When Edinson Cavani’s Paris St-Germain contract was not extended in June, it brought to an end a seven-year romance with the French capital.
While many would have seen it coming, after a season dominated by injury and bench-warming, few would have expected the Uruguayan to make his next significant appearance in a pair of ballet shoes.
“Soccer and dance are more similar than the world imagines,” he said in September as he helped promote ballet as a pursuit for children in his home country.
“When the performance begins, both football and dance require maximum concentration.”
Now a deadline-day Manchester United signing, Cavani looked as athletic and poised as you would expect of a striker who has scored more than 300 goals for club and country when he took to the ballet mat.
But the fact remains he has dabbled in dance more than he has competitive football in the past seven months.
‘El Matador’ last played for PSG in March – but are United signing a player in the twilight of his career or picking up a useful bargain?
A season to forget or sign of decline?
The 2019-20 season was not a good one by Cavani’s standards.
A hip injury in August 2019 left him sidelined for two months, and a groin strain in January preceded just seven more appearances for the eventual Champions League finalists.
His four goals and one assist in Ligue 1 represented his worst return in Paris – down from a peak of 35 goals and four assists in 2016-17. In 2018-19, he scored 18 times and provided five assists.
His struggles last season – with injuries and form meaning he fell behind Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Mauro Icardi in Thomas Tuchel’s forward line – were epitomised by an uncharacteristic miss against Lille in November. His response – lying on the turf and dropping his head – spoke of a man devoid of confidence.
Such was Cavani’s disillusionment, he opted not to extend his contract to play in the latter stages of the Champions League in August.
Two months later, United are signing a player who has gone 30 weeks without a game and has just 532 minutes of action to his name in 2020.
But can he improve United?
The key consideration is how will manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer use Cavani – and whose place is at risk?
United’s fixture schedule is packed, with nine successive midweek matches from the middle of October to after Christmas and potentially 14 in a row depending on cup commitments and when a rearranged game against Burnley is scheduled.
Cavani provides another option. He is more of a natural number nine than any other striker on United’s books with the exception of Mason Greenwood, and the 19-year-old is too young to carry the burden alone.
The theory is Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford will benefit from Cavani’s presence – and his striker’s instinct may put defences on the back foot more than has been the case in the opening couple of Premier League games, which has squeezed the space for Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba.
In addition, with the arrival of midfielder Donny van de Beek, Solskjaer has options in terms of not just the personnel but also the formation.
And if those injuries of last season can be cast aside, there is statistical evidence Cavani could have an impact.
Insight from London-based investment company Carteret Analytics – which advises three Premier League clubs, and another 12 leading sides from around Europe and the rest of the world, on potential new signings and transfer finances – makes for positive reading.
Carteret gives players a rating measured by how much influence they have on winning matches – it can be used by clubs when making recruitment decisions.
Cavani’s rating for his performances last season was a disappointing 158.6, but his overall rating – across his career as a whole – is 326.7.
That’s compared to a rating of 249.5 for Rashford, 180.3 for Greenwood and 251.8 for Martial.
His ‘intrinsic value’ – a figure Carteret place on a player’s worth to an individual club – is £35.61m, with Rashford’s £40.3m and Martial’s £45.57m.
Why could this be different to other United flops?
Given the outcome of most of the big names Manchester United have signed over the past six years, fans can be forgiven for feeling somewhat underwhelmed at the prospect of signing Cavani.
Radamel Falcao, Alexis Sanchez, Angel di Maria and Bastian Schweinsteiger all arrived at Old Trafford to huge fanfare, with massive reputations, and flopped at enormous cost.
Will the 33-year-old Uruguayan be any different? The answer will only come when he starts to play.
It has been pointed out he is the same age as Lionel Messi, and therefore the date of his birth should have no bearing on the reaction to his arrival. And a good comparison might be with another former PSG forward – Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the one star name to justify his billing at United.
Ibrahimovic’s ego would not allow him to fail in the Premier League. Will Cavani be the same?
United feel he is up for the challenge. They are not paying the reported £10m in agents’ fees and are adamant the salary on offer is within their current structure.
Given the situation they are in, they feel the investment is worth the potential return.
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