If Edinson Cavani begins next season as Man United’s front-line striker, the club has failed. Don’t fall for it.
Sharing the back page with Bruno Fernandes as the tabloids attempted to whip up a Manchester United storm on Wednesday morning was Edinson Cavani, scorer of six Premier League goals this season – the same as Sheffield United’s David McGoldrick – and yet somehow viewed as so central to the club’s success or otherwise that he dominated the football media along with Ronaldo and Erling Haaland in the 24 hours since his father suggested he is not happy at United.
Instead of shrugging at the possible exit of a luxury player producing only a fraction of what might reasonably be expected for £200,000 a week, some United fans seem to have fallen into a panic, publicly begging the Uruguayan to stay, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was quizzed at length about the situation ahead of the Europa League clash with Milan. Unsurprisingly, Cavani is likely to miss that game, just as he has missed United’s last three games in Europe and more than a quarter of their Premier League games. Just days after United outplayed the champions-elect without Cavani does not seem like the perfect time to publicly mourn his possible exit.
It could be argued that Cavani has offered immeasurable benefits to United and there is ample evidence that he has taught the club’s younger strikers a great deal about movement and desire – both of which he has demonstrated on the pitch – but should your first-choice striker also be your first-team coach? Was that really the motivation for signing Cavani and should it really be the motivation for keeping Cavani for another season which will end with him aged 35 and likely available even less?
We know the end to this story of course – a contract saga blown up in the media with a little gentle encouragement from United will be ‘resolved’ to great fanfare by his commitment for another season. Hurrah. But if next season begins with Cavani as first-choice striker at a club who should be targeting a title challenge, then that has to be regarded as a failure of ambition. As a short-term option he has been a ‘nice to have’ – this has been no Zlatan-like impact – but United should already be looking beyond Cavani to a long-term striker option, to Haaland or a more realistic, cheaper alternative. Not signing a striker and re-signing Cavani should never be sold as some kind of transfer victory.
If Cavani does not want to be in Manchester (which seems likely, as he spent the last 12 months of his PSG contract counting down the hours until he could join Atletico Madrid) then Manchester should move on with barely a glance backwards. Cavani has played a relatively small part in what could be anything between a mediocre and a very good season for United, but if they want to have a truly excellent season, then they probably need a striker who can score more than 20 Premier League goals in a campaign (their last: Robin van Persie during their last actual title challenge). Cavani is no longer that man. Anthony Martial is not that man. Marcus Rashford is not that man. Mason Greenwood is not yet that man.
There may well still be a place for Cavani at United as an expensive back-up option and mentor, but if they begin 2021/22 with him leading the line then fans expecting progress have been short-changed. They should be no more worried about his exit than the possibility of Fernandes not signing a new, lucrative deal with only four years left to run on his current contract.