|Cantona, two minutes after full time|
One such fellow is Eric Cantona, the magnificent French bastard who thumbed his nose at a trial for Sheffield Wednesday, helped Leeds United to their first Championship in yonks, and then defected in the deal of, arguably forever, across t'Pennines to Manchester United, whom he also helped to their first Championship in yonks, for fifty quid and a bag of bibs.
I remember the day Cantona joined the Salford wretches. I jumped the bus to town for slurpage, where I met me mates who said United had just signed someone and I would never guess who it was.
I rattled through a load of names before arriving, inevitably, lips trembling at the mere mention of my hero of the time. 'Not Beardsley?' I whimpered.
'Non!' came the reply and they revealed Cantona's arrival for a pitiful £1.2m.
I couldn't believe it - he was so good for Leeds, he seemed such a perfect fit - surely they'd never let him go? But famously they did during season 1992/93 - the dawn of time, according to Sky - and the rest, as they say...
Everything Cantona did dripped with self-belief. He was better than everyone else and he knew it, but more than that, they knew it too.
I can't stand United - I hate their nobhead supporters and their total lack of self awareness. Their horror at the corporate cock their club sucked for so long eventually spunking on them. But they have been something else to watch for a long time now, and there's been some fine players in there but none matched Cantona.
I think maybe it's because I was much younger then, in my early/mid 20s, a time when death seemed like something that happened to other people. I was playing in a group (getting nowhere but enjoying it) and doing a shit job, but going out and going the match, it was a carefree time. And while I'm happier now than I've ever been, there's something about the past that's magic - maybe because we write it ourselves.
At that time Cantona seemed to represent everything I wanted to be - a strutting, moves-at-his-own-pace king - where I was more shambling and hurried, and going nowhere. Slowly.
There's too many ace goals to go through but if any one piece of footage sums Cantona up, it's this (you already know which one it is before clicking). Brian McClair, a superb player himself, looks almost embarrassed to congratulate him. Even Cantona looks momentarily surprised.
When he walked out at Middlesbrough (I think he was captain) to clinch the 1995/96 title, chest puffed, the contempt for those who would dare to try and stop him etched across his being, you knew United would win. What a feeling that must be - to step out needing a win (or draw, whatever) and knowing, absolutely, that you would do it.
I wonder how many players at the top really appreciate how blessed they are - virtually none it seems. Because we attach ourselves to, and in some cases live through, our clubs, we're impotent. We can have an at best tangential impact, in terms of atmosphere, but our vicarious glory is all down to them. I think Cantona probably does know how lucky he was. He certainly played as if it meant something to him.
During one of Everton's routine bummings at the hands of United a long ball was hoisted into the Everton box. Keeper Paul Gerrard (I think) leapt to intercept as Cantona lurked at his shoulder. The next thing you know, Gerrard's in a heap on the floor and the ball's in the back of the net. Only on seeing a replay did it become clear - the keeper had mis-judged and leapt under the ball (again!), allowing Cantona to stroke home from about two yards. He did this, of course, without breaking his stride.
The night he bashed that Palace nobhead up I was round at a mate's house and he had the match on the radio. Even without pictures it didn't look good. And so it proved. He was out for eight months, which meant he missed the FA Cup final, thus allowing Everton to triumph 1-0 and gain some revenge for the 1985 defeat courtesy of Norman Whiteside's (admittedly ace) extra-time winner.
He can ponce about reading poetry and making films all he likes, but for those of us of a certain age, he was as close to genius as football gets. Except for Leeds, Liverpool and Sheff Wed supporters, who all think he's a wanker.