As Edinson Cavani toiled away for 82 minutes against Brighton on Easter Sunday the requirement for Manchester United to sign a striker this summer looked more pressing than ever.
Cavani looked off the pace and out of love with the idea of playing for United against the Seagulls. The talk of a return home to South America and more welcoming, warmer climbs, was beginning to make an awful lot of sense.
But just as obituaries to Cavani’s brief and bright United career were being inked came a performance against Tottenham that showed just what he still has to offer and why he could still be a short-term solution for a second season.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and United certainly hope that will be the case. Solskjaer was effusive in his praise for the 34-year-old after his masterclass in movement in North London. Whether or not he remains in Manchester for a second season is now all down to Cavani himself.
After the win at Spurs Solskjaer explained how Cavani had given United a focal point in attack as a pure centre forward.
“A performance like today we, as a club, have missed for a few years. We haven’t had that type of number nine for a long, long spell and Edinson has been working so hard to get fit and now he’s getting a couple of games in a short space of time,” he said.
“And you can see the boy’s played a little bit to his strengths as well. The cross from Mason, brilliant, the pass through from Paul, brilliant, we know Edinson’s movement and for Fred’s goal Edinson’s movement is the key to the goal.
“We’ve had upfront and honest meetings [about Cavani’s future]. There’s no secret we want to keep him.”
The real dilemma is what happens if Cavani opts to leave, with Boca Juniors keen to sign him. It would increase the pressure on the need to sign a striker this summer, with Erling Haaland the top target.
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Manchester United fought back superbly to beat Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 on Sunday afternoon.
After a VAR row following United’s disallowed goal in the first half, Son Heung-Min opened the scoring for Spurs. But United came roaring back in the second half to win, with goals from Fred, Edinson Cavani and Mason Grenwood.
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But United won’t get anything close to a free run at Haaland and the sums required to sign him look like being astronomical. Whether United see that as achievable in a market affected by the pandemic will be the source of some debate, while even if they do make a move for him, they will face competition from Manchester City, as well as others.
Convincing Cavani to stay for a final year would allow United to kick the can down the road when it comes to signing a striker. The Uruguayan will turn 35 next February and going into next season with him as the leading centre forward might be a risk, but it looks less of one after his superb display at Tottenham.
The advantage that hands United is that their finances should be significantly improved by the summer of 2022, with stadiums hopefully back to full capacity for next season.
They might also have some more attainable targets then. It’s not impossible that Haaland remains at Borussia Dortmund for another season and come 2022 his reported €75million release clause will be active.
But even if the chances of signing Haaland have gone, a deal for Harry Kane might be more achievable in 2022. Kane is 28 in July and he must be beginning to realise his ambitions are unlikely to be met at Tottenham anytime soon. A move away from the club this summer is unlikely, however, with Daniel Levy holding all the cards as a result of the six-year deal Kane signed in 2018.
As a result of that Kane has lost a degree of control over his own destiny. Forcing a departure from Spurs this summer will be a torturous process. But in the summer of 2022 that contract will have only two years remaining and if he still wants to leave Levy might have to accept it’s time to cash in. A deal will be far easier to do at that point.
Kane might be a year more advanced by then, but he doesn’t look like slowing down. If anything his all-round game has improved this season.
United might yet be forced to act this summer and Cavani’s decision will have a significant impact on their plans for the transfer window, but if the former Paris Saint-Germain and Napoli striker decides to stay for another year, it might make the succession plans in attack a little clearer.