250 Days: Cantona’s Kung Fu and the making of Manchester United

Daniel Storey HarperCollins 2019
February 4, 2019
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Eric Cantona’s lunge at Matthew Simmons remains, inarguably, the dramatic pinnacle of the Premier League’s formative years and, as such, 24 years later the events of that night at Selhurst Park remain remarkably vivid. The aftermath is no less clear, with Cantona’s notorious press-conference remaining on semi-regular rotation to this day and Alex Ferguson’s efforts to keep and indulge the player recorded across his library of autobiographies.

But Daniel Storey does a fine job with this re-telling. By beginning with Cantona being led back to the dressing-room at Selhurst and ending with his comeback at Old Trafford against Liverpool. Like his first book, an account of Paul Gascoigne’s curious stay in Serie A, this is another short read, but one crammed with detail, with a lot of original texture. While the outline of events is generally well-known, 250 Days still manages to make the occasional revelation, digging deep not only into Cantona’s private timeline but also the wider situation at Manchester United and how, over time, the two would merge.

For instance, while Cantona is often credited with the development of the Class Of 92 and with the creation of a rare standard, his behaviour around those players and how he actually impacted upon them is most often drawn in the broadest of strokes. Not here though, in which there’s a thorough exploration of the Frenchman’s character and a plausible explanation for why – beyond the obvious – those impressionable players gravitated towards and reacted to him.

There’s also sharp analysis of the situations involving Andrei Kanchelskis, Mark Hughes and Paul Ince, who were all allowed to leave the club during Cantona’s ban. The thread which binds, of course, being Ferguson’s belief in his talisman’s intangibles and his capacity to flow into the voids created by the sale of those three senior players.

“The making of Manchester United” is a lofty title, but the book serves it well. After all, these are the roots of that dynasty. The Class Of 92 are often presented collectively as an inevitable success and the hindsight view of Ferguson’s achievements certainly makes that easier to believe, but Cantona’s nourishment of their potential was vital. 250 Days does a very fine job of illustrating why that was, but also of tracking his own growth and making sense of the impact which the ban undoubtedly had on him.

Given the many parts of this story and its myriad implications, it’s slightly bizarre that nobody has undertaken this project before now – or at least not treated it as a separate entity, away from the general story of Manchester United’s late century ascendancy. But maybe that’s actually a good thing? Anyone familiar with Daniel’s work for Football365 will know of his eye for detail and that’s exactly what this project required: a thorough examination of a single, notorious act which helped alter the course of English football for the next decade.

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