Edinson Cavani: The Uruguayan Striker Who Has Adapted To Thriving In The Shadows Of Fellow Stars

URUGUAYAN supporters let out a collective shriek as Edinson Cavani missed a glorious opportunity against Venezuela in the Copa América Centenario. With Luis Suarez out with a hamstring injury, La Celeste turned to Cavani to assume the goalscoring burden, a task that ultimately proved too great.

As Cavani swapped the light blue tops of Uruguay for the darker blue top of his club Paris Saint-Germain, hope sprung anew among loyal Parisians, who regretted the departure of their king, Zlatan Ibrahimović, but who believed they had a rightful heir to the throne awaiting in their ranks. Fans expressed renewed confidence in their 29-year-old Uruguayan forward, but old grievances re-emerged, and doubts resurfaced.

Judging from the reaction to PSG’s first Champions League group stage match against Arsenal, one would’ve thought that Cavani made a summertime move to the Gunners, given the amount of gratitude he received from the Arsenal fandom. At 29-years old, Cavani appeared to wholly lack the vigour and composure he possessed in Naples.

The zenith of Cavani’s career came during his prolific, prosperous spell with Napoli, but it now appeared as if the peak was to be followed to a daunting, down-sloping trip at high acceleration. Once a lethal predator, diminished to a toothless tiger in the streets of Paris. “Oh, how the mighty have fallen,” one may have said.

Football was in Cavani’s blood. His father, Luis Cavani, played professional football, and his brother Walter continued the tradition. It was a case of humble beginnings for the Uruguayan, who shared an early passion for both football and gardening. As is the case for so many South American stars, Cavani indulged in the pleasure of the sport whenever humanly possible, idolizing legendary Argentinian striker Gabriel “Batigol” Batistuta.

Cavani’s first official youth contract came at the hands of Danubio F.C, Montevideo’s most successful youth academy, wherein he honed his rugged tenacity and lethal shooting. Funnily enough, Cavani and fellow Uruguayan Luis Suarez come from the same hometown, and crossed paths several times throughout their youth. Although Cavani downplays their comparison, one can imagine that the chances of two world-class, generational strikers coming from the same small town in Uruguay, is microscopic.

‘El Matador’ earned his nickname for a reason: clinical, deadly finishing. It hasn’t always been that way, though. In fact, in his early days for Danubio, his finishing was his biggest problem, but through the help of Gustavo Matosas, he improved radically.

Lots of Cavani’s success can be attributed to Matosas, former manager of Danubio, who took Cavani under his wing. When watching the youth team train, he asked about Cavani, enthralled by his physical play, potency, and his ambidexterity. Dazzled by what he witnessed, he sought to promote Cavani to the first team, where he guided him towards the entrance of the path to stardom.

Hidden amongst the throngs of South American talent, Cavani needed his opportunity to emerge from the pack, to rise above others. Said opportunity manifested itself in the form of the 2007 South American U-20 Championship, a competition between the teams of CONMEBOL. Whilst Brazil walked away with a trophy, Cavani walked away as top scorer with 7 goals, turning heads domestically and internationally.

Particularly, the interest of Italian clubs was sparked by the striker’s show-stopping performances, with giants Juventus and AC Milan showing interest in the services of the then-19-year-old. A move to either club could’ve completely transformed the Uruguayan’s career, for better or for worse. Luckily enough, there was a man by the name of Maurizio Zamparini who had been extremely impressed…

For those who aren’t familiar with the former Palermo president, under his tenure, South America was his gold mine: the prospects were rich, and he went digging. The talent he unearthed, polished in Sicily, and distributed worldwide included the likes of Paulo Dybala, Javier Pastore, and the aforementioned Uruguayan. The man who once claimed that he would cut off the testicles of his players and eat them in a salad after failure of promotion submitted to impulsivity and recruited the Uruguayan talent. His off-the-cuff comments often draw negative criticism from media and fans alike, but no one can question his eye for picking out a young South American talent.

€4.5 million was enough to pry Cavani from Danubio’s clutches, and the rise of Cavani’s career commenced. Fighting for a regular spot in the line-up with the likes of Amauri and Fabrizio Miccoli, it wasn’t instant success in Italy. Only through hard work was he able to develop into a regular starter, and he soon became the hitman of Sicily, his tenacious efforts nearly securing Palermo a Champions League spot in the 2009/10 campaign. At Palermo, you could count on a Cavani goal just as equally as a managerial swap. After 3 seasons, Cavani traded Sicily for Naples, leaving behind 37 goals that propelled him to the headlines of Italian football.

