The next Eric Cantona? 7 players who were compared to the King

Zlatan Ibrahimovic Cantona Week
(Image credit: Getty)

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, if you believe the quote. So when Eric Cantona left Manchester United, there was always going to be a void to fill.

Since the 1990s, there have been those who have attempted to evoke the spirit of King Eric through either their electric ability, their fiery passion or simply by being a bit big-headed. Few have captured the imagination quite like him, though: there's only one Cantona, for all those pretenders.

Still, that won't stop the world from comparing the next big thing to Eric Cantona…

1. Bruno Fernandes

He arrived midseason, played behind the striker and with leadership, goals and clutch moments, helped fire a below-par Manchester United team up the table: you can see the obvious comparisons.

But while plenty of pundits were fawning over Bruno Fernandes, calling him United's best signing since Cantona, Bruno himself wasn't quick to join in. 

“Of course for me it is really good to listen (to people) talking about those names," the Portuguese playmaker said. “But really for me, Cantona was an amazing player for the club, I need to do much, much, much better to be compared with him. For me, I come to Manchester and it’s about winning trophies.”

2. Alexis Sanchez

Alexis Sanchez

(Image credit: Getty)

They both wore the same shirt number. That's where the parallels between one of United's greatest-ever footballers and greatest-ever flops ended though, unfortunately. There were those who touted Sanchez for lofty heights, however. 

“We used to say we had a great Formula One car but we didn’t have the driver,” Gary Pallister said of the 90s side he played in at Old Trafford. “Eric then became the driver of that car. I think the same could maybe happen with Sanchez. I think he could maybe change the way that Man United approach a game. He is going to add a different dimension to Manchester United.”

The way that United approached a game happened alright, with Jose Mourinho soon sacked. The Chilean fireball didn't last much longer, either. 

3. Edinson Cavani

Edinson Cavani

(Image credit: PA)

“It's like when Cantona came in, we hadn't seen this type before, he was so professional,” said Gary Pallister, again, this time about Edinson Cavani.

Gary may have got it wrong with the first player he likened to his former teammate but he didn't miss the mark with the second super South American no.7. Cavani made an instant impact at Manchester United with many questioning whether he was still an elite forward – OK, so maybe not quite as transformational as Cantona but a little closer at least.

4. Odion Ighalo

No, really. United fans love a big character up top but perhaps even they thought this comparison was a step too far. 

"A long, long time ago Manchester United signed a certain Frenchman – Eric Cantona – who no one really expected much from and he ended up propelling them to one of their most successful seasons of all time," said Mark Bosnich, in one almighty reach, when talking about the former Watford man arriving midseason. 

Ighalo wasn't dreadful at United but it's safe to say he hasn't gone down as an all-time great. Don't hold your breath for FourFourTwo to commemorate his 30 years in English football when the time comes. 

5. Johan Micoud

Who? Back in 2001, Johan Micoud's agent tried hyping up his client to the likes of Liverpool, West Ham and Tottenham, with a tag that the midfielder could never really live up to.

The then-Parma boy was dubbed "the new Cantona" by Sky Sports at the time, with the broadcasters referring to the Frenchman's "poise and confident manner" as similar to the great. 

Johan "the new Eric Cantona" Micoud ended up at Werder Bremen in the end, struggling for game-time in the national set-up because of Zinedine "the current Zinedine Zidane" Zidane's presence. A lesson to be yourself if ever we saw one. 

6. Robin van Persie

He arrived from rivals and helped spur Man United to a title with goals. Though Robin van Persie was a different character to someone like Cantona, his M.O. at United was enough for his manager to see the similarities.

"He has got a similar profile to Eric in terms of age and maturity," explained Sir Alex Ferguson when RVP arrived. "He came from one big club to another big club and he is an established international."

Van Persie won Sir Alex his 13th and final title, two decades after Cantona had won him his first. He bookended a phenomenal era of dominance for United – and in that alone, perhaps the parallels are justified. 

7. Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

(Image credit: PA)

Is it any surprise that Zlatan himself compared himself to Cantona? Not content with being the new king of Manchester, however, the ever-humble Swede wanted to go one better. 

“I admire Cantona and I heard what he said,” Ibrahimovic said, in response to Cantona saying there was only one king at Old Trafford. “But I won’t be King of Manchester. I will be God of Manchester.”

And all that after Eric had "offered" the striker his old no.7 shirt as a "welcome gift". Not even the Theatre of Dreams is big enough for those two egos, surely…

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

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Mark White
Staff Writer

Mark White has been a staff writer on FourFourTwo since joining in January 2020, writing pieces for both online and the magazine. An encyclopedia of football shirts and boots knowledge – both past and present – Mark has also been to the FA Cup and League Cup finals for FFT and has written pieces for the mag ranging on subjects from Bobby Robson's season at Barcelona to Robinho's career. He once saw Tyrone Mings at a petrol station in Bournemouth but felt far too short to ask for a photo.