Edinson Cavani has begun to flourish at Manchester United and his increasing influence could ultimately benefit Mason Greenwood as he attempts to become Old Trafford’s main man.
Cavani started slowly at United, disrupted by misfortune as well as his own misjudgement. Firstly, he arrived just as the transfer window shut, on a free transfer following his summer, pre-Champions League exit from Paris Saint-Germain.
At 33, without the benefit of pre-season, and hampered by the coronavirus pandemic’s interruption of French domestic football, he might ultimately benefit from a mid-career rest, but it took him some time to get up to full match fitness.
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He also has suffered from the occasional injury, just as he had in his time at PSG. United have at times reportedly been frustrated by Cavani’s hit-and-miss fitness, but at least the same description no longer applies so much to his finishing. The Uruguayan, now 34, has hit his stride and started to contribute regularly, with 14 goals to his name - seven of those coming in his last six games. While every goal is welcome, doing so at the business end of the season can often reward clubs under pressure, in tough knockouts or vital run-in games.
Edinson Cavani celebrates scoring for Manchester United
Image credit: Getty Images
Of course, Cavani was tripped up by his own ignorance, as he was banned for using racist language on social media earlier in the season, and it is said that his treatment led him to consider an exit. It appears now that this sentiment is not a block to him stay at Old Trafford for one more year - and it’s not just the striker himself who could benefit, it is a fillip for his teammate Greenwood.
Like Cavani, the 19-year-old England forward struggled for goals in the first half of the season. United were in less impressive form, and perhaps in his second full campaign with the club, he inevitably suffered as the novelty of his profession wore off. A coronavirus breach with England was indefensibly immature. Now though, he has six goals in nine games. While Marcus Rashford has stuttered in games, and Anthony Martial has been injured, the youngster has shown that he can now be considered a first-choice player.
Greenwood’s pure striking, his calmness in front of goal and ability to strike when it is absolutely vital are all talents that can rarely be trained - there are more to be honed at this stage of his career. But Cavani can show him more. At PSG, he was required to defer to Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Zlatan Ibrahimovic at various times. His link-up game, and his work in wide areas were pragmatic contributions to get the best out of others. For Greenwood, it is the chance for him to improve in areas he does not yet excel. If the vogue of playing with three forwards continues, then it is essential that he can offer something in every position up front.
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Additionally, Cavani’s stay would be handy for Greenwood for what it wouldn’t do. United are one of the sides regularly linked to Erling Haaland, and they apparently have an interest in Harry Kane that has not dulled since Jose Mourinho first wanted to bring him to United. Either way, it appears that they are planning a move for a big-name striker. It may ultimately be more pragmatic to retain Cavani, and aim for a wide player such as Jadon Sancho instead, and give Greenwood the chance to grow into the side.
A nineteen year old would rarely been given the chance to lead a team in the past, but Kylian Mbappe has changed that, as has Haaland. Now players are allowed to become the dominant member of a side at increasingly young ages. Borussia Dortmund now seems to be more of a finishing school than a bunch of fully-grown adults, and in the long term they could well be better for it.
For Greenwood, he managed to play 49 games last year and should exceed that this season, with 47 to his name. By keeping Cavani and focusing their transfer budget elsewhere, United would be opening up an opportunity for one of the most preternaturally gifted finishes the club has ever produced. It may smack of parsimony, but this is a case of a player’s potential being so obvious that it would be an insult to fail to indulge it.
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