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Down Memory Lane: Eric Cantona couldn’t find any Turkish delight against Galatasary

Manchester United had a European appointment last night in Bursaspor — a match that ignited unhappy memories for Red Devils fans — a night of controversy on another Turkish safari.

The date: Wednesday, November 2, 1993. The place: the Ali Sami Yen Stadium, Istanbul, surrounded by flats and on a six-lane motorway. The opposition: Galatasary, Turkey’s leading club with more than 8,000 members.

“Our European Cup experience that year took us as far into the depths of depression as it was possible to go,” recalls United manager Sir Alex Ferguson in his autobiography.

United negotiated the first round with home and away victories over Honved of Hungary, the team which produced Ferenc Puskas and other “magical Magyars” in the Fifties.

Then came the second round and a pairing against Galatasary. United wounds, however, were self-inflicted in the first-leg. They were two up after 15 minutes, coasting to a triumph, but then came the act of self-destruction.

“We replaced controlled aggression with self-indulgence,” suggested Fergie.

“Players started running with the ball and made a habit of losing it. All the momentum and rhythm went out of our game and Galatasary went into a 3-2 lead, requiring us to salvage a draw with a late goal from Eric Cantona.”

Playing in the Ali Sami Yen Stadium can be a daunting experience for visiting teams as Northern Ireland’s international squad discovered in 1968 and 1998. There are few places where fans are more passionate and even intimidating.

Ferguson has no doubt that the return leg two weeks later exposed his squad to as much hostility and harassment as he had known in all his football travels. That was quite a confession.

Let me quote again from his autobiography: “From the moment we were greeted by jeering crowds and aggressive banners at the airport we were surrounded by the atmosphere of a bearpit. It reached a point of intensity at the stadium where the police were even more frightening than the fans!”

Cantona, now a French actor and film star, earned the wrath of the Swiss referee for making a gesture at the finish of just what he thought about the standard of handling of the game. He was also handed a red card after the final whistle — and a suspension which proved quite a handicap for United’s Euro campaign the next season. And as the volatile Frenchman left the field a policeman swung a baton leaving him with a head laceration.

A goalless draw and that 3-3 draw from the first leg saw Galatasary through on the away goal rule.

Ferguson admitted that in the ensuing months Cantona was not all the innocent party but “the creator of our team’s lamentable disciplinary record over the second-half of the 1993-94 season”.

Eric Daniel Pierre Cantona, was one of the most colourful and influential foreign players in British football, winning four Premiership titles and two League and Cup doubles with United.

He wore the No 7 shirt, previously the property of George Best, and followed by David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Michael Owen. He is part of football folklore with that infamous kung fu kick at a taunting Crystal Palace spectator after being ordered off at Selhurst Park in January 1995. Countless times that incident has been flashed on television screens.

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