When Edinson Cavani is on the pitch there can be no doubt.
He turns 34 tomorrow yet he still chases down every single lost cause like his life depends on it. He presses slowly with the stamina like a player 10 years his junior. He will throw his body and his head into danger if there’s a sniff of a chance. He plays with a passion, fire and pride that naturally gravitates supporters to a player.
All those brilliant attributes don’t even include his actual footballing ability, which remains sublime. If Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi hadn’t broken every goalscoring record known to man over the last 15 years then Cavani may be even more revered. A great scorer of goals. A scorer of great goals. Ugly ones, too. Link up play, great first touch, pace, physical, aerial presence, a clinical finisher.
He is the perfect modern striker and will go down as one of the greats. It’s really no surprise that the Old Trafford faithful so quickly grew enamored with the veteran, singing his song wherever they go.
When Cavani wears the Manchester United shirt he epitomizes what it means to represent the club.
The issue is he isn’t wearing it enough.
Once again on Saturday United were left in the lurch as the Uruguayan pulled out of the squad at the 11th hour, leaving United short on options in attack in a game when they needed them. Another match in which they drew 1-1 and dropped more vital points in the race for the top four.
The blame for yet another draw can’t be blamed entirely on Cavani’s absence, especially as he started the draw against Burnley in midweek, and United’s problems are multiple and run deep throughout the side. But it’s certainly not a good look that he repeatedly makes himself unavailable and it will prevent him from earning the legacy he could have done at Old Trafford when he likely leaves at the end of the season.
It’s a legacy he should have earned.
Cavani’s impressive goal return of 17 in his debut season allowed the fact he repeatedly made himself unavailable – to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s growing frustration – to be glossed over and anticipation was high for the next season after he signed a new one-year contract.
But this year, with just two goals and more games missed than played, frustrations are starting to grow. It began at the start of the season when he was inexplicably given eight weeks off, much longer than any other player, to remain in his home country following the Copa America.
He missed the first two games of the season due to quarantine and not being match ready, then picked up an injury after his first match, potentially owing to a lack of proper pre-season preparation.
He suffered another injury, this time a tendon irritation, that ruled him out of for over a month before he enjoyed a four-match spell in the side, starting three of those games.
That came to an end at Brentford where a ‘muscular problem’ kept him out of action and then came the winter break. Cavani was again given leave to spend extra time in Uruguay after representing his country, meaning he missed the FA Cup elimination at the hands of Middlesbrough and United’s last realistic chance of winning a trophy.
He returned to start against Burnley, playing 68 minutes, but then, despite being with the team in the hotel the night before the game, he wasn’t in the squad to face Southampton.
“I decided to start with Cristiano today, Edi had to pull out after training last night, he has groin problems, he had treatment the whole night and whole morning but in the end he said he’s just not available,” Ralf Rangnick told MUTV on his absence.
The latest and probably not the last example of Cavani not being there when he is needed. He plays on his own terms to look after his body from him to prolong his playing days, meaning two games in a week are a rarity.
Listen, who can blame him? Why shouldn’t an employee put their own health first rather than the well-being of their employer, even if he is a footballer?
You’ve got to take what you can get in this life and fair play to Cavani for doing all he can to spend as much time with his family in South America as possible. It’s no doubt been a lonely couple of years with difficult travel back to his home continent.
It’s hard to begrudge him that and the situation says a lot more about the slipping standards at United than him.
But, it’s undeniable that it will severely impact how Cavani is regarded in club folklore once he departs. While no-one can dispute he gives his de him all while on the grass, he simply hasn’t been on it enough to cement a place as a club great. He has too often now left United hanging dry and that gets remembered, with frustrations starting to grow amongst supporters in recent weeks.
Cavani really could have gone down at a United legend but unless he scores a winner in the Champions League final – somewhat unlikely – then that probably isn’t going to happen. It’s doubtful he cares but it remains a shame.
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