Manchester United must be the biggest club in the history of football to end a season with their only recognized center-forwards aged 35 and 37. Those two players in the winter of their careers are obviously Edinson Cavani and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo has looked exempt from the effects of aging throughout his career but this season has confirmed he’s mortal. Ronaldo endured his longest goal drought for more than a decade during the festive period and he finally looked his age di lui. Ronaldo has still enjoyed a strong season on a personal note despite that barren stretch. Ronaldo’s 18 goal haul from 33 games is more than respectable.
Ronaldo’s dramatic return to Old Trafford in the summer – that was sparked by Manchester City’s interest – meant Cavani was set for a reduced role. United were consistently better with Cavani on the pitch last season and it seemed he would make an excellent option from off the bench. That hasn’t happened and Ronaldo has been left to shoulder the burden of scoring on his own di lui instead.
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Ronaldo has been left vulnerable by United’s poor planning. The news of Cavani’s contract extension last year was warmly welcomed by most, however, with the benefit of hindsight, the last chapter of his United story di lui should have been written last season. The club were more than aware of his problems with injury, with Cavani sidelined for 12 games with different issues last term.
Cavani had been in electric form prior to signing his contract extension in May – he scored eight goals in seven appearances – and perhaps that clouded judgment. You can’t blame United for being drawn in by those performances, but there should have been a long-term view taken at the club. Ronaldo and Cavani were in the latter stages of their careers and more vulnerable to injury.
United have dealt with an unexpected departure from their playing squad mid-season, Mason Greenwood, which has exacerbated the problem, but they should have signed another younger center-forward in the summer regardless. Such a signing would have benefited from a season of shadowing Ronaldo and Cavani. That would have been some compensation for accepting to join United with a view to the future.
Ralf Rangnick has confirmed United are in the market for a recognized striker and United need to learn from the lesson that Cavani has unintentionally provided this season. United have been linked to Robert Lewandowski and Harry Kane – the latter would obviously have more appeal – but both players aren’t exactly spring chickens. That’s without mentioning Kane’s record with injury.
Although Cavani was well on track to be fondly remembered in Manchester, this season has tinged his cult hero status. Cavani has played sporadically and his injury problems di lui have become a source of bemusement; some have questioned his commitment to him.
Rangnick’s comments after the Manchester derby suggested he shared supporters’ frustration with Cavani.
Cavani has been unavailable for more than 50 per cent of United’s matches. To make matters worse, he again looks set to be unavailable when United welcome Leicester to Old Trafford this weekend after leaving the pitch injured with Uruguay on Tuesday.
United fans will have mixed memories of Cavani’s time at the club. It seems to be a case of ‘what could have been’ after his impressive debut campaign. He seemed to be the perfect short-term answer, but his second year of lui has been awfully underwhelming and it’s likely that Cavani has now made his final ever start for United.
United’s gamble on Cavani hasn’t been a success. The center-forward has proved too injury prone and United need to be as risk-averse as possible when signing a new center-forward in the summer. United’s next striker needs to be robust and prolific, and maybe a bit younger.
It’s also worth noting Ronaldo is expected to leave United if they don’t secure Champions League football.
Who would have thought strikers aged 35 and 37 wouldn’t be the solution?
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