‘King Eric’ was how he was affectionately known to supporters of Manchester United. They voted Monsieur Cantona, a forward of inimitable genius, the club’s best-ever performer in 2001. Four years later he topped a poll to find the finest player in Premier League history. In his own words, he is the greatest French footballer of all time.
And those – Cantona’s own words – are what this piece is about. In the latest in FIFA.com’s look at some of the sport's most memorable talkers, we recall some quotes provided by the now 44-year-old, who starred for Auxerre and Marseille in his homeland, inspired Leeds United to the English top flight title, enjoyed five years at Old Trafford that were controversial and successful in equal measure, hit 20 goals in 44 games for his country, retired at just 31, became a beach soccer player and then coach, and an accomplished actor.
“I didn’t plan it. During one game it was cold and my collar just stayed up. We won, so it became a habit to play with my collar up.”
Cantona on his famous on-field appearance
“OM is like a religion in Marseille. It’s a cosmopolitan, passionate city and the people live for football.”
Cantona on his former club and city of birth
“I feel close to the rebelliousness and vigour of the youth here. Perhaps time will separate us, but nobody can deny that here, behind the windows of Manchester, there is an insane love of football, of celebration and of music.”
Cantona on life at Old Trafford
“When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.”
Cantona after receiving a nine-month suspension for his attack on a Crystal Palace fan
“Those words had no valid meaning. There was a lot of pressure and I wanted to lift that. I knew everyone wanted to analyse what I said. You should have been where I was, looking at the incomprehension on all the faces in front of me. Magic!”
Cantona explains the previous quote
“Football is therapy for supporters. After a stressful week they get to go to the stadium and sing and shout as loud as they can. It gets rid of so much frustration.”
Cantona on fans
“I was never motivated by money. I would have played for nothing. I would have paid to play at Wembley.”
Cantona on his passion for the game
“Sometimes in England managers do not set an example. They are fat and drink beer. He was the perfect manager. He was very obsessive about what we had to do in training, what we had to drink and when we slept.”
Cantona on Sir Alex Ferguson
“I stopped playing football because I'd done as much as I could. I needed something which was going to excite me as much as football had excited me.”
Cantona on swapping the pitch for the stage
“They are extraordinarily similar. They are both about emotions within a time frame. You have to have confidence in each and you have to work extremely hard.”
Cantona compares football to acting
“When we won, I cried. It meant so much to me, I was very proud. Of course it is not as big as football but when you are a rich man you are proud to own a Rolls Royce, and when you are a poor man you are proud to own a Renault.”
Cantona on helping France win the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in 2005
“After his first training session in heaven, George Best, from his favourite right wing, turned the head of God, who was filling in at left-back. I would love him to save me a place in his team - George Best that is, not God.”
Cantona’s tribute to Best following the latter’s passing.
“I don’t think players get paid too much. Football is very, very popular - without the players it wouldn’t exist.”
Cantona on players' wages
“In football you have an adversary; in cinema that adversary is yourself.”
Cantona on cinema
“No, it is me.”
Cantona when asked if the greatest-ever French player is Michel Platini or Zinedine Zidane
"I want no inscription on my gravestone - I would like to leave an image of mystery"