Eric Cantona’s football career was a bit like Longfellow’s famous little girl with a curl right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good, she was very, very good. But when she was bad, she was horrid.
Cantona, at his best, was breathtakingly good. At his worst, he was bad tempered, destructive, and banned from football.
Fiery, passionate and richly talented, Cantona became the talisman for a United team that won four Premier League titles in five years and two League and FA Cup doubles.
He arrived from Leeds like a whirlwind. Former team-mate Roy Keane remembers his first sight of him in November 1992 after he was signed for £1.2 million.
‘Collar turned up, back straight, chest stuck out, Eric glided into the arena as if he owned the place,’ said the Reds’ legend.
Manager Sir Alex Ferguson was equally captivated, saying of Cantona: ‘He illuminated Old Trafford. The place was a frenzy every time he touched the ball.’
But the French forward and midfielder has bemused and perplexed as often as he has enthralled and entertained.
His anger got him into him trouble right from his earliest playing days in the French First Division.
In 1987 he was fined for punching Auxerre team-mate Bruno Martini in the face and a year later he picked up a three-month suspension for a dangerous kung-fu tackle on Nantes player Michel Der Zakarian.
His career in France did not end well. Playing for Nimes, he threw the ball at the referee and was summoned to a hearing of the French Football Federation. He was banned for a month.
Angered by the decision, Cantona walked up to each committee member in turn and called each an idiot to his face. The ban was doubled to two months.
Incensed, Cantona announced his retirement from football in December 1991. He only relented when French national team coach Michel Platini intervened and Gerard Houllier advised told him to go to England.
But the demons surfaced again at United.
Cantona infamously repeated the kung-fu lunge on a heckler in the crowd at Crystal Palace in January 1995. He’d just been sent off and reacted violently to the abuse hurled at him.
An eight-month ban from football followed along with 120 hours of community service, but Cantona remained bafflingly calm and philosophical.
He told the resulting press conference: ‘When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea. Thank you very much.’
With that he got up and left!
Cantona made 143 appearances for United from 1992 to 1997, scoring 64 goals. He also played 45 times for France, scoring 20 times for his country.
Affectionately nicknamed King Eric, he is regarded as one of the greatest players to turn out for the Reds.
In fact, Inside United magazine voted him the greatest ever!
As unpredictable as ever, Cantona quit league football in 1997 to concentrate on… the cinema! He has now made more than 30 films.
He’d already dabbled in the movies during his 1995 suspension. He used the time to film his first role – as a rugby player of all things – in the French comedy Happiness is in the Field.
After football, he portrayed French diplomat Paul de Foix in the 1998 film Elizabeth, starring Cate Blanchett. He played himself in the 2009 Ken Loach movie Looking For Eric.
Cantona clearly enjoyed himself dispensing wisdom as the film director Thierry Grimandi in the 2008 British comedy ‘French Film’.
He also starred alongside Eva Green and Mads Mikkelsen as ruthless bandit The Corsican in the 2014 Danish western The Salvation.
Cantona is a familiar figure on TV adverts. In 1996 he starred in the spectacular Good vs Evil football match commercial for American sportswear company Nike.
In the advert, he captains a world eleven, including Paolo Maldini, Ronaldo, Luis Figo and Patrick Kluivert, against a team of demons in a Roman amphitheatre.
The game ends with Cantona receiving the ball from Ronaldo, pulling up his shirt collar and delivering an emphatic ‘Au revoir’ before blasting the ball right through the demon ‘keeper!
Cantona made his stage debut in 2010 the French play Face au Paradis, directed by his actress wife Rachida Brakni.
At the same time as working on his acting career, Cantona kept his football links alive by captaining the French national beach soccer team. His brother Joel was already a player.
As captain and then manager, Cantona guided the French team to their first European title at the 2004 Euro Beach Soccer League. He also helped France win the inaugural FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Rio de Janeiro in 2005.
Cantona was one of the first players to be inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002.
His citation simply reads: ‘The enigmatic Frenchman was one of the Premier League’s most controversial players ever.’