Football / FA Cup Final: Cantona's mercurial class: Trevor Haylett on the Frenchman who took his time before seizing his chances

FOR an hour at Wembley before he was able to leave his spectacular imprint on the 113th FA Cup final, Eric Cantona was again a man apart. He has been so often this season but now Manchester United were concerned, their mercurial one confined to the margins of a stage he would later come to dominate.

We found Cantona where we could not find the ball, a lonely figure out of step with a contest that was steadily assuming a deep shade of blue. By no means alone in his struggle, he was the most conspicuous because we expected so much more.

Alex Ferguson revealed afterwards that Cantona had a sciatica problem that might have forced him off before he began to play. His other problems were partly of his own making, partly the result of his team not functioning and partly because the tenacity and discipline that put a shine on Chesea's first-half efforts denied him the ball and, when it did arrive, the space to use it to effect.

To Chelsea's surprise Cantona spent most of the first hour alongside Mark Hughes rather than as the deadly foil positioned just behind and poised to find red with his trademark flicks and casual passes angled beyond and between their markers. With Chelsea's midfield forcing Paul Ince and Roy Keane deeper than they are used to, Cantona was detached from his normal lines of supply.

When he did withdraw, which was all too rare, things hardly improved. Struggling to establish any rhythm, United's passes were going astray through their own uncertainty or because there was always a blue shirt shutting out the daylight. Frustrated of France became isolated in the centre-circle, his involvement a poor return from so much talent.

The second half began with Cantona still too advanced to take the telling hand his supporters were demanding. But gradually order and urgency penetrated United's play. For the first time we saw Cantona darting across the penalty area on a meaningful search for space and this time the ball found him. The cross was cleared but United's belief was all but replenished and a minute later an interchange between Denis Irwin and Ryan Giggs brought United's first penalty.

It was dispatched by Cantona with cool aplomb. So was the second five minutes later. Nervousness is not something he can comprehend. 'If you are nervous about taking penalties you should change your career,' he later declared. 'This was a game of football not a war.'

With United suddenly and stunningly out of reach we saw Cantona at his best, willing to come deep to collect and bring Andrei Kanchelskis to the fore. Now the subtle passes and back-heels were hitting the target and at last he looked the player of the year. For Chelsea it was another reminder of how cruel the game can be.

(Graphic omitted)

Sport
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing