Edinson Cavani is a model pro destined for a key role with Manchester United in the Europa League final
Roy Keane hissed his indignation as he watched the footage. It was the last Sunday of November and at St Mary’s Manchester United were 2-0 behind Southampton. At the start of the second half, Edinson Cavani had come out wearing the wrong type of football boots.
“How is the man unprepared and ready to move on?” Keane wondered. “It’s mind-boggling.”
The perception at the time was that United was saddled with a longtime professional whose standards had fallen and had come to raise one last lucrative payday.
Edinson Cavani loves the outdoors and surprised his United teammates by taking a walk
The Uruguayan impresses for the club and remains a very dedicated professional
If the club’s longtime skipper was amazed at what he saw on the south coast, it’s fair to say the current squad also raised an eyebrow towards Cavani – but for very different reasons.
Cavani, who eventually scored twice against Southampton in a 3-2 win, appeared destined for Major League Soccer with no suitable offers coming from the top European leagues after leaving Paris Saint-Germain.
Inter Miami hoped to make Cavani, with his movie star look, the main attraction of their debut season, but could not agree on the terms. The Uruguayan wanted a four-year deal after taking advantage of the past ten years in Paris and Naples.
When that step failed, United seized their chance. The deal was simple – 12 months with the option of another 12 if it worked out – and from the moment they started talking it was clear to the club that they were dealing with a top-tier professional.
In those early negotiations, Cavani made it clear that the fire that burned inside him was as intense as ever.
Cavani could still play a key role in the Europa League final against Villarreal
He explained what he would do to keep himself in top physical shape and talked about his regime off the field, including how he would hire a personal chef.
But there was more to it. A lot of players can tell a good game, but Cavani was busy learning about the young talent coming through and has a bond with Mason Greenwood from those early fall days.
The English forward has watched the 34-year-old take his life away from football and realized what it takes.
Due to the lockdown, there hasn’t been an opportunity to explore Manchester’s buzzing restaurant scene in his eight months here, but it wouldn’t really interest him anyway.
Cavani surprised his new colleagues when, shortly after drawing, he went into the hills on the outskirts of town to spend some time hiking. He has also taken his daughter India to fish.
He is a quiet man who likes a simple life, but the switch flicks when he goes to work. When Cavani immediately took to the fields at the club’s Carrington training complex, they could see why he had achieved what he had done in his career.
Cavani, pictured with his daughter India, enjoys a spot of fishing to relax
It was not only the effort and focus he put into each session, but the intensity he showed and the standards he demanded.
There is an ongoing exercise the United staff is doing to work on reaction time and how quickly the players can get back into team form. Kieran McKenna, one of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s coaching staff, is responsible for whistling to signal when to sprint back into position.
They recently finished this exercise when McKenna blew his whistle for something else. Hearing it, Cavani stormed back from where he had been on the other side of the throws and got ready to ‘play’, unaware that the session was over.
Cavani is always on and he will constantly talk to the fitness coaches at the end of each day to know how much he has walked in a session; he has a figure in mind that he would like to hit and regularly keeps up to do extra work.
Cavani has scored 16 goals for United this season and is raising the bar for others
Such an attitude has been rubbed off. If United are to win Solskjaer’s government’s first trophy in Gdansk on Wednesday, their gladiator Cavani – who was outstanding in both legs of Roma ‘s semifinal assassination – looks destined to play an important role.
He is also looking forward to next season. One reason he chose to sign his contract extension is that his teammates explain how he will be treated by home fans when Old Trafford fills up again.
There is a special place in United folklore for veteran forwards who come to make a difference, such as Teddy Sheringham in 1997 and, more recently, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
But Cavani, with 16 goals so far, has conquered his own place. He’s a pro’s pro – the kind that sets the bar higher.