Premier League

Edinson Cavani to Leeds: Why not?

The former PSG star has been linked with a surprising move to the English Championship champions

10:00am on Tuesday 11th August 2020
Robin Bairner

Back in the Premier League for the first time in more than 15 years, Leeds are seeking a statement signing to announce that they mean business.

The 2001 Champions League semi-finalists achieved a coup in 2018 as they secured the services of renowned Argentine Marcelo Bielsa as manager, but there is an appreciation that they will need to strengthen their squad to compete at the top level.

Among those in the firing line is 26-year-old striker Patrick Bamford, whose contribution of 16 goals in 45 league outings suggests he will struggle to make an adequate impression against some of Europe’s best defenders.

Instead, Leeds reportedly have their eyes on one of the game’s most consistent strikers over the course of the last decade: Edinson Cavani.

“In addition to his quality, Cavani could contribute with his physicality and adapt here, but I've never talked about him with the coach,” Andrea Radrizzani told Sky Sport Italia of a player who has made the bulk of his career in Italy and France.

“Having said that, we've certainly thought about him and we'll see, given he's still available on a free transfer.”

33 yrs - ST (C)
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The Uruguayan’s CV is a formidable one. Playing Serie A, he hit 20 goals in three successive seasons for Napoli after making his name at Palermo, then after winning a big-money move to Paris Saint-Germain, he managed at least 15 goals in six successive campaigns before a combination of injury, Mauro Icardi and a curtailed Ligue 1 season due to coronavirus brought the run to an end.

Cavani left PSG at the end of June the most prolific player ever to pull on their iconic blue, red and white colours. A darling of the fans, who were desperate for him to extend his contract, the door to Parc des Princes was slammed shut on him, leaving him with a bitter taste in his mouth and a point to prove.

“It is not an easy situation. I can understand him,” Thomas Tuchel said in January as the veteran fought unsuccessfully with Icardi for the No.9 role alongside Kylian Mbappe. “I am very happy that he remains positive and professional. If someone is injured, we have an extraordinary replacement.”

But Cavani, who wore the captain’s armband of PSG, never deserved the status of a mere ‘replacement’ – and he knows it.

The 33-year-old still feels capable of playing in Europe’s top leagues and has rejected overtures from MLS outfit Inter Miami. Moreover, he has turned down the opportunity to move to Champions League-bound Benfica while negotiations with Inter – the Serie A version – have not been concluded.

Atletico Madrid remain active in the hunt, but could Leeds potentially profit as others fall by the wayside?

Much depends on whether they are willing to match his massive salary demands: the factor that has prevented him signing elsewhere to date. He earned in the region of €10 million (£9m) per year with PSG and is reportedly demanding a similar return for what could be the final big move of his career.

At close to £200,000 a week, that would represent a massive outlay for Bielsa’s side, but given the transfer fee they would be forced to pay for a player of comparable quality, it would surely be money well spent.

Cavani is everything a Premier League club could want from a centre-forward: utterly relentless, physically tough and capable of scoring goals of all sorts, particularly from close range.

His 138 Ligue 1 goals comprise of 91 with his right foot, 24 with his left and 21 headed. That 127 have come from inside the box highlights his ability to get into dangerous areas, while a 43.45% big-chance conversation rate is only a shade below that of Kylian Mbappe (43.64%) and ranks sixth for PSG players who have scored 20 or more league goals since 2008.

He may not be the most graceful with the ball at his feet, but his selfless attitude, epitomised by his willingness to play wide while Zlatan Ibrahimovic was PSG’s primary goalscorer, and indefatigable spirit are ideal for a club that may be forced to scrap for points come September.

“I’ve got a bit of an unusual style of play for a centre forward,” he admitted when speaking to UEFA in 2017.

“I really like running and covering the central attacking zones. My strong points? Maybe my sense of anticipation, my physical strength and my finishing qualities. I don’t know, I don’t really like to talk about myself!”

Bielsa, too, would appreciate the tireless defensive effort that the frontman puts in each time he plays – something he has no plans on changing even deep into his career.

What helps me to score goals is the desire to run and to work. I need the feeling that I am giving all of myself to be sure of myself. I need to feel that I’m doing things rightEdinson Cavani

“What helps me to score goals is the desire to run and to work,” he told L’Equipe.

“I need the feeling that I am giving all of myself to be sure of myself. I need to feel that I’m doing things right.

“So everything I do – run a lot, move a lot – this grinta, as they say in Italy, it all gives me he strength to get in front of goal and the desire to finish a move with a goal.”

In an era in which old-fashioned centre-forward play has been pushed to one side, if not exactly forgotten, Cavani is proof that No.9s of a more traditional style can still thrive.

Leeds may not get to kick their first Premier League ball since 2004 until September, but if they secure his signature before then, their prospects of a long-term stay will be enhanced significantly.

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