Eric Cantona was speaking exclusively to Paddy Power News. See the full transcription below.
What does Manchester United mean to you?
It means everything to me. I had the best time of my life and my football career and as a human being also. I love the city, I love the people, and of course the club. The club was great for me.
We had the chance to have great players, a great manager, and after twenty years we started to win. We won the Premiership, and carried on winning after I retired.
It means a lot. Football was a dream for me. Playing for Manchester United didn’t even feel like a dream, it was bigger than that. I’ve been lucky.
How has it felt seeing them struggle recently?
It was hard, but all big clubs sometimes have bad times. They will be back, but the worst thing was that the identity of the club was missing. Because you can lose, so long as you do it with the right identity and philosophy. Even when they could win, fans were not happy, they want to win but enjoy the game – it’s entertainment.
Now it seems to be back.
Is it Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that has brought that back?
I think so.
He has got the soul of the club, and you feel that he has been inspired by Alex Ferguson. It’s like Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola in Barcelona – Ole Gunnar is the spiritual son of Alex Ferguson.
Not all players can become managers, but some of them can, and for me it’s important that at a club like Manchester United you have somebody who has the soul of the club, who understands the club from inside.
So today, seeing United, I am so happy.
You were his captain, but are you surprised to see how well Ole has done?
I am not surprised at all. Finally, the club made the right decision, a decision I think they should have made a long time ago.
Should they give Ole the job permanently?
Yeah, I think so. I would love to.
I don’t know the agreement he has with the club, but for me as a fan – because now I am a United fan – it’s a great feeling to feel the soul of the club, finally. We lost that since Ferguson retired. And now, it’s a great feeling.
Would you prefer to see him over someone like Mauricio Pochettino, who doesn’t understand the soul of the club?
Yes, for me it’s important that the manager understands the club, who has the soul of the club. It’s why I said before about Guardiola in Barcelona, he was a player when Cruyff was the manager. He then became the manager of Barcelona with the soul of the club, and the soul of Johan Cruyff.
For me it’s important. You can have a manager that comes from somewhere else, but they need to understand the club from outside – to have the soul of the club. They need to play creative football and enjoy football. Work hard, but enjoy it.
If the players and the manager enjoy the game, then the fans will enjoy the game. You can win games, but not enjoy it, and I don’t think that’s for Manchester United.
Would you ever want to get involved in that side of the game at Man United?
I do many things, but if I come back to football it will be at Manchester United.
Nowhere else – I’m not interested. It’s important that whoever is involved has the soul of the club.
How does it feel knowing the fans of the club still adore you?
It feels great, it’s a great feeling. But at the same time, I am a bit afraid that one day that will stop. I hope not – I want to die happy.
Man City and Liverpool have been doing well, when United have been playing poorly. Does that hurt?
It hurts a lot. But they play wonderful football. But now, if United had started the season 10 games ago, they would be top of the league.
City and Liverpool play nice attacking football, now and score plenty of goals, which is like Man United. They have the philosophy we did – enjoyment.
Of course, if they (United) keep playing like this, they still have a chance, no? (Of winning the league)
I remember during my time, we were 12 points behind Newcastle and we won the league – so we have to hope and dream.
Top four prediction
City, Liverpool, Tottenham, United.
It’s a big debate, but who would you prefer to see win the league, Man City or Liverpool?
Nobody. It’s like asking me if I’d prefer to have my teeth made of wood or my legs of sponge.
Who would your Player of the Year be for United?
Before Ole, there was no player of the year for me. It was obvious they were not enjoying the game. Since he arrived, you can see everybody wants the ball, everybody moves, they enjoy the game and want to score – they play with pleasure and enjoyment now.
Paul Pogba is great, now. Ole has found the right position for him, he has a great vision and pass, he can score and assist goals, organise the game and defend. He organises the game, and every time he has the ball he’s dangerous – anything can happen.
Pogba’s faced a lot of criticism for his dancing, haircuts, social media etcetera. What’s your opinion on that?
Since Ole has arrived, he hasn’t changed his haircut. Maybe he made Pogba understand that the priority is to play football.
First you have to be good on the pitch, and then you can do something else. If you lose your concentration because you’re thinking more about your haircut than your football, that’s not good. People love players because they are good or not, they either love them or not, because of what they do on the pitch.
If after they score goals and win things, they can change their haircut – that’s not a problem. But first, concentration: Think about winning and football.