Sunday, July 12

Eric Cantona best XI of career teammates

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Sports Mole picks out a best XI of career teammates for Eric Cantona, who celebrates his 54th birthday today.

Eric Cantona scored 82 times in 185 appearances for Manchester United between 1992 and 1997, helping the club win four Premier League titles and two FA Cups before retiring at the age of 30.

The Frenchman's numbers were impressive but his contribution to the 20-time English champions cannot solely be measured in goals, appearances and trophies.

Indeed, there is no question that the number seven was a talismanic figure for the Red Devils, leading by example in the final third of the field.

Cantona, who turns 54 today, started his professional career with Auxerre and also turned out for Martigues, Marseille, Bordeaux, Montpellier HSC and Nimes before joining Leeds United in 1992.

The former attacker netted 14 times in 35 appearances for Leeds before controversially moving to Old Trafford, where he was to enjoy huge success over a relatively short period of time.

At international level, meanwhile, Cantona scored 20 times in 45 appearances, but he only actually played in one major tournament for Les Bleus, featuring at Euro 1992, where he turned out against England.

The four-time Premier League winner was an inspirational figure for United, but he also played alongside some wonderful footballers during his career, and here Sports Mole has put together a best XI of career teammates for the Frenchman.

In truth, it was not difficult to pick the goalkeeper in this particular XI. Indeed, Peter Schmeichel and Cantona featured alongside each other on 159 occasions for United, winning four Premier League titles and two FA Cups in the process. Schmeichel was sensational in his final season at Old Trafford as Sir Alex Ferguson's side won a famous treble, and he sails into this best Cantona XI even if the competition for the goalkeeping position is not of the highest standard.

The left-back spot, meanwhile, was also relatively straightforward to pick. Cantona played alongside the brilliant Bixente Lizarazu on 19 occasions for France, but he was in the same United side as Denis Irwin on 160 occasions. Irwin won seven Premier League titles with the Red Devils, and there is an argument that the Northern Irishman is one of the most underrated players in recent history.

Another former United player makes the back four in the shape of Steve Bruce. Like Cantona, Bruce was an inspirational captain for the Red Devils and skippered the team to the double in 1993-94. The Englishman also scored an impressive 51 times for United from central defence before leaving in 1996.

It would not have been difficult to pick another two of Cantona's former United teammates at the back, but the 56-year-old played alongside some wonderful footballers at international level.

Marcel Desailly won the Champions League with both Marseille and AC Milan before joining Chelsea, while he was a member of the France squad that won both the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. Cantona only actually played with Desailly on 11 occasions, but the 51-year-old simply has to be included in this XI.

Another France legend in the shape of Lilian Thuram gets the nod at right-back. The former defender is still his country's most capped player with 142, two spots ahead of Desailly in the rankings. Thuram played for Monaco, Parma, Juventus and Barcelona during a brilliant club career and won both the World Cup and a European Championships at international level.

A five-man midfield includes four former United players, which is perhaps not much of a surprise. There had to be a spot for Roy Keane, who was in the same Red Devils side as Cantona on 114 occasions, with the pair enjoying huge success during their time together at Old Trafford. Didier Deschamps and Bryan Robson are incredibly unfortunate to miss out, but it was tough to look past Keane in the holding position.

Paul Scholes was also a certainty, with the Englishman winning 11 Premier League titles, three FA Cups and two Champions League titles during his time at United. The midfielder played alongside Cantona on 57 occasions for the Red Devils, and he edges out the likes of Gary McAllister and Chris Waddle, whom he played with at Leeds United and Marseille respectively.

The final central midfield position goes to a certain Zinedine Zidane. Interestingly, Zidane and Cantona only played alongside each other on two occasions at international level, for a total of 46 minutes, against Czech Republic and Romania. The now Real Madrid boss enjoyed a sensational playing career for the likes of Juventus and Los Blancos, though, in addition to playing over 100 times for France.

Ryan Giggs takes the position on the left, with the pair playing in the same side on 148 occasions under Ferguson at Old Trafford. The Welshman won 13 Premier League titles, four FA Cups and two Champions Leagues during his time at United, making 963 appearances in all competitions.

The spot on the right, meanwhile, could only have ever gone to David Beckham. The Englishman might have left Old Trafford under somewhat of a cloud, but there is no doubting his contribution to the cause. Beckham won six Premier League titles, two FA Cups and the Champions League with United, before also going on to represent Real Madrid, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain in the latter stages of his career.

The circumstances surrounding Beckham's personal life means that it is perhaps easy to forget just what a talented footballer he was. The now co-owner of MLS outfit Inter Miami, who was the runner-up in the 1999 Ballon d'Or, also made 115 appearances for England between 1996 and 2009, featuring in three World Cups and two European Championships for the Three Lions.

There might have been an argument to leave Cantona out of his own XI had there been another world-class option in the final third of the field, but that is not really the case. Andy Cole is a touch unfortunate to miss out as the Englishman had a brilliant career in the game, but Cantona did not really play alongside any truly outstanding strikers at international level between 1987 and 1995.

The Frenchman's time at United was not short of controversy, but he was an inspirational figure for the English giants and will forever be remembered by the supporters.

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