This compilation of all of Eric Cantona’s 82 goals for Manchester United is making the rounds today, and while it’s meant as a homage to the legendary French striker, it’s also a reminder he was perhaps more of a pioneer in England than an out-and-out World Class player.
Some observations. First, his Premier League legacy is almost certainly attached to his status as one of the first foreign players in the post-B-Sky-B English top flight to become a bona fide star striker at a major club. Notice the “Ooh La La” reference for his second goal in reference to his nationality; today in the polyglot Premier League, it would be laughable.
Second, many of his goals come from situations comparatively rare in the Premier League today, and reflect the counterattacking approach United were content to employ for years in a league not exactly known for its discipline in defense. One on ones with the goal-keeper, free-headers on the edge of the goal mouth, low rolling shots from a distance through four or five players, and misplaced passes from opposition defenders make up a significant chunk of his output. In many ways, his penalties are the most impressive goals; he seemed to have an uncanny ability to force the keeper the wrong way.
Cantona was an expert finisher to be sure, but it’s hard to see him in the same league as a Dennis Bergkamp or even an Alan Shearer for creativity. Even his famous goal against Sunderland on December 21st, 1996 seems to have taken on a certain gloss over time. While it is a finish of incredible quality, it is a chip following a few nice moves. Jon Champion hardly goes into hysterics.
This is not to take a dump on one of the most important players in Premier League history, but to note that, looking through the goggles of “official history,” Cantona’s whole output is greater than the sum of its 82 parts.