The King is dead - long live Prince Edward. Just as Manchester United's signing of Eric Cantona in 1992 surprised most people, so too did the announcement yesterday of his replacement - Teddy Sheringham, who has joined from Tottenham Hotspur for pounds 3.5m.
After a summer of discontent following Cantona's abdication, United unveiled Sheringham as heir apparent, on a three-year contract at pounds 20,000 a week.
"I can't think of any better player to replace Eric Cantona," Martin Edwards, United's chief executive, said. "They are slightly different in style, but it is one big name out and one big name in. We have been looking for a while for a front player of this quality.
"We thought it wasn't going to happen, but it was a nice surprise to know Teddy was available. The price originally was a bit prohibitive, around pounds 6m. But Teddy is just 31 and there is plenty of mileage left in him."
Sheringham wanted to leave Tottenham because he felt they were going nowhere. After an apprenticeship at Millwall, Nottingham Forest and Spurs, Sheringham is hungry to earn the rewards for a career whose highs have mainly been with England.
"I want to see some domestic honours," the 31-year-old said. "As a youngster you grow up dreaming of that and now I hope to do it here. We've also got Europe and I have never even played for a club side at that level. It will be a great experience. I've joined the biggest club in England, may be Europe. It's come late in my career, but I am sure I will be up to it."
Sheringham was surprised by the speed of the move, two days after coming back from holiday in Miami.
"The only mention United had with me was a story that said Martin Edwards thought I was too old and expensive," he said. "I said `Hmm' and dismissed the idea of coming here. When I heard they were in, it didn't take much to persuade me to move. The name speaks for itself."
Edwards said that the move had been in the pipeline for weeks: "Alan Sugar rang out of the blue and said the price was now pounds 3.5m and asked if we were interested. I contacted Alex Ferguson on holiday and he was very keen. I called Mr Sugar back within half an hour to tell him we wanted Teddy.
"The contract talks only took about 10 minutes to run through. Teddy asked to sleep on it and came back to us in the morning. Then it was just another three minutes or so to complete."
Edwards also said that he had put in three separate pounds 10m bids for Italian- based defenders, including Milan's Frenchman Marcel Desailly.
"This summer we have put in three massive bids for individual players and all have been turned down," Edwards said. "They have been there and been made. But top European clubs do not want to sell their best players. If someone offered us pounds 10m for one of ours, we would say no.
"I am talking about us moving for top players, the best in Italy and also at the right age, in their early 20s. But we have had total rejection."
Ferguson now faces the problem of who to play with Sheringham. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has pushed his way into pole position, leaving Andy Cole wondering once more about his future - Howard Kendall was yesterday reported to be interested. The future of Paul Scholes, the man Ferguson said would fill Cantona's shoes, must also now be in doubt.
Sheringham was keen to play down comparisons between himself and Cantona, saying, "I can only be me. People are going to make the comparison, but I can live with that. Playing for United and at the top is pressure in itself. As long as we keep winning that is good enough for me."
Sheringham smiled at the fixture list that sends him to White Hart Lane on the opening day of the season. "Who are we playing?" he said. And after his struggle to leave the club, he thanked Spurs for keeping the price so reasonable.
"I thought pounds 6m was a bit much for a 31-year-old," he said. "The fee benefits everyone, so I am well pleased."
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