Edinson Cavani could prove to be both Manchester United’s transfer problem and their solution
The virtual roar on social media that greeted the announcement of Edinson Cavani’s Manchester United contract extension was greater than for his most memorable goal – the only one in front of fans – for the club, so far.
If the lucky United fans inside Old Trafford to witness Cavani’s audacious chip against Fulham were happy, then the wider fanbase was united in its joy a week earlier when pictures of the Uruguayan emerged signing that piece of paper.
“Manchester United is delighted to announce…” the press release began, and it was right.
Yet a devil’s advocate would argue that it was only a hot-streak of form over April and May that really forced United’s arm on Cavani’s one-year extension.
Before that, issues over the 34-year-old’s fitness had been a problem for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – and the United boss hadn’t been shy to vocalise his frustrations over Cavani.
The former Paris Saint-Germain striker started just a single game for United between Valentine’s Day and April 4th, when he looked leggy, quiet and was eventually withdrawn in a 0-0 draw against Crystal Palace. Before his striking masterclass against Tottenham on April 11th, Cavani had managed just four goals as a United starter.
But that magnificent display to sink Jose Mourinho’s side in another comeback United victory in 2020/21 was the fork in the road.
After that, Cavani looked fully fit and was firing on all cylinders, scoring seven goals in his next six appearances. He helped United breeze beyond Granada and Roma in Europa League knockout ties, as well as Burnley and Aston Villa in the league.
And so that contract announcement duly came, amid whispers that United were interested in Harry Kane and Erling Haaland.
It was heralded in some quarters as a piece of transferring genius from United, allowing them to keep their striker reserves well stocked throughout a summer when Kane and Haaland – Europe’s premier centre-forward duo – will be difficult (and expensive) to prise away from their clubs.
There was, and is, a general acceptance that United can reprise their interest in Kane and/or Haaland in 2022.
Cavani came to United on a free and he’s already proven to be a canny signing from Solskjaer. Whether he’ll be able to match his 2020/21 performances for another season, when he’ll be celebrating his 35th birthday, is another matter.
Some view the veteran forward as the ideal mentor for Mason Greenwood as the youngster looks to establish himself in his preferred central striking spot, rather than the right wing.
But with Greenwood still green and Anthony Martial an unknown quantity after an annus horribilis in the past 12 months, who knows what state United’s striker department could be in by the time 2022 rolls around?
You won’t find many in football who argue Kane or Haaland would be bad signings. Quite clearly, they are world class, with few peers in front of goal.
The logic in re-signing Cavani was to give United a player of that elite standard without the price tag. But what happens if he doesn’t fire next season and United have placed their transfer priorities elsewhere?
They’re likely to go for Jadon Sancho as a right-wing target, plus a centre-back amid interest in Raphael Varane among others. They haven’t ruled out signing another striker, but it’s unlikely.
So it’s more than feasible that United could find themselves stuck without a recognised and reliable No.9 in a worst case scenario, should Cavani falter.
Cavani at his best for another full season could prove to be just what United need. But if he goes the way of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in his second Old Trafford campaign (when the Swede struggled for fitness and form and left way before the season finished), Solskjaer could be in trouble.
They are in a Catch 22 situation with their No.9s.