Eric Cantona: Man Utd lied about Frenchman’s transfer fee from Leeds

Eric Cantona

The rivalry between Leeds United and Manchester United is one of the oldest and fiercest derbies in English football history.

Originating from the divide between Yorkshire and Lancashire counties, there have been some huge battles in the Roses Derby over the years and the two sides will play off against each other this Sunday at Elland Road.

Both teams are desperate for a win, with the home side looking to put more distance between them and the relegation zone, while Ralf Rangnick’s outfit will be optimistic that they can deflect recent reports of dressing room unrest by securing three points this afternoon.

Indeed, getting a win over one of their long-standing rivals would certainly go some way in helping increase the German manager’s favour amongst the Red Devils’ fanbase.

Hostilities between the two clubs have raged for centuries, but that bitter hatred was made even worse in 1992 when Leeds sold Eric Cantona to their rivals in what would turn out to be a very fortuitous transfer for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side, much to the dismay of Leeds supporters.

Back then, United had lost their main striker Dion Dublin to injury and Ferguson had his eyes on signing Alan Shearer, who was smashing goals in at Blackburn Rovers.

With his side slowly starting to drop in form, the pressure mounted on Ferguson to bring in a new frontman.

But in a strange turn of events, then-Man Utd chairman Martin Edwards received a phone call from Leeds chairman Bill Fotherby to inquire about the availability of left-back Dennis Irwin.

Their proposition was ultimately rejected by United, but the idea of purchasing Cantona was then touted.

The Frenchman had reportedly fallen out with Leeds manager Howard Wilkinson at the time, and considering the toxicity it had caused within the playing cohort, Edwards proposed a bid of £1 million for the 55-year-old maverick.

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“Don’t be stupid, I’m not letting him go for a million,” Edwards recounted the Leeds Chairman saying in the BBC documentary ‘Fever Pitch’, creating a sticking point in their negotiations.

The deal ultimately went through, and it was reported that the clubs had agreed on a £1.6m move for the striker, who went on to become a club legend at Old Trafford, scoring 81 goals across 181 games.

There’s no doubt Leeds fans will feel hard done by looking at those stats, but they’ll feel even worse now knowing that the clubs had lied about the figure to appease their supporters, with the figure actually being £1m.

Edwards revealed in a book about his time at Man Utd: “I had never had a conversation about Cantona with Sir Alex but had read that Howard Wilkinson and him didn’t get on. So I blurted it out.

“We got him for £1million, but Bill asked that we say it was £1.6m to appease the Leeds fans.”

While that extra £600,000 doesn’t seem too much in today’s market, back in the 90s, that was a pretty hefty sum.

Despite winning the league with the Peacocks in 1992, Cantona went on to win four Premier League titles and two FA Cups with Ferguson’s side, becoming one of the greatest strikers in Premier League history.

For Leeds fans, there will always be an element of ‘what could have been’ had the French star stayed at Elland Road.

Yet the transfer will have no doubt intensified their hatred over their rivals and even more so now knowing he left for significantly less than what they had initially thought.

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