wonder that Cantona has been – and remains, one of Manchester Uniteds greatest ever legends.