Premier League

When Eric Cantona came cheap, and United finally did it - the 1992/93 Premier League season

 
7:30pm on Monday 23rd March 2020
By
Martin Macdonald

The 1992-93 English Premier League, the first of the new structure, was won by Manchester United, who were champions of England for the first time in 26 years. Alex Ferguson’s side, who were cruelly passed by Leeds in the run-in the season prior, eventually got their hand on the impressive new trophy courtesy of their 84 point total in the 42-game season. Unexpected challengers emerged in the form of Aston Villa and Norwich City, but while both pressed the Reds late into the season, their bids fizzled out, leaving United as clearly the best team in the division, commencing a dynasty that would last for two decades.

CHANGES

In the most sweeping pre-season changes in the history of English football, the revamped Premier League was borne out of the ashes of the old First Division, backed by a bumper broadcasting deal that ushered in a new era of expenditure and an inextricable relationship with Sky TV, with a new contract thought to be worth an (at the time) eye-watering £310 million.

A 22-team top flight was formed and the clubs not involved initially appeared to be kids peering through the glass into the candy store, dreaming of untold riches as their dilapidated stadiums crumbled. It is a gap in status and wealth that has, to this day, never been recovered.

The new sides wasted no time in flexing their new-found financial muscle, not least newly-promoted Blackburn Rovers, who joined Ipswich Town and Middlesbrough in squeezing into the elite courtesy of a play-off and with the wealthy Jack Walker bankrolling them, purchased Alan Shearer from Southampton for a fee of £3.6m. Elsewhere Dean Saunders moved from Liverpool to Aston Villa for over £2m, while Teddy Sheringham swapped the City Ground and Nottingham Forest for Tottenham, Spurs spending in the region of £2.5m for the forward.

But in a day before transfer windows, the most pivotal move came mid-season, as an innocent phone call from Alex Ferguson to Leeds boss Howard Wilkinson led to the capture of Eric Cantona and a place in Premier League history.

SEASON SUMMARY

The first goal of the Premier League era was scored by Brian Deane in a 2-1 win over Manchester United, while the first live televised goal came from Sheringham, who managed to squeeze in one more strike for Forest before moving to Tottenham.

But while Ferguson’s United were comfortable winners in the end, it took the game-changing transfer of Cantona to convulse the team into life; when the Frenchman’s move was completed on 26 November, United were in eighth position, a full nine points off the pace-setters, Norwich City. The Canaries had been unilaterally tipped to struggle, following their relegation-threatened previous campaign and the sale of their most prominent forward, Robert Fleck, to Chelsea.

But under Mike Walker, the likes of Mark Robins, Chris Sutton and Ruel Fox confounded their status and as Christmas beckoned, Norwich were, unbelievably, eight points clear of the chasing pack.

Arsenal - who would triumph in both the League Cup and FA Cup, defeating Sheffield Wednesday on both occasions - were among the challengers, while Blackburn Rovers and Aston Villa were also prominently placed, with the latter’s bid for glory proving to be most robust. Saunders, Dalian Atkinson and Dwight Yorke proved enviable forward options and with former United boss Ron Atkinson guiding operations from the dugout, their challenge was to be taken seriously.

But After Cantona’s arrival at Old Trafford, Ferguson’s side were duly lifted; Ryan Giggs, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis raised their performances, to the point where when Villa visited Manchester on 14 March, both sides were locked at the top of the table on the same number of points.

While Villa’s excellent performance - Steve Staunton’s incredible strike earning a 1-1 draw - suggested a battle to the final day, United proved far more astute at holding their nerve over the closing stages. While United won their final seven games, Villa won just three over the same period, ensuring that Ferguson achieved his ambition of emulating Matt Busby to bring league success to the club.

To the trapdoor; Nottingham Forest struggled in vain to replace Sheringham’s lost goals and finished bottom, while Middlesbrough were never good enough and went down too.

Going into the final day Crystal Palace and Oldham Athletic had to avoid the final relegation spot; Oldham required victory over Southampton and hope Palace lost to Arsenal. The Eagles were roundly beaten, 3-0 at Highbury, while Oldham kept up their end of the bargain, winning 4-3 to save their skins and send Palace down.

AWARDS

PLAYER OF THE SEASON

PAUL MCGRATH

The Irish sweeper strolled through the best season of his career, his performances a highlight of Villa’s unexpected title challenge.

MANAGER OF THE SEASON

SIR ALEX FERGUSON

The beginning of the dynasty, the first title. Perhaps fortunate to even still be in charge, few could have predicted the legacy that was about to be created.

YOUNG PLAYER OF THE SEASON

RYAN GIGGS

Before becoming a Premier League legend, Giggs was once the most promising youngster in the country, and his exciting wing play was a highlight of the campaign.

TOP GOALSCORER

TEDDY SHERINGHAM - 22 GOALS

Teddy’s big move to White Hart Lane proved most lucrative, his 22 goals edging out QPR’s Les Ferdinand to the Golden Boot.

TEAM OF THE SEASON

GOAL OF THE SEASON

DALIAN ATKINSON’S improbable, incredible dribble and deliberate lob was the clear winner.

MOST EXPENSIVE TRANSFER

Alan Shearer

Southampton to Blackburn

£3.6m

KEY MOMENT OF THE SEASON

Howard Wilkinson deciding that no, he didn’t need Eric Cantona and that United could have him. One of the most impactful phone calls football’s ever had.

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