As insignificant as re-signing a 34-year-old striker may seem, Manchester United has taken care of some major business, convincing a flourishing talent to stay at Old Trafford with Edinson Cavani's agreeing to another year in red.
Since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013—and just as important, chief executive and transfer czar David Gill—the sheen at Old Trafford has faded significantly. Top-tier players no longer appear to see Manchester United as a top-tier destination, preferring to look across town to Manchester City, across the country to Liverpool and Chelsea, or across borders to new-money destinations like Paris Saint-Germain.
And for either lack of success or a failure to fit in, the club has failed to hold on to talent that vastly improved the side. Players like Romelu Lukaku, Ángel Di María, Ander Herrera and Wilfried Zaha have all left Old Trafford to find success elsewhere in the prime of their careers.
It's one of the reasons why Cavani's return is so significant. After scoring more than 350 goals in his club career, Cavani has always expressed his desire to finish his career in South America, where Boca Juniors was making a strong push to sign him. And after scoring 15 goals for United this season, including eight goals in his last seven to help United to the Europa League final, Cavani would have had plenty of top European suitors eager to sign a person of his experience.
It's not as if Cavani's time with Manchester has been completely peachy. After sitting out for seven months following his ugly departure from PSG, the forward's start in Manchester was marked by injury and controversy. Cavani is reportedly still irked by the embarrassment of a three-match ban and £100,000 (about US$141,000) fine for an offensive Instagram post where he used a gnomic term of affection in South America that has been a source of consternation and trouble for a few of Cavani's compatriots in England.
So, after years of the Red Devils' well-documented twilight and a year marked by some dismay, why Manchester again?
Maybe it was the mentor-like advice of a player-friendly coach in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, a club legend who knows what it means to score goals at Old Trafford and who views the manager's seat at United as more than just a job but a source of personal pride.
Solskjaer has continually told the Uruguayan forward that there is nothing like hearing your name being chanted at Old Trafford, something Cavani has yet to experience in the age of COVID-19.
And as a former striker who saw his career cut short by knee injuries, Solskjaer has continued to advise Cavani to play at the top level for as long as he can, before it's taken away for good. With Manchester United's qualifying for next season's Champions League, both opportunities remain.
Or maybe it was the challenge of being a trailblazer for an entire generation of South American strikers. Cavani has to only look across the city to find a forward in Sergio Agüero, who has defied the preconception that the English game was too physical, too, punishing and simply too rainy for South American strikers to succeed long-term. With Agüero's storied career at City coming to an end this summer, he will leave the club as the Premier League's all-time foreign-born goalscorer.
Luis Suárez was a godsend in England but always had bigger ambitions. Hernán Crespo was a momentary success at Chelsea as was Alexis Sánchez at Arsenal. Juan Pablo Ángel proved his worth at Aston Villa and Carlos Tevez scorched the earth in Manchester. But no South American has done it at Cavani's age—one has to only look at the dumpster fire that was the insanely talented Radamel Falcao's time in England to understand why England is not a late-career destination for most strikers, South American or otherwise.
With Robin van Persie and Zlatan Ibrahimović as recent outliers, United has proven to be the rare exception that breeds success for an elder statesman who can succeed at the highest level. An insurmountable wage package and the chance to be a mentor to young, attacking talent in Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Anthony Martial is surely not lost on Cavani, either.
For a person whose career has been defined by grit and work rate, there is still plenty to accomplish before crossing the Atlantic for the end of his career. And maybe, just maybe, if United can reapply some of that sheen, there could be a title push for United next season and a Europa League trophy this month—not to mention the chance to stay globally relevant ahead of the '22 World Cup in Qatar.
As Cavani said when he signed for United in October, "I look forward to continuing to write my little story inside the book of football and I know that's why my focus has to remain the same as always—work, work, work."
For a prolific scorer like Cavani, this story may still have plenty yet to offer.
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