Feeling persecuted by the FA, Eric Cantona went back to France when he was not allowed to play even practice matches behind closed doors.
Fearing Cantona was slipping away from Manchester United while serving his nine-month ban, Sir Alex Ferguson went to meet him in Paris to persuade him not to quit.
“Eric had been sent into exile and forbidden from training or travelling on our pre-season tour, so it was natural for him to feel isolated and forgotten,” said the United manager.
News had filtered through that Cantona wanted to leave; at a pre-season friendly with Bradford, the United supporters unveiled a flag that read: ‘1966 was a great year for English football – Eric was born.’
Their stance was clear. After the game, Ferguson left for Paris via a book launch in London. In his autobiography, Ferguson recalls a speedy dash though the Paris side-streets on the back of a Harley-Davidson, driven by Eric’s lawyer Jean-Jacques Amorfini.
When they arrived at an empty restaurant, closed by the owner as a favour to Cantona, Ferguson and his star player enjoyed “a wonderful time”.
Ferguson had deduced that Cantona needed reassurance, and explained how the club would do everything possible to ease his troubles.
He would also have to move out of the hotel he was living in. Ferguson recalled: “Eric agreed and the rest of the evening was spent reminiscing about great football matches of the past.
“Those hours spent in that largely deserted restaurant added up to one of the more worthwhile acts I have performed in this stupid job of mine.”
Cantona agreed to return. Ferguson had achieved a more remarkable coup than he had when originally signing Cantona, in convincing him to stay.
He was now putting his faith in the temperament of the most volatile footballer in Britain.
King Eric – Portrait Of the Artist Who Changed English Football, published by Reach Sport and written by Wayne Barton, is on sale now from Amazon in ebook or hardback format