The man whose phone call led to Eric Cantona joining Manchester United would do it again

 

The man who made the fateful phone call that resulted in Eric Cantona joining Manchester United insists he would do exactly the same again.

It has become the stuff of legend how Leeds managing director Bill Fotherby rang United chairman Martin Edwards about Denis Irwin and ended up selling Cantona to United instead.

What is less well known is that Fotherby never even bothered contacting Leeds' manager of the time, Howard Wilkinson, about the Red Devils' request.

Cantona went on to win four Premier League titles in his five seasons at Old Trafford, securing his status as one of the great United figures.

Leeds, in comparison, never recovered.

Indeed, a 4-0 defeat by United at Elland Road in September 1996 in which Cantona scored a last-minute goal in front of the Kop, marked the end of Wilkinson's time at the club.

Remarkably though, Fotherby has no regrets.

Now 81 and based in Harrogate, he remembers the entire Cantona episode clearly.

"We had got Eric on a recommendation from Michel Platini, who told Howard Wilkinson he could be very difficult to handle but had the potential to be a great player," Fotherby told Press Association Sport.

"At the time, we didn't have any money. People thought we had won the pools but we were actually potless.

"Because of that when we met his advisors to put together a deal we agreed to pay Eric something like £500,000 if we kept him after an initial period of a few months.

"It was an immense amount of money for Leeds - not money we had at any rate - but we agreed to it because we had this recommendation from Platini and we judged the most important thing was to get the player and deal with the rest afterwards."

But there were difficulties almost immediately.

"Apart from Lee Chapman, no one in the squad spoke fluent French and for Howard it was a bit of a nightmare. Although we won the title, there was just no connection between them.

"We had a disaster against Rangers in the European Cup and were coming up to the point where this additional £500,000 had to be paid.

"Howard told me to find Eric another club."

Fotherby had still not acted on the request when long-serving full-back Mel Sterland got injured.

"I rang United about Denis Irwin, who had been at Leeds as a young boy," said Fotherby.

"Martin Edwards said there was no chance but I asked him to at least speak to (manager) Alex (Ferguson).

"Normally, I wouldn't have expected him to ring back. This time he did, offering me a different player I knew Howard would not be interested in.

"It was then he asked about Eric. I said absolutely no way and that it was impossible. But obviously I knew what Howard felt about him, and I knew this additional payment was due.

"As I had done before, Martin asked if I would talk to Howard.

"On that particular day Howard was out house-hunting in Leeds, so the only person I actually spoke to was (coach) Mick Hennigan. I just said 'I can't believe it. Guess what has come right out of the blue. Howard will absolutely love it'.

"I left it a couple of hours, rang Martin back and said 'I can't believe this but Howard is willing to let the boy go'."

And so the deal was rushed through, for a fee of just over £1million, which looks ludicrous now given the success Cantona was to enjoy.

"Our fans were bothered. They were really bothered. But I would do exactly the same again," said Fotherby.

"Eric was absolutely magnificent for them but it is not all one way, we got something similar when Gordon Strachan came to us and took us from Division Two to champions.

"Before that, Johnny Giles came from Manchester United and look what he did for Leeds. It happens.

"Sometimes people just move to a certain club at a certain time and become something they would never have been anywhere else.

"The fact it was Manchester United gave it an edge I suppose but they were the ones who made the offer for a player our manager did not want.

"Howard was an absolute perfectionist.

"He wanted his players to be disciplined and adhere to a certain team pattern. Eric just didn't fit it.

"Alex Ferguson gave him a free role and probably wasn't quite as strict with Eric as Howard would have been. Eric liked to play to the crowd. That wasn't Howard's way at all."

And Fotherby refuses to believe Howard's way was the wrong way.

"It is not a question of blaming Howard. I believed in him and won't hear a bad word against him," he said.

"He was Leeds' best manager since Don Revie - and probably still is.

"He brought in Gordon Strachan, Gary McAllister and Tony Yeboah. He won us the league. And all the time we were doing it on a shoestring, asking sponsors to chip in here and there to make up the bits we didn't have.

"For eight years, it worked.

"It all changed when the guys from Caspian came in. They were wanting to take the club onto another level.

"They, and the blokes who followed, got more than they bargained for."

PA

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
Video
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?