Which was the most important?
1) Eric Cantona signing for Manchester United from Leeds
Before I give my take, I must say that I am too young to remember seeing him play in the flesh. My first live football game was in the 1996/1997 season, the Frenchman’s last, but I don’t remember anything much that season. However I still recognise his importance, having seen clips of him play and read a lot about this era.
This signing gave Manchester United their first period of league domination. His charisma and personality that boosted the whole team, and was possibly the start of Alex Ferguson’s “never say die” mentality. It is telling that the when they lost him to suspension in 1995, after that infamous kung-fu kick, United narrowly missed out on a second double, as well as falling behind Newcastle the following season as he was still suspended, and then struggling to get back to his pre-ban form. When Cantona got back to his best form, United were able to overcome the Newcastle challenge and claim a second double in three years. Cantona’s goals didn’t just help them. They almost single-handedly dragged them to the title in 1996.
2) Arsene Wenger signing Thierry Henry and moving him into the middle
At Juventus, Henry was languishing on the wings, but Arsene Wenger had better judgement than them and moved him into the middle, where he soon became a super-star. It was his thirty goals that made the unbeaten season possible, as well as the double triumph in 2002.
3) Roman Abramovich taking over Chelsea
This is important because it started the trend for rich owners to take over clubs, and then subsidise them out of their own pocket. A whole host of takeovers only happened because the Russian had led the way. Without it, would Manchester City have been bought by Sheikh Mansour? Would Portsmouth have had their disastrous series of owners which have threatened to bankrupt the club? In my view the answer is no. Abramovich also moved the goalposts of English football, as how much money you could raise through the business side of your club, the thing on which Manchester United’s success has been built, overnight became irrelevant to being successful, as Chelsea could outbid everyone else for players. This was especially true for my own club Arsenal, who were in the process of building a new ground, in order to have more money to keep up with the elite, but suddenly found themselves all at sea.
4) Roman Abramovich forcing Jose Mourinho out
As I write this I still cannot fathom what Abramovich was thinking. He had one of the best managers in history at his club, and who had delivered silverware every year, yet conspired to force him out. What Abramovich really needed to do was back off and let the Portuguese manage the team, for example not forcing players like Andriy Shevchenko on him. His decision stopped Chelsea turning the 2000s into their decade, in the same way as Manchester United dominated in the 1990s. If it hadn’t happened, Manchester United would probably never have restored their League supremacy, and Alex Ferguson would have left by now. Again, what was Abramovich was thinking?
5) Robin Van Persie signing for Manchester United instead of Manchester City
This decision meant that City lost momentum after winning the title. A successful squad needs to be constantly refreshed to be successful, something Alex Ferguson has always done brilliantly, like in 1995 or 1998. City needed to clear out some of those not up to the level they were aiming for and bring in superior reinforcements. Who can doubt that if Van Persie had chosen the blue half of Manchester over the red that City would have had a much more successful season in terms of the title race, and possibly have done better in the Champions League? This decision meant that City were unable to build a dynasty after their first title win, and will be forced to go back to the drawing board this summer despite their win last night.