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Opinion: How Edinson Cavani dispelled the doubters at Manchester United

Eyebrows were raised when Manchester United signed Edinson Cavani in the final hours of deadline day back in October.

Was this bloke – an ageing, injury prone veteran whom had never played a single minute in England in his life – really the answer to United’s striker issues? 

After all, we were supposed to be an emerging young side with an emerging young manager building for the future. But yet here we were again – landed with a crocked, washed up and past it 34-year-old given the no.7 shirt – an iconic number only reserved for greatness – and heralded as Old Trafford’s new figurehead as the focal point of the attack.

You had to ask questions. Had this club learned nothing from the last time we signed an ageing big name South American striker with his best years behind him and a questionable injury record? The Radamel Falcao signing should have been all the evidence needed to steer well clear of such situations. We all know how Falcao worked out…

You couldn’t help but feel the signing of Cavani had the grubby fingerprints of the board all over it – as usual, this seemed a decision to swell the coffers, push “brand United” to a new level and to boost shirt sales and commercial revenue. It seemed to epitomise the club’s flawed transfer policy, a gamble taken with a lack of joined up thinking and without planning aforethought.

But yet seven months on from being written off as past it, over the hill and an eleventh hour panic buy which reeked of desperation, Cavani is now idolised through a chant that has gone viral on social media. A chant he may yet get to hear belted out from the Stretty at a packed out Old Trafford as fans return next season. “Give it, give it, give to Edi Cavani, give him the ball and watch him score the goals”.

I’ve a feeling the Old Trafford faithful would absolutely adore the man simply known as “El Matador.”

Everyone at United – players, fans and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – have seemingly built such an affinity with the striker from Salto, so much so that keeping him here suddenly seems like a no brainer. 

There may have been frustration at times as it’s seemed Cavani’s caution over his body left him to make himself unavailable and only play when he felt like it, but when he’s healthy he carries the vim, vigour and infectious enthusiasm that put leave several of his younger compatriots (looking at you Anthony Martial), to shame. Off the field, things haven’t always gone as smoothly with Cavani struggling to adapt to life in Britain and the good ol’ English weather as well as being slapped with a three-game ban from the FA for an Instagram post. No offence was intended, but the player used a term which could be considered racist and so the powers-that-be sanctioned him. All this, and a picture begins to build of a man perhaps unhappy in Manchester. 

But just when the curtain had seemingly coming down on his brief Old Trafford epitaph, there may well yet be an unexpected encore – he has done what all the best performers do – saved the best until last and left you wanting more. I’ll happily admit I was wrong when it comes to Cavani – the Falcao debacle had taught me to be careful when it comes to extolling big name foreign signings. But for every Radamel, you also sometimes get a Zlatan. But, whilst Cavani’s impact hasn’t been as seismic as his former PSG strike partner Ibrahimovic’s, credit should still be afforded where it is due. He could well end up emulating Ibrahimovic by ending the campaign – what could be his only one at OT – with a European winner’s medal. Much like Zlatan, Cavani has also been credited with helping to develop a very youthful and rough-around-the-edges United attack. He has certainly done enough to dispel this particular doubting Thomas. 

His performance against Roma was his finest for the Reds so far, and came off the back of a string of impressive showings against Burnley, Granada and Tottenham.

He was simply majestic against the Romans – at times, it was a masterclass, an exhibition and a clinic of centre-forward play. His brace took him to twelve for the season and five in as many games, but – beyond simply sticking the ball away – his defence splitting passes, link up play, pressing and work-rate had all the hallmarks of a master at work and the Serie A side simply had no answer. He doesn’t just simply burst the net, he terrorises defences, his passing is superb and he is the very definition of the striker’s old adage of: “right place right time.” 

In this modern era of the false nine, the sweeper keeper, the CAM, the six, the eight, and the inverted winger, out and out no.9s are an increasingly rare breed – even the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Luis Suarez are considered “deep lying” – but Cavani has proved the art of the archetypal goal poacher is far from dying out.

Whilst Martial had his best season in front of goals for the Reds last term – 23 for the campaign – despite missing over three months through injury  – he simply doesn’t offer  what Cavani can and has significantly regressed since the arrival of the Uruguayan. Martial has never reacted well to competition and a cursory glance at his numbers tell you everything – only seven goals in 36 games from a man who professes to be the main striker at Manchester United. 

Forget spending £100m on Harry Kane, Erling Haaland or any other elite-level striker, in Edinson Cavani Manchester United already have one.

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