It still seems strange that one brief phonecall can have so much impact on the history of any one football club; a phonecall – the details of which are now etched onto the consciousness of so many Manchester United supporters – between Martin Edwards and Leeds United managing director Bill Fotherby. The conversation culminated in the transfer of Monsieur Eric Cantona, one of the most iconic footballers in Manchester United’s history. The fee was £1 million pounds, and discussed only after United laughed off a bid for Irish fullback Denis Irwin. The signing of the mercurial Frenchman coincided with, and was partly responsible for United’s success throughout the nineties, in which they won five Premier League titles before climaxing with the historic treble of 1999.
It was another million pound man however, that Ferguson pinned his hopes on at the start of the 1992/93 season.
Originally bought as competition for Mark Hughes and Brian McClair, and in the wake of Mark Robins’ departure, Dion Dublin made his way north to Old Trafford from Cambridge United. Incidentally, The U’s themselves had narrowly missed out on competing in the inaugural FA Premier League season, after suffering a play-off semi-final defeat to Leicester City.
Dublin had flourished at Cambridge under the unconventional stewardship of John Beck. Rumour has it that Cambridge’s direct style led to Beck advising his groundstaff not to cut the grass in the corners of the pitch, assisting his wingers while they unceremoniously dumped the ball in from the flanks in the direction of Cambridge’s grateful strikers. Apparently Louis Van Gaal can disprove this with a statistical dossier.
Dublin scored 52 goals in the league for Cambridge, and his height – 6ft 2 inches – was an attribute missing from the United attack at the time. Ferguson, after missing out on prime target Alan Shearer, eventually signed Dublin on 7th August, 1992.
In an interview at the time, Dublin confessed to being a little nervous about his move to a club the size of Manchester United, but was also determined to show the United faithful what he could do. His first goal in the famous red shirt was an important one.
United had started the season poorly with just one point from their first three matches. Defeats against Sheffield United and Everton, plus a draw against Ipswich led to critics dismissing United as genuine title contenders. Their fourth match of the season, on a Monday night at The Dell against Southampton, was meandering towards a draw when Dublin, profiting from the assistance of Brian McClair’s shoulder, pounced from close range to snatch three crucial points. The Red Devils would use the momentum provided by Dublin to win their next four matches.
On September 2nd, during a league match against Crystal Palace at Old Trafford, Dublin was victim to an horrendous challenge by Eric Young, forcing him off the pitch on a stretcher with a broken leg. Anyone who saw his television interview a few days later, during which he looked absolutely gutted, couldn’t help but feel sorry for the big man.
In truth, Dublin’s career was as good as over once Cantona began working his magic in front of the newly refurbished Stretford End. Without the emphasis on squad rotation that has developed over the years, United went on to win the league, celebrating in front of an emotional Sir Matt Busby. Even Gary Pallister got on the scoresheet.
Dublin left United at the start of the 1994/95 season, joining Coventry City for around £2 million, and went on to score 61 goals for the Sky Blues. Dublin also had a successful spell with Aston Villa, scoring 48 times. During this time, he also began to redevelop himself as a central defender. He was capped four times for England and was in contention for Glenn Hoddle’s squad for the 1998 World Cup. He didn’t make it, though presumably he did handle the rejection in a more gentlemanly fashion than Gazza.
Bizarrely, Dublin also has a penchant for Peruvian percussion, and has trademarked his own instrument titled ‘The Dube’. He’s used this live on stage with Ocean Colour Scene. Bet Eric couldn’t do that.
It never worked out for Dublin at Old Trafford, and due to the success at the club since, his name has been consigned to history as a failure.
Failure is a harsh term though, and it may just be that he wasn’t as successful as the next Ferguson import.
He scored for Manchester United, and for many of us, that would be enough.