A lot of people sneered at the signing of Edinson Cavani by Manchester United when it happened. For a bunch of reasons, it was not the exciting signing that many of the club’s fans hoped for, and it did not seem to be a signing that scared rival fans either. A 33-year old striker who had scored only 4 league goals the season before, while spending most of the time injured or unfit. He had been a free agent for months, after PSG released him, and had been linked to a host of clubs, not on the level of Manchester United.
It looked like another cheap transfer by the club in which they paid a huge salary to a player past his prime or close. Because of his many similarities to Falcao – came from France, looked to be past his prime, South American, injury-prone, even long-haired – many drew comparisons and were immediately turned off. It seemed he would turn out to be more Falcao than Zlatan, and fans frowned at it. Of course, some others were excited to see what Cavani would bring but they were in the minority.
It did not take long for fans to start seeing that they may have been wrong in their assessment of Cavani. His early cameos suggested that he was going to bring a lot more than they imagined. He was full of running, aggressively working hard for the team, making terrific runs which highlighted his incredible movement, and more.
Basically, whenever he came off the bench, United’s attack became instantly better. His presence was changing things and people were taking note, even if they tried not to get excited yet. There was also the disallowed goal against Leipzig which could have been his first for the club. The goal was so well-taken and instinctive that some fans could not contain their excitement. Why had they doubted this guy?
When he scored his first goal at the death against Everton, some fans’ excitement went through the roof. Maybe this was not going to be like the Falcao situation after all. Then began a clamor for him to become a guaranteed starter for the team, something which Ole refused to do, handing him only one start (which came in the Champions League) in 7 games before the weekend.
On Sunday, whatever doubts anybody had about Cavani’s current level and what he can bring to the Manchester United team were extinguished in 45 minutes. Coming off the bench with the club 2-0 down, Cavani completely changed the game. First, he gave a neat assist to Bruno Fernandes to reduce the deficit. Then he showed his great anticipation and movement when he connected with a Bruno snapshot and turned the ball into the Southampton net for the equalizer.
Fans rejoiced in awe, but he was not done yet. He went on to score the winner from a Rashford cross, leaving four Southampton players flat-footed as they struggled to read his movement or keep up with his incredible anticipation. His two goals showed some of Cavani’s best qualities, qualities that only a few strikers in world football can even come close to matching, let alone Manchester United. His movement was impossible to keep up with and constantly confused the Southampton defense. His anticipation was excellent as well. And he showed that he is clinical, contrary to the popular myth about him, as he finished off the chances.
Looking forward, there is a lot to be excited about regarding Cavani and what he can give his new club. A striker with over 400 career goals, 10 top scorer accolades, and a fine record in European competitions is surely going to bring a lot of excellence to a side begging for it. For once, Manchester United have a proper number 9, who is one of the best in the world in his position. Also, nobody in world football has better movement than Cavani. On this, the club can benefit long term if the younger players learn to move like him. A lot of things related to movement are instinctive but there is a lot of room to pick up things from Cavani’s way of moving. Certain aspects can be copied by the youngsters and adapted to their games.
For this season though, a starting Cavani, playing with the consistently efficient Bruno, can be a real difference-maker for Man United. One would hope that by the time he is done and he leaves the club, he would have earned the big paycheck with supreme delivery on the pitch. Next up for Cavani is a chance to send his former club, PSG, into the Europa League. That would be justice for him after the acrimonious way in which he left the club, due to Leonardo’s poor treatment of him and Tuchel undervaluing him for so long.
Who knows? It might happen. PSG have a history of suffering at the hands of their former players. It would be on-brand for their legendary record goalscorer to put the dagger into their CL campaign after getting released months before.