When Edinson Cavani put pen-to-paper on a new 12-month deal at Manchester United, it was the result of months of hard work behind the scenes from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to convince the Uruguayan to stay at Old Trafford. Cavani had, as recently as early April, informed the club that he wanted to return to South America after just a season at Old Trafford. The foward’s arrival at the Theatre of Dreams was met with scepticism. Why did United wait until the final day of the transfer window to sign a free agent? Does a 33-year-old have what it takes to compete in the Premier League, having not kicked a ball for seven months? After the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Alexis Sanchez, the question marks were valid.
But Cavani has silenced his doubters this term by scoring 15 goals in all competitions and leading the line with the type of enthusiasm and vigour that belies his 34 years. It’s why Solskjaer was so desperate to keep the former Napoli man and the Norwegian set about doing so long before the club sat down with Cavani’s representatives to discuss his future.
Solskjaer played on Cavani’s heartstrings, telling him that any goal he scores at this moment in time couldn’t match the feeling he will get from scoring in front of a packed Stretford End next season, when the club hope to have fans back at Old Trafford again. Cavani has already earned cult hero status with supporters and they’ve been desperate to see him in action since his arrival from Paris Saint-Germain. It would have been a crying shame had he been allowed to leave before they got the opportunity to do so. Added to that was Solskjaer’s man-management of Cavani. He sympathised with the veteran’s reasons for wanting to return to South America and left the door open for him to change his mind. It could have been easy for Solskjaer to move forward the club’s plans to sign a centre forward but he made Cavani feel valued and left the ball in his court.
Another reason Cavani has decided to stay is that he has enjoyed his mentoring of United’s young strikers. Solskjaer repeatedly stated his desire for the likes of Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood to score ‘scrappy’ goals before Cavani’s arrival and he believes the trio can learn from the Uruguyan the art of sniffing a goal in the six-yard box. Cavani’s movement remains world class and Greenwood in particular has benefited from the striker’s presence up front, allowing him to stay on the wing and come centrally when it suits. Cavani, for his part, has enjoyed working with the club’s strikers and he feels he has another support in the wings to take himself out of action for any period of time. At 34, Cavani no longer feels capable of playing three times in a week but the forward is happy to rotate with the likes of Rashford, Martial and Greenwood, while Solskjaer believes in regularly freshening up the forward line.