Sir Alex Ferguson ignored transfer advice that would have changed Man Utd history – Documentary

Legendary Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson decided against trying to sign Eric Cantona in December 1991, shortly before he joined rivals Leeds.

Cantona was one of English football’s greatest players in the 90’s. Ferguson’s decision arguably costed him a 14th title.

The maverick – who eventually arrived at Old Trafford in November 1992 – was available for transfer a year earlier after falling out of favour at French outfit Nimes.

At the time, Cantona was suspended by the French FA for throwing a ball at a referee and even announced his retirement from professional football.

“I was at a game in Paris, sitting next to [France manager] Michel Platini and [his assistant] Gerard Houllier,” Ferguson told United’s website in May 2021.

“Platini says to me – it was the time he [Cantona] was suspended from French football – he says, ‘You should go and sign Cantona.’

“I say ‘Is he not a problem?’ He says, ‘If you recognise him and bring him into the fold, I tell you he’s a great player.’ Gerard Houllier endorsed that exactly.

“Ferguson’s indecision proved costly, as Cantona signed for Leeds in January 1992 after a brief trial at Sheffield Wednesday – who were then a top-flight club.

The forward went on to inspire Leeds to the league title, with Howard Wilkinson’s side pipping Ferguson’s men by just four points.

“I was going home the next day, I go into training and he’s signed for Sheffield Wednesday on loan [trial],” added Ferguson.

“Trevor Francis [was the manager].”So he phoned Howard and Howard signed him. And they won the league. He won the league for them. There’s no question in my mind.

“Ferguson eventually got his chance to sign Cantona 10 months later after Leeds chairman Bill Fotherby telephoned United chief Martin Edwards to enquire about Denis Irwin.

Edwards refused to sell the iconic full-back but did ask Fotherby if Cantona was available. United had recently lost star striker Dion Dublin to a serious leg injury.

“I had never had a conversation about Cantona with Alex but had read that [Leeds manager] Howard Wilkinson and him didn’t get on,” recalled Edwards.

“So I blurted it out. I actually rang Alex at the training ground and told him.

“He said, ‘Too right I would have Cantona.’ So the next day I called Bill and said we would take Cantona off their hands. As though we were doing them a favour!

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

“During his five-year spell at Old Trafford, Cantona won four Premier League titles, two FA Cups and three Charity Shields.

The two-time French champion was also named PFA Players’ Player of the Year in 1993-94 and the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year in 1995-96.

He surprisingly announced his retirement from professional football at the end of the 1996-97 season, despite being only 30.

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