Model pro Cavani is a United gladiator destined for key role in final

Model pro Edinson Cavani is Man United’s gladiator with the film-star looks… He prefers the quiet life and loves hiking in the hills or taking his daughter fishing in his time off – but is destined for a key role in the Europa League final

  • Edinson Cavani is a quiet man but when it comes to work, he flicks the switch  
  • His attitude of wanting to do more work all the time is rubbing off on players
  • He seems destined to play a significant role in Wenesday’s Europa League final
  • Cavani is carving his own niche in United folklore, following veteran footsteps 

Roy Keane hissed his indignation as he watched the footage. It was the last Sunday in November and, at St Mary’s, Manchester United were trailing Southampton 2-0. At the start of the second half, Edinson Cavani had emerged wearing the wrong type of football boots.

‘How is the guy not prepared and ready to go on?’ Keane wondered. ‘It’s mind-boggling.’

The perception, in that moment, was that United were burdened with an old professional whose standards had slipped and had come to collect one last lucrative pay-day. 

Edinson Cavani loves the outdoors and surprised his United team-mates by going out hiking 

The Uruguayan is impressing for the club and remains a hugely dedicated professional

If the club’s old skipper was taken aback by what he saw on the south coast, it is fair to say the current squad had also raised an eyebrow towards Cavani – but for wildly different reasons.

Cavani, who ended up scoring twice against Southampton in a 3-2 win, had appeared destined for Major League Soccer with no suitable offers arriving from the top European leagues after leaving Paris Saint-Germain.

Inter Miami hoped to make Cavani, with his film-star looks, the lead attraction of their debut season but could not agree terms. The Uruguayan wanted a four-year deal, having spent the previous decade shining in Paris and Naples.

When that move fell through United took their opportunity. The deal was simple – 12 months with the option of another 12 if things worked out – and from the moment they began to talk, it was clear to the club they were dealing with a professional of the highest class.

In those early negotiations, Cavani made it clear the fire burning inside him was as intense as it had always been. 

He spelled out what he would be doing to keep himself in peak physical condition and spoke about his off-field regime, including how he would employ a personal chef.

But there was more to it. Plenty of players can talk a good game but Cavani was engaged in learning about the young talent coming through and has had a bond with Mason Greenwood from those early days of autumn. 

The England forward has watched how the 34-year-old lives his life away from football and realised what is required.

There has been no opportunity to explore Manchester’s bustling restaurant scene in his eight months here, due to lockdown, but it wouldn’t really interest him anyway. 

Cavani took his new colleagues by surprise when he took himself off into the hills on the outskirts of the city, shortly after signing, to spend some time hiking. He has also taken his daughter, India, fishing.

He is a quiet man, who likes a simple life, but the switch flicks when he goes to work. Straight away, when Cavani took to the pitches at the club’s Carrington training complex, they could see why he had achieved what he had done through his career. 

Cavani, pictured with his daughter India, enjoys a spot of fishing to relax 

It wasn’t just the effort and focus that he put into each session but the intensity he displayed and standards he demanded. 

There is a running drill that United’s staff do to work on reaction time and how quickly the players can get back into team shape. Kieran McKenna, one of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s coaching staff, is responsible for blowing a whistle to signal when they should sprint back into position.

Recently, they had finished doing this exercise when McKenna blew his whistle for something else. Upon hearing it, Cavani hurtled back from where he had been standing on the other side of the pitches and got ready to ‘play’, unaware the session was over.

Cavani is always switched on and he will constantly talk to the fitness coaches at the end of each day to know how much running he has done in a session; he has a figure in mind that he wants to hit and frequently stays on to do extra work. 

Cavani has scored 16 goals for United this season and is raising the standards for others

Such an attitude has rubbed off. If United are going to win the first trophy of Solskjaer’s reign in Gdansk on Wednesday, their gladiator Cavani – who was outstanding in both legs of the semi-final slaying of Roma – seems destined to fulfil a significant role. 

Beyond that, he is looking forward to next season. One reason he chose to sign his contract extension is due to his team-mates explaining how he will be treated by home fans when Old Trafford fills up again.

There is a special place in United folklore for the experienced forwards who come in to make a difference, such as Teddy Sheringham in 1997 and, more recently, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. 

But Cavani, with 16 goals to date, has carved his own niche. He is a professional’s professional – the kind who triggers the raising of standards.

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