Ric Blank tweets @RocBlank and blogs at Two Of These. He occasionally turns his hand to a bit of football writing. I’m glad he did – he came up with this gem about one of Cantona’s famous chipped goals …
Imagine painting the Sistine Chapel under sniper fire.
Or composing Beethoven’s tenth symphony in a hurricane.
Because that’s what Eric Cantona did on a typically cold and fearsome night in Sheffield, January 1995.
The King was the King because he did what he wanted. He did it with style and, most importantly, he did it when it mattered. Cantona triggered a generation of Mancunian man-love and mention his name to anyone over 25 and you’ll understand the impact he had on this country. See a man with a collar up – he’s doing an Eric. Stop and meaningfully stare into a non-existent camera, utter some vaguely philosophical mutterings – you’re doing an Eric.
There is no doubt that Cantona’s most iconic goal is the chip against Sunderland, 1997. His “I am not a man – I am Cantona”* celebration became his defining image when he announced his retirement a few months later.
But I didn’t like that goal. I mean I did like it, but I didn’t love it. That wasn’t Eric at his peak. That was merely a parting gift before he left for pastures new.
The goal in the FA Cup two years previously at Sheffield United – now that was a man at the peak of his powers. A man who was king of all he surveyed.
If you’ve ever been to Bramall Lane you’ll know it to be not the most hospitable of places for opposing fans and players. And after 90 minutes of a typically robust (and by robust I mean filthy) cup game, the grass was cut to shreds and the wind was swirling round the stadium, pounding the pitch at ground level. And then United broke. Hughes, to Giggs, to Cantona in the blink of an eye.
Cue magic stage right.
For no real reason (he could have advanced with it, he could have taken another touch, tested the keeper) Cantona decided to float the ball over Alan Kelly and in off the bar.
A chip is a chip. Players chip the keeper every now and then. But usually the keeper is noticeably off his line. Alan Kelly wasn’t. Eric didn’t care – he did what he wanted. But usually, players might not try the chip if there’s a gale force wind a-blowing. Not Eric. He just floated the ball, into the eye of the storm, off the bar, bringing it to rest in the back of the net. Watch the debris swirl across the pitch as he celebrates. Gale force wind? So what.
Two weeks later Cantona was caught up in rather a different kind of storm. You know, the kind that involves assaulting a xenophobic fan and getting a ten month suspension as a result?
But like I said, Eric did what he wanted. And he never, ever disappointed.
*Straight from the man himself in Looking For Eric.