Cruellest blow in a summer of discontent

United are entitled to feel betrayed by the Frenchman, writes Glenn Moore
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Who's next: Ryan Giggs, Peter Schmeichel, Alex Ferguson even? What a desperate summer this has been for Manchester United, their fans, and their manager. All could justifiably feel betrayed by Eric Cantona's transfer request.

After the Selhurst Park incident, United stood by Cantona even though, as Ferguson confided in his recent book, he was worried if he did something like that again "it would destroy my credibility and the club's good name, and it would finish him as a player".

But maybe that is also Cantona's fear. Maybe he feels this sacrifice could save him, Ferguson, and the club from greater disgrace. It could be that the Football Association's great and public fuss over an inconsequential practice match has brought home to him the goldfish bowl nature of his present life. As the old joke goes, he is not paranoid, he just thinks everybody is watching him.

The sad thing is they are, and the spotlight can only get brighter as we move towards his 1 October return. Over the years, Cantona has shown little sign of being able to control his temperament. Perhaps he now feels that given the intensity of the glare, he cannot trust himself to behave in it.

United's anger will not be at him, but at the FA and the newspaper whose photographs sparked the inquiry. The FA could have handled the affair more quietly, but it did need investigation.

Of greater concern to Ferguson will be what to do if Cantona persists in demanding to leave. Already the club has lost Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis (in mind, if not yet in body). Giggs and Andy Cole have fitness problems. Still Ferguson has failed to buy. Throughout this perplexing summer, it has become increasingly clear that Ferguson was pinning most of his hopes for the coming season on Cantona's successful rehabilitation.

New blood is a necessity, even if Cantona stays, for the team lacks width and the supporters are losing faith. But there are few quality players available and, as with Marc Overmars, the price always escalates when United are involved.

A year ago Manchester United seemed impregnable. Two titles were in the bag, there was a fast maturing crop of youngsters, and the will to shatter the transfer record. Now that team has been broken up and they are back in the pack - and not even at its head. For football, this is no bad thing. Competition is better than domination. But one still hopes Cantona stays, and retains his cool. The English game would be poorer without him, and not just at Old Trafford.