Back in 1999 a vote run by Manchester United’s official magazine saw supporters vote Eric Cantona as the club’s best ever player [Independent].
While just two years after his retirement there was a heavy dose of recency bias among respondents, it underlined the incredible impact the Frenchman made during his stint at Old Trafford.
Other players have signed for United and brought instant success, including Dwight Yorke, who won a treble in his first season at the club. But none have quite had the same cultural impact on the team and fanbase as Cantona did.
To be quite honest, we will never see Cantona’s like again, and in the 23 years since his retirement, it has become sacrilege to even mention a Manchester United player in the same breath as Cantona. Until now.
Former United star Phil Neville made the comparison when asked last week about the impact Bruno Fernandes has had on the club.
Goal reported how Neville told Premier League Productions of Fernandes: “Cantona? Rooney when he came in? You talk about the great Manchester United players that have been brought in, Cantona probably had the biggest influence of all-time.
“You think now that United have gone a long time without winning a league title, at the moment he’s lit up the whole place. He’s lit up the whole place and made everyone around him do better, but I still think he’s got a long way to go.”
Neville is right to qualify his comments. Fernandes has achieved nothing of note yet, he has not even finished his first half-season at the club.
In some ways that makes the comparison the ‘The King’ even more remarkable.
When Fernandes signed, there were comparison to Paul Scholes due to the new addition’s ability to score from midfield, and the number 18 shirt he was assigned.
That comparison itself seemed more hopeful than anything else. If back in January anybody had dared compare him to Eric Cantona it would have been truly outrageous.
Now after helping United towards a 16-game unbeaten run, Fernandes has earned his plaudits.
He has transformed this United team, from a side often scratching around to get three points, to one which is capable of blowing teams away, and has a real swagger about it.
Fernandes has seven goals and six assists already in all competitions, and he is not slowing down.
In Cantona’s first season at Old Trafford he won the title. That opportunity was not on offer to Fernandes, but there is a chance he can win some silverware.
If United can go on to win the FA Cup and/or the Europa League, confidence will be flowing ahead of next season.
The Cantona comparisons will still seem ambitious in terms of overall impact, but they will begin to feel a little more justified.
Simply to be mentioned in the same breath as United’s four-time Premier League title winner is a staggering achievement for Fernandes right now. It shows he is on the right path.
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