Edinson Cavani, pictured playing for Paris Saint-Germain in February, is confident he still has much to offer at the top level after the 33-year-old joined Manchester United in a season-long deal earlier this month. [Photo/Agencies]
By Tuesday afternoon, Edinson Cavani had posted only three updates to his 2.1 million followers on Twitter over the previous 12 days, all of them showing him hard at work－first on a running machine and then on the practice field.
The Uruguay striker seemingly wanted the world to know he is in good shape and ready to make his debut for Manchester United.
And he’d have been desperate for that to come on Tuesday in the Champions League against Paris Saint-Germain, the French club where he spent seven trophy-laden years and is the record scorer with 200 goals in 301 appearances.
It wasn’t to be, though, with Cavani not traveling with the squad as he was not deemed fit enough to play after seven months out of action－since what proved to be his last match for PSG before the coronavirus outbreak led to a worldwide suspension of soccer.
“I am going to experience an exceptional moment, that nobody thought would happen. It will be an incredible thing, beautiful emotions,” Cavani told TF1 recently.
Cavani scored 200 goals in seven years with PSG, but he left the Ligue 1 champion in June, missing its run to the Champions League final.
His age and lack of recent action－he hasn’t played since PSG’s Champions League win over Borussia Dortmund in March－prompted some United fans to label Cavani a panic buy after its failure to land Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho.
Cavani may not have any strong lingering sentiment for PSG, having left the club under something of a cloud in June after refusing to extend his expiring contract by a couple of months to enable him to be involved in the pandemic-delayed finale to last season’s Champions League.
Cavani was clearly miffed at losing his place in the starting XI last season after the arrival of Mauro Icardi. He spent part of the first half of the season injured, then saw PSG block his attempt to move to Atletico Madrid in January.
By March, when the pandemic was declared, Cavani had already decided he would be leaving PSG when his contract expired－and the final stages of the Champions League getting rearranged for August wouldn’t change that.
He never got to say a real goodbye to PSG’s fans because his final match for a club where he won six French titles came in the last 16 of the Champions League against Borussia Dortmund at an empty Parc des Princes.
Now a United player after clinching a move on the final day of the European transfer window, Cavani spent the last few months shearing sheep on his farm back home in Uruguay and indulging his unlikely passion for ballet－even featuring in an advert for a Montevideo dance school. As a PSG player, he would often go to the ballet in Paris to escape the attention of fans and media.
But, while he clearly relishes the quiet life and could easily have slipped into retirement, Cavani’s love affair with the game was strong enough to persuade him to accept a new challenge with United, regardless of what the critics say.
“I had a lot of different opportunities, I was excited to play in the Premier League and even more so for Manchester United,” Cavani said.
“I am very motivated because I always want to play as much as possible, work, train and give the best of myself.” Cavani and his girlfriend contracted COVID-19 over a month ago after a holiday on the Spanish island of Ibiza, but he is recovered and ready to add his experience and predatory instincts to a young United team in need of guidance.
Despite the free-scoring 4-1 victory at Newcastle suggesting United already has enough attacking talent, the truth is Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and Daniel James continue to blow hot and cold up front.
Solskjaer has spoken of Cavani as being “one of Europe’s top goal scorers over the last 10 years” and of his excitement at the “energy, power, leadership and a great mentality “the Uruguayan will bring.
Indeed, Cavani won PSG fans over with his work ethic and unselfishness. Even when played out of position on the wing early in his time in Paris to accommodate Zlatan Ibrahimovic, he sacrificed himself for the team cause.
Cavani never complained or took it to heart when PSG fans mocked and jeered some of his more glaring misses while he played in Ibrahimovic’s shadow.
Cavani’s mental strength and selfbelief made him believe he would win over the supporters in the end, and he left as one of the most popular and widely respected players in club history.
Once he regains his match sharpness, Cavani might still have a hard time breaking into United’s team, with Martial－who is currently serving a domestic suspension－and Rashford the usual starters in attack.
Rashford hopes Cavani can emulate the impact made by Ibrahimovic, who joined the club in 2016 having left PSG as a free agent.
Ibrahimovic, who was also in his 30s during his time at Old Trafford, bagged four goals in his first five United appearances and finished with 28 in his debut season as his talismanic presence took the pressure off his teammates.
“As a forward line it is something to look forward to,” Rashford told Sky Sports of Cavani’s arrival.
“Hopefully he comes in and scores goals, because he can definitely help us win games and points. He can be a massive player for us this season.
“To win two or three trophies in a season you need a squad, it’s not possible if you don’t have people who can score goals one week and the next week. Growing up, United always had four or five forwards who could score goals at any time. The closer we get to that, the more strength we’ll have.”