He twisted the blade two minutes into injury time, converting Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's right-wing cross at the far post before raising his arms in celebration to the suffering supporters who worshipped him in the days when the all-seater Don Revie stand was Elland Road's Kop. The Leeds fans had already been reduced to such depths of dejection that they were moved to applaud their traditional enemies from across the Pennines. Chants of "Wilko for City" momentarily unified the followers of the two Uniteds.
But there was almost literally only one United in the game. Leeds did not muster a shot at goal until the final three minutes, when Ian Harte fired over the bar and Mark Hateley headed against it.
The man on the public address system gave "Barcelona" an airing at half- time. But on the evidence of yesterday's performance, Ferguson is returning to the Champions' League on Wednesday with more aces up his sleeve than he had in the Nou Camp two years ago. As well as his Frenchman, his team featured a Dutchman, a Norwegian and a citizen of the Czech Republic.
They led from the second minute with a little help from Leeds as Karel Poborsky, who took the corner, and Ronny Johnsen, whose header and follow-up shot found the back of the net via the back of Nigel Martyn's head despite attempted goal-line clearances by first Mark Ford and then Ian Harte.
The stranglehold Manchester United took was applied from the flanks. The craft of Poborsky, who filled the reshuffled vacancy created by the injured Gary Pallister's absence, and Jordi Cruyff provided the space Cantona and his colleagues exploited.
Cantona's wayward spot-kick, after Cruyff was tugged by David Wetherall, gave Leeds only temporary relief. Three minutes into the second half, Poborsky steamed past three opponents and Nicky Butt swept in the second goal. Then, after 76 minutes, Cantona set Poborsky free from the half- way line and Martyn was beaten with a delightful chip-shot.
"Absolutely first class," was Ferguson's verdict. "It's going to be difficult for us on Wednesday night but we showed today we've got a lot of things in our favour." With Pallister expected to be fit and Andy Cole, a second- half substitute yesterday after recovering from a recent bout of pneumonia, the champions of England are in rude health as they prepare to face Juventus, the champions of Europe. Leeds were the ones who caught a cold yesterday.