When looking around Serie A for ‘signing of the season’ contenders, a number of players are clearly stand out candidates, from Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s almost solo charge to lo Scudetto, the craft and guile of Hernanes at surprise Champions League hopefuls Lazio to the speed and skill of Juve’s Milos Krasic. Yet above all these stands one name.
Last summer he completed his third season in Serie A, having signed for Palermo in January 2007 after an impressive showing as top scorer at the South American Youth Championship in Paraguay. His debut would not come for two months, but when it did, on March 11, it would be worth the wait. With the Rosanero down 1-0 to Fiorentina and in desperate need of a goal they turned to the talented youngster more out of hope than expectation.
Already reduced to ten men Palermo were in serious trouble until el Matador took charge, his powerful volley from an acute angle just outside the penalty area beat Sebastian Frey at his near-post. The goal was reminiscent of Marco van Basten’s legendary strike against the Soviet Union in the final of Euro ’88 and, considering it came on his Serie A bow, it was a real thing of beauty.
He had given the world a glimpse – however slight – of what lay ahead, but it would rarely be repeated at the Sicilian outfit. Forced to play wider than he prefers by a succession of coaches he would manage a total of 34 goals for the club before heading to the World Cup. Here too he would understandably play further from goal, with the proven talent of Diego Forlan in the central role. Cavani would net a single goal in South Africa, but it was in the Third Place Playoff against Germany and was not enough to help Uruguay avoid defeat.
Upon returning to Serie A he would seemingly be the odd man out in a transfer merry-go-round as Palermo added another batch of talented youngsters and Neopolitan Fabio Quagliarella joined Juventus. While many questioned the wisdom of losing the home-town boy, Cavani just went to work.
Once again marking his debut by finding the back of the net (twice) against Elfsborg in the Europa League and, much like his 2007 thunderbolt, it was a sign of things to come, but the player himself was quick to tell reporters it was merely the beginning;
“I never imagined so beautiful a night with two goals and qualification to the group phase. It’s been wonderful and now I can not wait to score the first goal at the San Paolo. It would be great because the fans have welcomed me with an extraordinary affection and now I want to return this on the field.”
He would not wait long, netting on his home debut against Bari having already scored once again against Fiorentina on Opening Day. From there he simply would not stop, repaying the belief shown in him by coach Walter Mazzarri. Finally finding a coach willing to play him as a central striker he would prove to be unstoppable. Having played in 45 official games for club and country he now has 38 goals to his name, a truly astonishing record.
Among that total are some sumptuous goals, an amazing four hat-tricks – against Indonesia, Juventus, Sampdoria and Lazio – and a newly discovered penchant for stealing a late winner, as seen in both Europa League ties against FC Steaua Bucureşti (one of which came in the 97th minute!)
Key to this huge improvement in form has been Mazzarri, who has done what the Uruguayan has asked so many coaches to do in the past and played him as a central striker. A nod must also go in the direction of Riccardo Bigon as the contribution of Napoli’s Direttore Sportivo cannot be understated after securing such a talent on a very impressive deal, the details of which are almost as unbelievable as the players strike-rate.
Napoli paid Palermo €5 million to loan Cavani for this season, but also secured a right-to-buy option set at €12m that is payable in four equal annual installments of €3m. The player himself signed a contract with the Partenopei until 2015 with a basic salary of €1.35million (just under €26,000 per week).
Those figures represent a huge bargain for a striker who is now within touching distance of matching Diego Maradona as the only players in Napoli history to end a campaign as the league’s top scorer. The great Argentine managed the feat with just 15 goals in 1987-88, and that is not the only record Cavani looks set to break. The clubs single season scoring record in Serie A was previously 22, a mark set by Antonio Vojak way back in 1930-31 and el Matadortook his league tally to 25 in the remarkable come-from-behind victory over Lazio last weekend.
But in the end the numbers are merely a product of the joy of a boy who enjoys kicking a ball. The last word, as has been the case in numerous high-profile matches this season, rests with Edinson Cavani;
“Soccer, for me, is a field, a ball at my feet and a net in front of me. I can spend a whole day just trying to score, I like having contact with the ball. That’s why I’m a striker”