The city of Naples, a group of fans outside of Argentina who idolize the magnificent existence of Diego Armando Maradona and the platform to elitism for Edinson Cavani. If anyone doubted his prowess in Sicily, all would be rectified in due time. Although the pressure associated with moving a club of Napoli’s size could cause a young player to crumble, it only served to propel Cavani to the peaks of adoration. In his first season in Naples, he doubled his goal tally from the previous campaign, a feat that left fans enamoured.

Not only was the Uruguayan capable of dominating lesser opposition, but he also netted impressive hat-tricks against Juventus and Lazio, in a season that saw the side qualify for the Champions League. It was fair to say that Cavani had exceeded expectations.

Although a 2011 Copa América victory saw Cavani bring home an international trophy, his contribution was limited by injury and La Celeste’s attacking formula. Not for the first time in his career, Cavani was forced to play in the shadows, his interests subverted by coach Óscar Tabárez, who had the difficult task of balancing the Uruguayan triumvirate: Edinson Cavani, Diego Forlán, and Luis Suárez. If Cavani’s career came in the form of a novel, its most prominent motif would be conforming to other superstars.

Determined to resolve his issues in Naples, Cavani assumed the role of talisman, continuing his superb scoring record, and propelling Napoli to a Coppa Italia triumph. After going trophy less for a quarter-century, the residents of Naples were parched, but Cavani quenched their thirst.

Cavani’s stock was high. Amongst the people of Naples, he was idolized. There was a pizza and a brand of biscuits named after him. His virtuoso performances were reminiscent of the impactful Argentine who had worn the sky blue so long ago. Obviously, with such a commotion surrounding him, Cavani kept president Aurelio De Laurentiis busy.

If his job wasn’t difficult enough, De Laurentiis clearly forgot to send Cavani the memo. In the 2012/13 campaign, he spurred Napoli to a 22nd place finish, collecting the Golden Boot along the way. 38 goals in all competitions rounded off a near-perfect year for the Uruguayan, who bid goodbye to Naples in the summer of 2013. The likes of Chelsea, Real Madrid, and Manchester City were interested, but it was PSG who swooped in to secure the signature of the marksman.

Although the move indicated a step-up money-wise, Cavani was confronted with an all-too familiar situation: being pushed into playing a secondary role. First Amauri and Miccoli, then Suárez and Forlán, now Zlatan Ibrahimović. The Swede was the King of Paris, and Cavani was his court jester.

From simple observation, one can see that Ibrahimović is a roaming striker who operates in a large area, which conflicted with Cavani’s tendency to drift inside. Nevertheless, positional distortion has never been something to stop the Uruguayan: his 81 goals and 15 assists during Zlatan’s tenure stand as a testament to his supreme adaptability.

The chance to assume the throne presented itself on July 1st of 2017, the day where Ibrahimović was unveiled as a Red Devil. As the media surrounded the Swede, Cavani planned the perfect crowning ceremony, and the city of Paris was set to receive their new king. The platter was set for Cavani – all he had to do was take it.

Even though AS Monaco dismantled them from their perch atop Ligue 1, PSG won the Coupe de France, the Coupe de la Ligue, and Trophée des Champions. They were a part of one of the greatest comebacks in history (sadly on the losing side), but one of their main positives was the performance of Cavani. One off the half-century mark of goals, Cavani spearheaded the Parisian attack, proving his goalscoring touch was just as sharp as his prolific days in Naples.

The crown was yanked from Cavani’s head once again in the summer of 2017, a summer which saw PSG bolster their attack with two of the best players in the game: Neymar and Kylian Mbappé. Once again cast aside for bigger stars, the Uruguayan could’ve taken issue to it, but instead he put his head down and kept working. The trio of PSG’s attack has been producing at an extortionate efficiency, and Cavani has remained integral.

Cavani now stands alone as PSG’s top scorer after surpassing the Swede who he so often accommodated for. His performances for Uruguay during the 2018 World Cup qualifiers proved that he can excel without the rugged Luis Suárez. Almost no one can stop the Uruguayan now.

While people compare Luis Suárez to Robert Lewandowski, Harry Kane to Mauro Icardi, Cavani remains in the shadows unmentioned. His reputation of bottling clear-cut chances has certainly hindered his name, but his positional awareness and ability to find space should still be acknowledged.

With Cavani, it’s a matter of taste. Some fans simply fail to recognize his genius, and some choose to ignore it. He’s proven his prowess in Italy and France, as the main striker and a background producer, but is unjustly left out of the best forwards conversation.

Don’t write Cavani off – he may not capture the headlines like Mbappé and Neymar, but he can strike just as much venom. With Russia beckoning in what could be his last World Cup, Cavani has all the attributes to deliver in crucial periods for both club and country.

By Brandon Duran and artwork by @takaisayakabento

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