Sheffield Wednesday’s close encounter with Eric Cantona has gone down in club history as arguably its biggest ‘what if’ moment.
But one of the men at the centre of story is now disputing the facts surrounding the legendary French striker’s brief dalliance with the Owls.
Then manager Trevor Francis opened the door to English football for Cantona in January 1992 and it has long been believed the forward took part in a trial with Wednesday which included an indoor game at Sheffield Arena.
The suggestion goes that then Owls boss Francis turned down the chance to sign Cantona because he had not seen him play on grass, with the Frenchman going on to sign for Leeds United soon after.
The ‘what if’ element of saga only grew with Cantona helping Howard Wilkinson’s Whites lift the Division One title, while Wednesday finished third after a strong challenge.
For more than two decades the finger of blame – and ridicule – has been pointed at Francis for missing out on signing a player who became a major influential figure in the early days of the Premier League.
But in his new autobiography ‘One In A Million,’ Francis says much of the story of Cantona and Wednesday is pure myth.
“In 1992, whilst we were still finding our feet in the top division, I got a call from Dennis Roach, the agent who had taken me from Manchester City to Sampdoria,” he writes.
“He wanted me to do him a favour on behalf of Michel Platini who was the French team manager at the time.
“Dennis was asking me whether I would allow Eric Cantona, who was coming out of retirement, to train with us for a few days.
“Before agreeing I told Dennis that I didn’t mind helping as long as it did not cost the club any money – air fares, hotels, other travel – everything had to be paid for by his party.
“It was all agreed and Eric arrived for two days’ training.
“Unfortunately it was in a period when it was very wintry in Sheffield, such that we could not get on the training field.
“On the first day of Eric’s stay we had to use an AstroTurf pitch in Rotherham and on the second we played an indoor game against an American team.
“Cantona played quite well in that game and there was a lobby from the media about Wednesday signing him.
“There was never, ever any suggestion of us signing Eric Cantona.
“He was there purely as a favour for Dennis Roach and Platini. I had made that clear right from the start.
“The only proactive thing that came from me was to say that I would like him to stay for another day because it would be good to see him train on grass.
“Eric was accompanied by a huge entourage including press officer, agent and personal manager. Somehow they had translated my suggestion for a further day’s training into my wanting him on trial.
“Therefore it was no surprise when word got back to me that Eric Cantona was not here on trial. I knew that; it wasn’t about a trial.
“At that time Howard Wilkinson, the Leeds United manager, spoke to Eric’s advisers, who announced that they had an offer for him to go to Leeds.
“I was more than happy for him to do so.
“And that was the story.
“Even today, and it’s partly my fault because I have never before explained the full story, people still ask, ‘How did you miss out on Eric Cantona? How come you never signed him?’
“Without going into too much detail one of the reasons would have been that I already had my players in forward areas but having said that you can never have too many forward players in my opinion.
“The kind of contract he would have wanted would have killed my whole budget as we were a team that had just come out of the second division.
“Hopefully this puts to bed the Cantona story – another myth!”
Francis’ autobiography ‘One In A Million’ is available from Monday.