The New Voice Of Football column at FootballFancast.com
With Tottenham Hotspur legend Ossie Ardiles revealing to FootballFancast that he thought Eric Cantona was the reason Manchester United are what they are today. I believe that not only did the Frenchman bring something to United and the Premier League, but he also bought back a swagger to go with the No7 shirt that had not been seen at Old Trafford since the days of George Best and his celebrity lifestyle and genius on the pitch.
Though different off the pitch, both had a swagger that endeared them to both United fans and the footballing world in general. Just like Best, Cantona knew how good he was and he didn’t mind showing it. During five-years at United Cantona entertained, excited and produced the unexpected before retiring and handing over the shirt to a young David Beckham, who had come through the youth system to claim the number.
Beckham carried on the tradition of the United No7 for the next six years, with a different type of swagger, but a swagger of sorts.
With the glamour lifestyle and all the trappings of celebrity the United No7 had started to become something that you have to be a little more than just a very good footballer to carry off.
Now the occupant of the shirt is Cristiano Ronaldo and whatever you think of him he can play and definitely has the swagger, with his tricky skills, posturing and again like Best and Cantona, knows how good he is. However, after two outstanding seasons for United, Ronaldo’s return from injury to the Premiership this season has been largely subdued, with the Ballon d’Or winner seeming to slip back to his petulant ways after a summer of ‘will he, wont he’ leave United. Now speculation is rife again, that a departure from Old Trafford is on the cards next summer, with Real Madrid still sniffing around like a dog at a lamppost.
So should the Portuguese winker leave for the Bernabeu eventually, who, can Sir Alex replace him with?
For the last sixteen-years Cantona, Beckham and Ronaldo have worn the No7, with the Red Devils having the most successful period in their history during this time. The most successful period before that being when Best had the No7. So the next incumbent of the shirt must have something about them just to be able to take the sheer weight of it when it is passed on from Ronaldo. Any takers?
United have been linked with South American pair Wilson Palacios and Antonio Valencia at Wigan in the past, but while they might be good players are either the new No7? Serbian Zoran Tosic might be a candidate, with the 21-year-old winger on the verge of a move from Partizan Belgrade, but holding out for better personal terms. While his Partizan team-mate 17-year-old Adem Ljajic dubbed the ‘Little Kaka’ in Serbia, who has also been linked with United could possibly wear it in the future. Or maybe an established big name from another big club that believes he is the one ready to dazzle and posture his way into Old Trafford folklore?
One thing is for certain though, whoever ends up wearing the No7 for United, will not only have to be an excellent player, but also big enough and flash enough in some ways to carry the burden of the shirt. For the person that does eventually get it. It remains to be seen if the swagger continues or skips a few generations like it did after Best. For after the departure of the Irishman, United did not win the league again until the next man with a true Gaelic swagger came along.
Just for the record the most successful United No7 in terms of major medals is Beckham, with nine, then Cantona with six, Ronaldo has four and counting, while Best had three, but who has the biggest swagger?