Why Did Eric Cantona Retire So Early?

Denis Makarenko/Shutterstock.com

In typical Eric Cantona style, he departed football on his own terms. Most players rack up hundreds of appearances beyond the age of 30 before retiring when their legs eventually give up. Cantona, though, was not your average footballer. The controversial Frenchman stopped playing at the peak of his powers, but why?

Cantona retired so early because he lost passion for football. The Manchester United legend felt that the business aspect of the game had become more important than on-pitch matters – something he struggled to accept. He also disliked the fact that his image was being used as a merchandising tool.

In a 2004 interview with MUTV, Cantona said he still had the ability and physical attributes to keep playing when he decided to retire. However, he no longer wanted to give everything he had to football when the atmosphere surrounding him had changed.

When did Eric Cantona retire?

Eric Cantona retired from football on May 18, 1997. The forward’s last competitive match took place on May 11, 1997, when he played the full 90 minutes in Manchester United’s 2-0 win over West Ham United at Old Trafford.

Two days before retiring, Cantona played for Manchester United for the final time in David Busst’s testimonial at Coventry City’s Highfield Road. Busst suffered a career-ending broken leg against United a year earlier.

In 2004, Cantona admitted in the aforementioned MUTV interview that he might not have retired if United won the Champions League in 1997. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side lost the semi-final 2-0 on aggregate against Borussia Dortmund, losing both legs 1-0.

What age did Eric Cantona retire?

Eric Cantona retired from football at the age of just 30. Most outfield players call it quits in their mid-30s, while some goalkeepers have been known to play into their early 40s. In Cantona’s case, he had enough of football at a surprisingly early age.

“We thought that he was ending his career prematurely and asked him would he reconsider, but he seemed to have made up his mind,” Manchester United chairman Martin Edwards said at a press conference.

A month after Cantona’s retirement, United signed Tottenham Hotspur’s Teddy Sheringham as his replacement in a £3.5 million deal. Sheringham went on to score 46 goals in the next four seasons, including the equaliser in the 2-1 Champions League final win over Bayern Munich in 1999.

How did Sir Alex Ferguson react?

Sir Alex Ferguson spoke about Eric Cantona’s sudden exit from Manchester United at the same press conference as Martin Edwards. Like everyone else, the Scot was taken aback by his player’s decision to retire.

“It’s a sad day for United,” Sir Alex said. “He’s been a fantastic player for us in the four and a half years he’s been with us, and we’ve won six trophies in that period.”

Cantona is widely viewed as one of the greatest players in Manchester United’s history. The former France international scored 82 goals in 185 games for the club. During that time, he won the Premier League on four occasions and the FA Cup twice.