• Premier League

Cantona seller would do the same again

ESPN staff
November 27, 2012
Eric Cantona became a legend at Manchester United © PA Photos

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The man who agreed to sell Eric Cantona from Leeds United to Manchester United 20 years ago on Monday has insisted he has no regrets over the sale.

Cantona joined Leeds from Nimes in February 1992 and went on to play 28 league games for the club, scoring nine goals.

Bill Fotherby was Leeds' managing director at the time, and, after ringing Manchester United chairman Martin Edwards about Denis Irwin, a deal in the region of £1 million was agreed for the sale of Cantona.

The Frenchman 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.

Fotherby, now 81, has no regrets about the sale, telling Press Association Sport: "We had got Eric on a recommendation from Michel Platini, who told [Leeds manager] Howard Wilkinson he could be very difficult to handle but had the potential to be a great player.

"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.

"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 fullback Mel Sterland got injured. "I rang United about Denis Irwin, who had been at Leeds as a young boy," Fotherby said. "Martin Edwards said there was no chance but I asked him to at least speak to 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 £1 million. "Our fans were bothered. They were really bothered. But I would do exactly the same again."

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