In December 1995, Manchester United faced a defensive injury crisis, so Sir Alex Ferguson went to a little-known Frenchman whom Eric Cantona had recommended.
William Prunier only appeared twice for Manchester United, but he will be remembered as a notable footnote in Sir Alex Ferguson’s career.
A look back at his career reveals a good defender who retired in 2004 after nearly 500 games for clubs such as Auxerre, Marseille, Bordeaux, Napoli, and Toulouse. However, a Google search for Prunier’s name yields a quite different picture.
Ferguson calls him a “disaster” in his 2015 autobiography, while JOE and many other outlets wonder whether he is the legendary United manager’s worst signing ever. If that’s the case, Eric Cantona should bear some of the blame, given his role in bringing Prunier to Old Trafford in 1995.
Catona was a teammate of Prunier’s at Auxerre, and when United faced an injury crisis in December 1995, the Frenchman advised they turn to his friend. Ferguson was desperate with Gary Pallister, Steve Bruce, and David May on the bench. Prunier, who was playing for Bordeaux at the time, enters the fray.
Prunier seized the opportunity, opting out of his Bordeaux contract to join United on trial. Ferguson wanted to see the 28-year-old Frenchman on the training ground, but he didn’t have the chance. Another injury, this time to Denis Irwin, meant Prunier was thrown in at the deep end against QPR in the Premier League.
It went swimmingly. Prunier assisted Andrew Cole’s goal and struck the crossbar with a long-range drive in United’s 2-1 victory on debut. The match report in the Independent characterized him as “an immediate hero of the Old Trafford throng,” but Ferguson was far more reserved.
“There’s something about European defenders and how quickly they can pick up the pace,” Ferguson stated after the game. “The tempo is much faster here.” He knew a trip to White Hart Lane was on the way, and Prunier would be put to the test even harder in north London.
That is exactly what happened when Prunier had a dreadful game in a 4-1 loss to the Spurs. With Paul Scholes absent due to illness and Peter Schmeichel limping around after straining his calf in the pre-match warm-up, United were thrashed – and that was the end of Prunier.
According to reports at the time, Ferguson was not convinced and chose to give him a longer trial term at Old Trafford. That didn’t sit well with Prunier, so he left to find a new club.
That version of events has subsequently been challenged by the man himself, who provided his side of the tale in a 2019 interview with The Telegraph. “I was offered a three-year contract,” he explained. “However, there were numerous protagonists involved, and they were unable to reach an agreement.”
Nonetheless, he will be remembered as Ferguson’s “disaster” and one of the manager’s worst signings – which doesn’t worry Prunier. “Everyone believes what they want,” he explained. “It was a life-changing experience, a dream come true, and I have no regrets.”