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23rd May 2018

Eric Cantona confirms famous Roy Keane story about him

Robert Redmond

“If it was someone else other than the policeman, then maybe I would have reacted differently.”

Eric Cantona, speaking to James O’Brien on JOE’s Unfiltered podcast, has confirmed one of the most famous stories about him, a story which Roy Keane recounted in his autobiography.

It relates to Manchester United’s infamous trip to Istanbul to play the second-leg of a Champions League tie with Galatasaray in 1993.

The first-leg between the Turkish club and the Premier League champions ended 3-3 at Old Trafford, meaning that United needed to win the game in Istanbul to progress.

There were just over 30,000 fanatical Galatasaray supporters lying in wait at the Ali Sami Yen Stadium, and they made their presence felt. The atmosphere was fervent.

Security was tight around the game, and the Turkish police officers looked as ready for action as any of the players on the Galatasaray team, adding a layer of tension to an already toxic atmosphere.

United had a brilliant team, featuring Ryan Giggs, Denis Irwin, Peter Schmeichel, Gary Pallister and Paul Ince, as well as Cantona and Keane, and would go on to win the double that season. But Alex Ferguson’s early years in the Champions League were a steep learning curve, as the team’s attacking style didn’t transfer well to the more cautious, tactical approach deployed in continental matches.

In 1993, they were appearing on the biggest stage in European football for the first time, and, in addition to a degree of naivety, Ferguson’s side were also hampered by the rule that permitted teams from having more than five “overseas players” in their squad.

However, regardless of any tactical approach, or a rule on “foreign” players, there was no way United were going to get the win necessary to advance against Galatasaray. This was one game where “Fergie time” wasn’t going to benefit the Red Devils.

With the match petering out into the goalless draw Galatasaray needed to advance, Cantona lost his temper with the Turkish side’s time-wasting. He was  annoyed.

Really annoyed.

Cantona got a red card, the final whistle blew and the English champions were out in controversial circumstances. And then it all kicked off.

As the United players were making their way back to the dressing room, the police officers charged with protecting them from the raucous Istanbul crowd turned on them. According to Bryan Robson, United’s captain on the night, an officer struck Cantona as the Frenchman was walking down the steps. Robson threw a punch of his own and got hit with a shield.

It was bedlam.

With the United players sitting solemnly in the dressing room, reflecting on their European exit and their difficult night, back in the stadium, the Galatasaray supporters and players were euphoric.

It was now a no-go area for anyone associated with the English club.

However, one United player not only wanted to go back into the cauldron, he wanted to find the “fucker” who had attacked him. According to Keane, Cantona was livid and had to be restrained by his colleagues.

“In the dressing room Eric went crazy. While the rest of us just wanted to get out of there, he was determined to go back outside to sort out the rogue cop who’d been wielding his truncheon. Eric was a big, strong lad. He was serious. He insisted he was going to kill ‘that fucker’. It took the combined efforts of the manager, Brian Kidd, and a few of the players to restrain him. Normally I wouldn’t have backed off a fight, but even I wasn’t up for this one. There were a lot of Turks out there!”

Cantona confirmed Keane’s account when speaking on Unfiltered, calling the police officer who struck him a “weak man.” The former United forward said he reacted so angrily because he had been hit from behind.

“Were you just furious or did you feel that you had been a victim of an injustice that night?” O’Brien asked.

“A policeman is there to protect us, and he ‘protected’ me from behind,” Cantona replied.

“He killed me from behind, not kill me, but he beat me from behind and disappeared. And I’m sure that the images from the video are somewhere, but they lost everything. Convenient. If it was someone else other than the policeman, then maybe I would have reacted differently. But a policeman?! He disappeared, disappeared like a weak man.”

O’Brien then asked Cantona, who turned 52 back in May, if he still has the temper he possessed during his playing days.

“Yes, I still have the temper,” the Frenchman said, before claiming he didn’t lose it that much, and that his disciplinary record wasn’t as bad as many people seem to think.

“I only had five red cards in my career, four or five. It was not a lot, but it was spectacular. Everyone remembers them, but I didn’t have a lot. I had a lot of provocation and four or five times I lost my temper, which is not a lot. When you do something, you have to do it well.”

Cantona achieved a lot in his career, but being more up for a fight than Roy Keane might be as impressive as any of his accolades.

You can watch the excellent interview with him here:

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