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Manchester United's Edinson Cavani is making an impact like Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Manchester United's Edinson Cavani is making an impact like Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Manchester United's Edinson Cavani is making an impact like Zlatan Ibrahimovic

WHEN Edinson Cavani arrived at Manchester United a few months ago, the expectation among Old Trafford officials was that a striker with a proven track record at the highest level would help to set an example for his new team-mates on and off the pitch.

Cavani was signed to be a leader in the dressing-room, to inspire and mentor the young attacking talent around him and to turn in match-winning performances in the same way Zlatan Ibrahimovic did four years ago.

The parallels with Ibrahimovic were obvious – with both having made the same journey as free agents from Paris Saint-Germain to Old Trafford – but then so were less flattering parallels with Radamel Falcao.

Like Falcao, Cavani had spent much of the previous campaign on the treatment table. Missing 22 games through injury last season sparked legitimate doubts over whether he was still capable of meeting expectations at this level and still worthy of the substantial salary which players of his calibre command.

A severe lack of match practice – with 234 days between his last appearance for PSG and first for United – was less than ideal. Cavani’s requirement to self-isolate on arrival and miss a potential debut away to Newcastle left United open to accusations of panic-buying and short-term thinking.

What of the ‘cultural reset’ under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer too? Was this not a return to the starry-eyed recruitment policy of the past? Cavani is five years older than Falcao was at the time of his arrival in Manchester.

And yet, all those doubts are quickly being erased by the growing sense that United have found another Ibrahimovic-esque match-winner.

Cavani is having some Christmas. First, he made the late breakthrough at Goodison Park last Wednesday which sent Solskjaer’s side past Everton and into the EFL Cup semi-finals. Then, on St Stephen’s Day away at Leicester City, his disguised pass after being introduced as a sub set up Bruno Fernandes to give United the lead.

Even though his side ultimately failed to take all three points, Solskjaer spoke in glowing terms of his newest signing after the final whistle, even revealing that Cavani had asked to wear the No 7 shirt in their very first conversation.

The number of George Best, Eric Cantona and Cristiano Ronaldo – among others – has intimidated players in the past. Not Cavani.

“When you think of the history of his career and the experience he has had, his personality from the chat I had with him and when I watched him before, it wasn’t in doubt that he could handle the number seven shirt,” Solskjaer said. “He is so meticulous and professional, his habits and everything about him, shows why he has had the career he has. Even at the age he is now he is one of the fittest players we have got.”

Only four of Cavani’s 14 United appearances to date have come as starts but his dedication to getting in the best possible physical shape – which has included occasional hiking trips to nearby national parks – could soon result in more minutes on the pitch.

“He is definitely a starter,” Solskjaer said, admitting that Cavani is forcing him to make difficult decisions. “You don’t classify a player of that quality as anything else.”

Tonight’s visit from Wolverhampton Wanderers may be the perfect opportunity to begin a consistent run in the side.

United have struggled to break down Nuno Espirito Santo’s side in recent times – winning only one of their last seven meetings and never scoring more than one goal – but the intelligence of Cavani’s off-the-ball movement has added a new edge to an attack that veers from scintillating to stale depending on the opposition.

Marcus Rashford’s persistent shoulder problems may provide an opportunity for Cavani to start, as could Anthony Martial’s struggles for consistency or the sheer chaos of the Christmas schedule. If not named in the starting line-up, there will be another opportunity against Aston Villa just 72 hours later.

But even though Cavani’s Old Trafford career is only a few months old, Solskjaer is already suggesting it could last for a while yet.

Asked whether United would be exercising their option to extend the Uruguayan’s one-year stay, Solskjaer dropped a substantial hint. “At the moment it looks like he has a few years left in him so I wouldn’t say anything else,” he smiled.

Time will tell whether Cavani stays fit enough and performs well enough to earn a second season, but he has made a good first impression and looks less like this United’s Falcao, more like their Ibrahimovic. (© Independent News Service)

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