The 33-year-old is not typical of the players Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has looked to bring to Old Trafford, but the Red Devils feel he can play a key role
When it became clear that Manchester United were going to complete the signing of Edinson Cavani, there were plenty questioning why.
“There is an element of thrill and excitement and intrigue to it because he’s been one of the world’s best strikers in the last 10 years,” ex-United defender Gary Neville told Sky Sports when discussing the deal ahead of Sunday’s embarassing 6-1 loss to Tottenham.
“But there’s also an element of ‘How have you ended up here?’
So how did they?
At 33, Cavani does not fit the usual profile of player that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is keen to add to his squad, with the general consensus at United being that the optimum age for a new signing is 23,
There is also a feeling that there are other areas of the squad that require strengthening more so than up front, where Solskjaer has put together one of the most feared attacking trios in the country.
But there is hope that Cavani, who was a free agent having left Paris Saint-Germain at the end of last season, can bring something to Solskjaer’s young squad that has been severely lacking: leadership.
Uruguay international Cavani has enjoyed an illustrious career, scoring 341 goals in 556 club games for clubs such as Palermo, Napoli and PSG, where he usurped Zlatan Ibrahimovic to become the Parisiens’ record goalscorer.
With the average of United’s front three less than 22, there is belief at the club that Cavani’s experience can help mould Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood into one of the best attacking trios in Europe.
Solskjaer’s side are also facing the prospect of at least two games a week for the majority of the campaign, and there is hope Cavani will prove to be an outstanding rotation option with experience of Champions League football.
Odion Ighalo, the other striking option in United’s squad who was signed in January to provide back-up to the front three, has fallen out of favour after a number of disappointing performances.
While the Nigeria star served a purpose early in the new year, the 31-year-old has struggled since football restarted in June and has failed to make Solskjaer’s squad for either of United’s last two Premier League games.
Some are already comparing Cavani’s arrival to that of Ighalo’s, and there is certainly a similar air of panic about the transfer.
While Ighalo’s move was squeezed in half an hour before the deadline, Cavani’s was agreed with just over 48 hours to go. But it begs the question why?
Cavani’s agent had offered his client to United early last week, but club sources stressed at the time that all the talk of a transfer had come from the player’s camp, and there was no suggestion at that stage they were keen to strike a deal.
It would be naïve to think the forward was ever a top target for Solskjaer, as if he had been a deal would have been agreed weeks ago given there is no selling club to negotiate with.
Instead, as a move for Jadon Sancho continued to stall, attentions switched, with Cavani’s arrival having been described as more opportunistic than a planned long-term transfer. He is a mid-term signing who has signed a one-year deal, with the option for a second if things go well.
United insist their strategy has not changed and that they will continue to build their squad by combining homegrown talent with high-quality recruits. Cavani, they believe, fits into the latter category.
There is hope that he can have a similar impact to Ibrahimovic, who was 34 when he made a move to Old Trafford and scored 29 goals in 53 appearances for the Red Devils.
But the failure of Cavani’s fellow South American, Radamel Falcao, who was signed on deadline day in 2014 in similar circumstances lingers as a warning as to what can happen when signing a star forward who is past their prime.