Former chairman Martin Edwards reveals Eric Cantona stopped Manchester United from signing Zinedine Zidane

by Leo Nieboer

Former Manchester United chairman Martin Edwards has revealed that Sir Alex Ferguson turned down the chance to sign Zinedine Zidane from Rennes ahead of the 1996/97 campaign.

Cantona, after four mesmerising seasons at Old Trafford, was handed the captaincy in 1996 following Steve Bruce’s departure to Birmingham.

Zidane moved to Juventus instead and immediately claimed a Scudetto title before going on to win the Ballon d’Or and World Cup in 1998.

And Edwards, speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live, confirmed that Ferguson pulled out of the deal in order to avoid upsetting his newly appointed captain.

“Zidane and Eric played in the same position and Alex felt if they brought Zidane in it would have upset Eric,” he said. “In hindsight yes [it’s a regret], because Eric retired a year later and Zidane was younger so he would have continued it.”

The subjunctive is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? United, in another world, could have potentially had Ronaldinho, Alan Shearer and Zidane – alongside others, I’m sure – in the same team.

In a strange way, there is a part of me that feels glad Zidane never moved to Old Trafford. Your relationship with a player changes once he joins your club. The whole ordeal can become overly emotional and irrational.

Watching Zidane’s graceful brilliance – that majestic, caressing charm with which he handed the ball and indeed entire opposition midfields – from a distance as a kid was special, and the man himself will tell you that joining Juventus was one of the most important decisions of his career.

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