To appreciate Edinson Cavani’s desire to make his Manchester United debut at Parc des Princes on Tuesday night, look no further than an image Paris Saint-Germain posted on social media to celebrate their 50th birthday in August.
All the club’s favourite players were on there bar one. Cavani. The man nicknamed El Matador. PSG’s all-time top goalscorer.
It was a petty act and one that says much about the manner of Cavani’s departure from the French capital over a contract dispute. It drew fierce criticism from the fans who adore him and did not escape the notice of the player.
Edinson Cavani’s has a desperate desire to make his Manchester United debut against PSG
After seven months without a competitive game, and just two training sessions with his new team-mates at United, it remains to be seen if Cavani is even fit enough for a place on the bench at his old stomping ground after spending two weeks in quarantine at the age of 33.
But there is no doubting the Uruguayan’s determination to prove a point to PSG after a seven-year career in France that was more bumpy than a record of 200 goals in 301 games might suggest.
The first three years were spent in the shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose presence forced Cavani to play out wide before the Swede joined United in 2016.
‘As soon as I got there, they tried to oppose us,’ said Cavani in a rare interview with French magazine So Foot that summer. ‘We have different personalities, but this antagonism does not exist.
‘I’m not interested in being a football phenomenon. But being a centre forward, feeling it, is something I carry in my blood.’
Cavani was fined by then PSG boss Laurent Blanc for returning late from a Christmas break in Uruguay and missing a winter training camp in Morocco. The player wanted to spend more time with his two sons, Bautista and Lucas, who lived with his ex-wife Maria Soledad.
Rumours of further disciplinary issues surfaced a year later, shortly after Cavani had upset Blanc again by refusing to shake hands when he was substituted in a game against Troyes.
He prospered following Ibrahimovic’s departure, scoring 49 goals in 50 games in all competitions as PSG’s main man in 2016-17. However, the arrival of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe set him back again. The awkward relationship reached rock bottom in September 2017 when Cavani and Neymar rowed over who should take a penalty against Lyon.
Cavani won the argument and the support of the fans, who backed their favourite against the Brazilian.
The Collectif Ultras Paris who never got a chance to say goodbye would undoubtedly have chanted the song dedicated to him — to the tune of naff 1980s French hit Demons of Midnight — if fans were allowed in the ground on Tuesday.
They admired the down-to-earth character from Salto who is known to make the five-hour, 265-mile journey from Montevideo by bus to the family ranch, where he spends time hunting and fishing. An avid bird watcher, Cavani also does ballet to hone his football skills.
‘I grew up in the open, going fishing at the river with my dad,’ says the former Napoli player whose father Luis spent three months in prison in 2015 for killing a teenage motorcyclist who was in a collision with his truck.
‘It builds the person that you become. I give a lot of importance to my childhood. I’m very attached to my land. It allows me not to be a big head.’
The fans loved Cavani’s tireless work-rate on the pitch and willingness to sacrifice himself for the team. Cavani lived in the same upmarket suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine as Thiago Silva, Marquinhos and Neymar, before the latter moved further west of Paris to Bougival, but was never seen stumbling out of a nightclub in the early hours.
‘Sacrifice allows me to have peace of mind, to sleep with the feeling of a job done,’ he said. ‘My parents have always struggled in life, and they tried to instil in us respect for each other. No matter who you are, work and sacrifice to face life.’
It’s rather sad Cavani left PSG under a cloud in the summer after winning 19 trophies, including six French titles, even if his final season was disrupted by injury.
The club blocked his attempt to leave in January, so he refused to extend his contract by a couple of months and play when the season restarted after lockdown, missing PSG’s Champions League final against Bayern Munich in August.
After a break working on the farm and a holiday in Ibiza with partner Jocelyn Burgardt and team-mates — which resulted in Cavani contracting coronavirus and considering retiring to the countryside permanently — he joined United as a free agent on deadline day.
Now he is itching for one last tango in Paris. If Cavani is fit enough to play, PSG may live to regret leaving him out of those birthday celebrations.