Every club Eric Cantona played for: a potted history of the Frenchman's career

Eric Cantona, Marseille
(Image credit: Getty Images)

We all know about the titles Eric Cantona collected in England with Manchester United and Leeds – but how did a player who dominated the Premier League in the 1990s come to leave France in the first place?

The United legend spent much of the 1980s as a journeyman forward in the French leagues, scoring goals, making trouble and eventually finding himself largely unwanted in his homeland.

Here's a quick guide to Eric Cantona's whole club career...

Auxerre (1983-1988)

Eric Cantona, Auxerre

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Appearances: 94

Goals: 29

King Eric’s spell as a young player in Auxerre was a stop-start affair, punctuated by French national conscription and a loan move to the second tier.

However, over the course of five years, give or take, he proved his worth in front of goal, averaging almost one goal every three games.

Martigues (loan, 1985-1986)

Appearances: 15

Goals: 4

Having put football on hiatus to complete his national service in 1984, Cantona dropped down a division for a loan spell at relegation-threatened Martigues.

His four goals helped Martigues stay up, finishing two points above the drop zone.

Marseille (1988-1991)

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Appearances: 43

Goals: 14

Honours: Division 1: 1988/89, 1990/91

While the trophy cabinet from his time at Marseille boasts two league titles – beginning an eight-year streak that would see a return of seven titles – in truth, Cantona didn’t settle at Marseille, and spent a year and a half of his three-year stay out on loan.

Though he played well for a period under manager Franz Beckenbauer, he never saw eye-to-eye with Marseille owner Bernard Tapie, or Beckenbauer’s replacement, Raymond Goethals, and was shipped off to Nimes for 10 million francs.

Bordeaux (loan, 1988-1989)

Appearances: 12

Goals: 6

A six-month stint at Bordeaux – then also featuring Bizente Lizarazu and Jean Tigana – may not have seen many Cantona appearances, but his goal every two games average saw Marseille give him another run in the team.

Montpellier (loan, 1989-1990)

Eric Cantona, Montpellier

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Appearances: 39

Goals: 14

Honours: Coupe de France: 1989/90

A full year out on loan at Montpellier followed, where Cantona could be an unstable dressing room presence – but he had the crucial backing of future France and Colombia captains, Laurent Blanc and Carlos Valderrama. 

A decent goals return as Montpellier lifted the cup again prompted the recurring Cantona debate: was he talented enough to overshadow his inevitable volatility?

Nimes (1991-1992)

Appearances: 16

Goals: 2

His stint at Nimes did not last long at all. On his 16th appearance, he threw the ball at the referee, and was subsequently handed a one-month ban at a disciplinary hearing – to which he responded by personally labelling each member of the hearing an “idiot”, prompting a further two-month ban.

Cantona announced his retirement from football in December 1991, aged 25, until Michel Platini himself stepped in to convince the forward to look for a move instead.

Offers to Liverpool and Sheffield Wednesday followed, after Gerard Houllier advised him England would be a suitable destination, but neither took him up.

Leeds (1992)

Eric Cantona, Leeds

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Appearances: 35

Goals: 14

Honours: First Division: 1991/92

It took Howard Wilkinson’s Leed United to take a punt on Cantona’s fading career, signing him on loan in January 1992. He didn’t get many starts during his early weeks, but he had his first goal by the end of February, and made 15 appearances in the run-in as Leeds secured the First Division title that May.

Wilkinson made the transfer permanent in April, and though Cantona scored a hat-trick in that August’s Charity Shield (the first since 1957), the champions underperformed in the first half of the Premier League’s inaugural 1992/93 season, and Manchester United came in with a £1m bid for the Frenchman that November…

Manchester United (1992-1997)

Eric Cantona, Manchester United

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Manchester United (1992-1997)

Appearances: 185

Goals: 82

Honours: Premier League: 1992/93, 1993/94, 1995/96, 1996/97, FA Cup: 1993/94, 1995/96

Here’s where King Eric was born. Never an outstanding goalscorer, Cantona at least became a consistent one at Old Trafford: nine goals followed in his 22 appearances after joining from Leeds, helping United to their first league title since 1967. The Red Devils lost just two games in that period, and finished 10 points clear at the top of the table.

The following season saw the introduction of squad numbers to the Premier League, with Cantona being handed the hallowed No.7 shirt on a permanent basis. He banged in 18 goals in the league, grabbed another two in a victorious FA Cup final over Chelsea, and won PFA Player of the Year.

He actually played fewer league games for Man United in 1994/95 than in his initial half season, but still put away 12 before that fateful January night in black at Selhurst Park, when the volatile Frenchman lunged into the crowd with a kung-fu kick after receiving abuse. He was fined £20,000 (£10,000 by his club, and £10,000 by the FA) and was banned from football in England for eight months, as well as being stripped of the captaincy of the French national team. His absence may well have been a deciding factor in the title race, as Blackburn squeaked a win by a single point.

Cantona couldn’t return to the field until October 1995, but made an immediate impact with an assist and a goal in his first game back against Liverpool. A further 18 goals followed in all competitions that season, as Man United lifted another league and cup double.

He was made captain for his final year at Manchester United – though he would not announce his surprise retirement, age 30, until the end of the season. 

It was another successful season, bringing in a fourth Premier League title, but it was also a hectic one: United’s progress in the Champions League meant Cantona made 50 club appearances in all competitions in 1996/97, contributing 15 goals.

Read the inside story of Eric Cantona’s career in the new issue of FourFourTwo magazine

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Conor Pope
Online Editor

Conor Pope is the Online Editor of FourFourTwo, overseeing all digital content, and joined the team in February 2019. He plays football regularly, both on grass and artificial surfaces, and has a large, discerning and ever-growing collection of football shirts from around the world.


He supports Blackburn Rovers and holds a season ticket with south London non-league side Dulwich Hamlet. His main football passions include Tugay, the San Siro and only using a winter ball when it snows.