King of the Kop? When Eric Cantona nearly signed for Liverpool

Eric Cantona, Manchester United vs Liverpool
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Eric Cantona became a legend at Manchester United - but he was offered to Liverpool a year before he moved to Old Trafford.

In November 1991, Cantona was a regular in the French national team under boss Michel Platini, partnering Jean-Pierre Papin for Les Bleus, but had lost his way in club football in his homeland. His undoubted talent had been overshadowed by a string of controversial incidents, and he’d been frozen out at Marseille before joining newly-promoted club Nimes.

When that move went wrong, Platini decided to investigate whether he could get Cantona a new club in England, where the 25-year-old could have a fresh start, free of newspaper headlines, in a country where he was still relatively unknown.

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The France boss visited Anfield to watch Auxerre’s UEFA Cup tie with Liverpool, speaking to Reds manager Graeme Souness after the match. After a long period of dominance, Liverpool had started to go into decline - they’d been champions in 1990, but Kenny Dalglish had resigned during the next campaign as they finished second to Arsenal. Under Souness, they’d started 1991/92 badly, sliding to ninth place by the time they faced Auxerre, winning just five of their opening 13 league games.

Despite that, the Liverpool boss quickly made it clear that he wasn’t keen to sign Cantona. “I said ‘Listen Michel, I’m fighting fires at the moment, trying to get some people out the door’,” Souness later revealed. “I said ‘They’re resisting, I’m fighting a dressing room here - the last thing I need is another controversial figure in there’.”

Liverpool ended up sixth that season - Dean Saunders was the club’s top scorer, with 10 league goals. The Reds would finish outside of the top five for three years in succession, and wouldn’t win the league again until 2020.

Three months after Platini’s conversation with Souness, Cantona made his debut for Leeds United in February 1992, playing a part as they won the title, before joining Manchester United later that year.

He helped the Old Trafford club win the league for the first time in 26 years, and eventually racked up four Premier League crowns in the space of just five seasons. Cantona was the catalyst as Manchester United dominated English football for 20 years, bagging the league on 13 occasions under the management of Sir Alex Ferguson. It moved them on to 20 league titles in total, overhauling Liverpool’s previous record of 18.

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

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Chris Flanagan
Staff Writer

Chris joined FourFourTwo in 2015 and has reported from 20 countries, in places as varied as Jerusalem and the Arctic Circle. He's interviewed Pele, Zlatan and Santa Claus (it's a long story), as well as covering Euro 2020 and the Clasico. He previously spent 10 years as a newspaper journalist, and completed the 92 in 2017.