How do you solve a problem like replacing the irreplaceable in Eric Cantona?
That was the dilemma facing Alex Ferguson when the Frenchman stunned the football world by announcing his retirement at the age of 30, on this day in 1997. Manchester United had won the league title again but the close season would be spent pondering the options for somehow covering the loss of such an influential and iconic figure.
Was this the end of the Reds’ domestic dominance?
Far from it, in fact, it took only a couple of years to not only do the Double but add the holy grail of the Champions League on top of it.
See how Teddy Sheringham proved to be the shrewdest of signings.
The answer was not as simple as signing a like-for-like replacement. But Teddy Sheringham came in and would have an enormous impact, not only in that Treble season, when he scored and assisted the goals in the dramatic 2-1 Champions League final win over Bayern Munich in Barcelona.
Sheringham was one of our greatest veteran performers and won the PFA Players’ Player of the Year and Football Writers’ award in 2000/01.
He lifted three successive Premier League trophies with the Reds and all after the Arsenal fans had mocked him in the 1999 FA Cup semi-final for, politely speaking, not winning anything after going to United.
So how did Teddy’s move come about?
Well, the long and short of it was he was keen to leave Tottenham in order to win some medals, at the age of 31 – older than Cantona, of course, who was hanging up his boots.
Sheringham still felt he had plenty of years left, and was right, as he did not retire until in his forties. He was still representing England at 36!
The fact he had never relied on his pace meant Everton, Liverpool and Newcastle United were among a long list of early suitors but, despite the striker handing in an official transfer request, Spurs were seeking a fee of £6 million, which was proving prohibitive. Thankfully, the asking price dropped and, from nowhere, it triggered the Reds entering the race for his signature. A deal was done and it proved a fabulous piece of business by the club.
Teddy Sheringham takes part in a quick quiz as part of the Treble Reunion.
WHAT THEY SAID
“The only mention United had with me was a story that said [chairman] Martin Edwards thought I was too old and expensive,” stated Sheringham at his unveiling.
“I said ‘hmm’ and dismissed the idea of coming here. When I heard they were in, it didn’t take much to persuade me to move. To get £6 million for a 31-year-old, someone would have to panic or be fairly desperate, even in a pretty insane transfer market.
“The best phone call I have ever had in my career was the one from my mum and dad this week telling me United wanted to speak to me. It’s about time I won something and now I hope I can do it here.”
“I can’t think of any better player to replace Cantona. They are slightly different in style but it is one big name out and one big name in. We were never going to pay £6 million for a 31-year-old. That’s a crazy price to pay for someone at the back end of his career. I feel our patience has been rewarded.”
On signing a three-year contract, Teddy added:
“I’m sure people will start making comparisons between me and Eric. But I can only play my own game and hope it will be good enough for Manchester United.”