Manchester United weren’t quite sure about what they were getting when they signed Edinson Cavani from Paris Saint-Germain in October 2020. The signing was made on deadline day and it had the hallmarks of a rushed and desperate transfer.
Cavani was 33-years-old and PSG had deemed him surplus to requirements. Cavani had struggled with injury in his final season in Paris and he arrived at Old Trafford on the back of scoring just seven goals. He clearly had a pedigree, but his best days seemed to be well behind him. That judgment initially couldn’t have been further from the truth. Cavani made an excellent start at United.
It didn’t take long for Cavani to emphatically quash any lingering doubts about his ability to still perform at the highest level. The forward scored his first goal for the club against Everton in November before single-handedly winning three points for United against Southampton a few weeks later. Cavani scored a well-taken brace and assisted United’s other goal in that game.
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United fans soon adapted ABBA’s ’70s hit, Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’ to serenade their new goal-scoring forward. United had lacked a traditional centre-forward until Cavani’s arrival and the player’s movement off the ball was truly exceptional. Cavani struggled with injuries again, but his goals from him when he played made supporters forgive him for his frailness from him. It was a strong first season.
Cavani finished his first year at Old Trafford with 17 goals and six assists in 39 appearances, which certainly wasn’t a bad return for a centre-forward that was signed for free. His audacious lofted chip against Fulham on the final day of the season was also reminiscent of something Eric Cantona would try. The decision to sign Cavani suddenly looked inspired after encapsulating desperation.
Although the Uruguayan was set to leave on a free transfer, he was persuaded to sign a one-year contract extension. The news of Cavani extending his stay was well received in all quarters, but his prolonged stay has ultimately tainted his legacy.
The chants of “Give it, give it, give it to Edi Cavani,” grew quieter as the new season progressed and that was for good reason. While Cavani can’t be blamed for losing his place from him to Cristiano Ronaldo, the way he conducted himself in the wake of his new reality from him was disappointing. Cavani’s record with injury has been dubious and his commitment to him has been brought into disrepute.
Cavani seemed to always give 100 per cent when selected yet he was rarely available to play. Cavani played just over 900 minutes this season and he missed 29 of United’s 49 matches. He also asked to sit out the FA Cup tie with Middlesbrough and that request looked worse when Anthony Elanga buckled on the spot during penalties. It should have been Cavani that took that penalty, not Elanga.
The 35-year-old scored just two goals and made eight starts. His record of him with injury was questioned by pundits and supporters, with some speculating that Cavani’s heart of him was n’t in it anymore. If that was the case, he wasn’t alone for that in the dressing room.
Cavani was on track to be remembered as a cult hero at Old Trafford, but now his name will merely be a footnote in the history of this genuinely disastrous season. Although Cavani thanked United fans for their support on Friday, he didn’t deserve much support for large parts of the campaign. Cavani always received a warm reception at Old Trafford, despite being a peripheral figure.
“I sincerely have nothing but words of gratitude towards the fans and supporters of Manchester United,” Cavani said, reflecting in an interview with United’s in-house media. “Honestly, they have shown me a lot of respect from the very first moment I arrived.
“I think they’ve greatly recognized all the hard work I’ve always tried to put in in the best way possible, giving my best for this team. I really am very grateful, and I’ll be leaving here with a happy memory of that affection they showed me and always displayed.”
United must look to sign a youthful centre-forward this summer instead of an eleven reputable player in the autumn of their career. This season has made that lesson abundantly clear. That means Cavani has been useful for at least one thing this term.
Cavani might be leaving the club with happy memories, but United fans won’t share that sentiment about the player.
Goodbye, Edinson Cavani.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.