By Rohith Nair
(Reuters) – When Manchester United signed Edinson Cavani on deadline day in October the move was seen as a sign of desperation but, six months on, the transfer has paid off handsomely with the club in a position to finish among the top two in the Premier League.
Cavani, a free agent after leaving Paris St Germain as their record goalscorer, found no suitors until United stepped in after failing to land Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho last year.
The 34-year-old had arguably his finest performance in the iconic no. 7 shirt on Sunday when he put United ahead at top four-chasing Tottenham Hotspur and had a goal controversially ruled out as they came from behind to win 3-1.
“Injustice never wins,” Cavani said as the victory sealed United’s ninth comeback win in the league this season, sparked by his excellent performance that helped ensure United remain unbeaten away from home and seven points above third spot.
Minor knocks have prevented Uruguay international Cavani from making the same impact as his former Paris St-Germain team mate Zlatan Ibrahimovic did in 2016-17 when the Swedish striker scored 28 goals in his debut season at United.
But what Cavani has lacked in pure numbers, he has made up for with goals in key moments. He has scored seven league goals, of which five have either given United the lead or equalised.
Cavani offers United a different dimension in attack, a threat Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has failed to elicit from deploying Anthony Martial or Marcus Rashford as number nines.
Just like his manager was in United’s glory days, Cavani is a lethal poacher in the box and his presence of mind to time his runs to perfection and exploit space has made him the ideal target man for wingers to test defences with dangerous crosses.
Five headed goals are testament to that but Cavani has also helped link up play while his defensive grit is on display when he torments and chases down centre backs and midfielders on the ball.
All has not been rosy for Cavani in England, however, with a social media faux pas handing him a three-game ban and the clash of cultures has reportedly made him think twice about extending his stay at Old Trafford beyond this season.
United could sign a striker to lead the line for the next few years but the industrious Cavani can still provide Solskjaer with a hard-working player up front and the manager has said it is no secret he wants him for another season.
Cavani joined United on a one-year contract but there is an option to extend it for another 12 months.
“He’s contemplating and thinking hard and long about what he wants to do, and I understand,” Solskjaer said. “If he decides it’s just this season, we have been very fortunate to have him here.”
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris)