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Injury issues and Ronaldo's return: Why Cavani's Man Utd career is limping to conclusion

08:47 BST 15/04/2022
Edinson Cavani Manchester United
The striker has only featured in 12 Premier League games this season and is set to leave Old Trafford when his contract expires this summer

It may have been April Fool's Day when Ralf Rangnick said that Edinson Cavani could be out for up to five weeks with a calf injury but Manchester United fans knew this was no joke. 

The way this season has played out for the Uruguayan, it was of little surprise that he returned from the last international break with a fresh injury. 

His playing pattern in the Premier League this season has gone like this: played one, missed two, played two, missed one, played two, missed six, played four, missed one, played two, missed five, played one, missed two and counting. 

Injuries, a lack of fitness and requests for extended leave mean he has been available for just 40 percent of United’s games across all competitions this season. 

If the club doctor’s estimations are correct, then it is possible that there will only be three games of the season – and Cavani’s United contract – left by the time he's back.

Even then, it will come down to whether or not the 35-year-old feels fit enough to return. 

That has been the problem – not just for Rangnick but for predecessor Ole Gunnar Solskjaer too. 

Cavani’s "meticulous" preparation for games has been praised by club staff and noted by younger players in the dressing room, but it has also resulted in him missing more games than some coaches might deem necessary.

 Solskjaer gave an insight into the centre-forward’s recovery mentality a little over a year ago.

“Edinson has worked really hard and joined in training sessions,” the former United manager said.

“He needs to top it up to feel 100 per cent ready for the game and hasn’t really got there yet. It’s down to him. He doesn’t want to come in and look off the pace.” 

Rangnick has experienced the same approach. 

The striker was absent for the Manchester derby at the start of March after deciding he was "not quite well enough" to feature. And United ended up playing a strikerless system with Cristiano Ronaldo also absent. 

Furthermore, the Portugal international’s arrival from Juventus last summer was not in the pipeline when Cavani agreed to stay for another season.

Solskjaer’s charm offensive persuaded the ex-Paris Saint-Germain star to stay and, when it was announced that Ronaldo would be signing three games into the season, Cavani had only played once and would then find himself pushed down the pecking order. 

Not only that, he was put in a position where he was asked to give up his No.7 shirt. 

But has Ronaldo’s return really had that much of an impact on the number of games Cavani has played? 

He might well have started more than seven games in all competitions but it is the knocks that have kept him sidelined more than Ronaldo’s presence. 

He has been anxious and frustrated by the number of games he has had to miss through injury but has demonstrated an unwillingness to make himself available at various stages.

Twice this season – once at the start of the campaign and once before the FA Cup third round – he asked for extended leave, and twice it was granted. 

Sources say he has always been an excellent communicator with his team-mates and especially the younger players in the squad – even when his English wasn’t very good.

The long hours he spent training also meant he was readily available and approachable to those who were after advice. 

While club sources have praised his detailed approach to training, it is that desire and need to feel fully fit which has led to him withdrawing from games that some staff expected him to be able to feature in. 

Some have questioned his commitment but club sources say his application in training cannot be faulted. 

It looks set to be a quiet slow end to his United career.

Solskjaer persuaded him to stay for another year to experience the appreciation of playing in front of the Old Trafford faithful but, with his injury record and fitness demands, they will be lucky if they get to see him pull on a red shirt one more time – let alone celebrate another goal.