Manchester United turned down the chance to sign Zinedine Zidane in 1996 as Sir Alex Ferguson did not want to upset Eric Cantona, according to the club's former chairman Martin Edwards.

During that season, Zidane established himself as one of European's football hottest properties, helping Bordeaux to reach the UEFA Cup final and earning himself a spot in the France squad for Euro 1996.

The Marseille-born midfielder left for Juventus after the tournament, then Europe's defending champions, while Cantona surprisingly retired at the end of the 1996-97 season after inspiring United to a fourth Premier League title in five years.

However, according to Edwards, who served as United chairman between 1980 and 2000 and had three years as the club's chief executive before retiring in 2003, the Serie A giants only signed Zidane after Ferguson felt there was no room to accommodate the World Cup winner and Cantona in the same side.

"Zidane and Eric played in the same position and Alex felt if they brought Zidane in it would have upset Eric," the former United chairman told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"In hindsight yes [it's a regret], because Eric retired a year later and Zidane was younger so he would have continued it."

Zidane would go on to win two league titles in his first two seasons at Juve, when he also reached two consecutive Champions League finals. A third successive final was only snatched from Juventus' grasp by one of the most memorable performances of the Ferguson era, as United came from two goals down in Turin to win 3-2 on the night - and 4-3 on aggregate - on their way to clinching a historic treble in 1999.

 Eric Cantona
Eric Cantona retired at the end of the 1996-97 season after winning four titles in five seasons with Manchester United. Getty Images

Meanwhile, Edwards added United made the right decision in appointing Jose Mourinho last summer in place of Louis Van Gaal. Edwards, who admitted he would have appointed Guardiola as Ferguson's replacement in 2013 had he still been the decision maker at Old Trafford, said Mourinho was the man United needed after three troubled seasons under David Moyes and Van Gaal.

"The position United were in after going for David Moyes and Louis van Gaal I think Jose became the obvious choice," he told the Manchester Evening News at the launch of his autobiography Red Glory .

"He had the fall-out with Chelsea and was available. He was certainly the most high-profile manager available at that time.

"He was the right choice for the club to make. We needed a big name.

"Van Gaal ended up winning the FA Cup and that was handy but in his two years the football wasn't exciting and the fans were not enamoured.

"The club needed someone to arrest the situation and Jose was the right man to do it at the time."

While Edwards admitted United's football last season was far from the kind of attacking football normally associated with the club, he added Mourinho's pragmatism paid dividends.

"Jose gambled in the end and sacrificed the league position for the Europa League," he explained.

"The fact he did that and succeeded you have to take your hat off to him. Had he failed in the final and hadn't qualified people would have been questioning the integrity of that move.

"At the end of the day he is a winner. He delivered two trophies for us last year and got us into the Champions League. Had you said that to supporters at the start of last season they would have settled for it."