There was a point where it appeared Edinson Cavani would become a Manchester United cult hero in the mould of Diego Forlan, Dimitar Berbatov or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Towards the end of last season, when his goals against Roma carried United into the Europa League final and he scored from 40 yards against Fulham, the fans had taken the veteran Uruguayan to their hearts.
United launched a successful behind-the-scenes charm offensive to persaude Cavani not to leave for Boca Juniors and stay for another year.
Edinson Cavani’s time at Man United is fizzling out as the striker struggles for game time
The striker suffered another injury setback during Uruguay’s World Cup qualifier in Chile
The veteran forward played a role in delivering Uruguay to the World Cup finals in Qatar
Solskjaer, then manager, told him he couldn’t leave until he’d played in front of a capacity crowd at Old Trafford and heard the adoring fans singing his name.
And a member of the kit staff took to following Cavani around Carrington humming the tune of ABBA’s Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight), to which fans had fitted their own lyrics in tribute.
‘Give it, give it, give it, to Edi Cavani/Pass him the ball and watch him score all the goals.’
Cavani was eventually convinced and as the season got underway it even looked like he’d be United’s first-choice centre forward, the perfect opportunity to build on his 17 goals in 2020-21.
‘I have developed a great affection for the club and everything that it represents… I have been touched by how much the supporters have wanted me to stay,’ he gushed after signing a one-year extension.
But unfortunately things haven’t worked out as Cavani and United would have wanted.
United fans took Cavani to their hearts after he scored 17 goals during his first season there
The Uruguayan has become a popular figure among the United fans who sing songs about him
Man United run-in
Fixtures subject to change
Saturday Leicester City (H)
April 9 Everton (A)
April 16 Norwich City (H)
April 19 Liverpool (A)
April 23 Arsenal (A)
May 2 Brentford (H)
May 7 Brighton (A)
May 15 Chelsea (H)
May 22 Crystal Palace (A)
Continuous injury setbacks, Cristiano Ronaldo nicking both his shirt number and starting place, and the general drift and dysfunction at Old Trafford have seen Cavani’s time there fizzle out in disappointing fashion.
With the news that the striker has suffered a calf injury on international duty this week, you wonder if he’ll play for United again with just nine matches of the season left.
It’s been a thoroughly underwhelming second season and it’s a shame given Cavani is clearly a very likeable guy whose class has proved permanent.
Cavani has played 17 times for United this season but started only seven of those games for a paltry total of 761 minutes on the pitch.
He’s managed just two goals – a well-taken finish after combining with Cristiano Ronaldo in the October 3-0 win at Tottenham that offered Solskjaer only temporary respite before the sack, and the equaliser in the 1-1 draw at Newcastle just after Christmas.
Another noteworthy contribution was supplying the pass for Marcus Rashford’s last-gasp winner against West Ham in January that briefly gave United the edge in the top four race.
But apart from that it’s been little cameos off the bench and frustrating spells on the sidelines with tendon irritation and groin strains.
Cavani did erode some of his goodwill with the United support when he stayed behind in Uruguay following their World Cup qualifying wins over Paraguay and Venezuela in early February.
Cavani scored a sensational long-range goal against Fulham towards the end of last season
But the season ended in disappointment as United lost the Europa League final to Villarreal
Interim boss Ralf Rangnick granted permission for Cavani to stay in his homeland and miss the FA Cup tie against Middlesbrough, which United ended up losing on penalties.
Some fans rightly questioned why Cavani was granted such a concession when the team needed attacking options, with some calling it ‘disrespectful’.
But it’s unlikely the majority were too bothered about the player wanting to spend extra time with family after two years of the Covid pandemic. Cavani was soon out injured again anyway.
Others have complained that Cavani always seems to get himself fit for Uruguay duty but then suffers another injury while away to the detriment of United.
But it is difficult to argue that Cavani isn’t a committed trainer and, even if it wasn’t mere coincidence, you can’t really blame him for wanting another crack at a World Cup in the twilight of his career.
The arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo meant Cavani was no longer first choice at centre forward
The pair have combined well at times but haven’t had a regular run of matches in tanden
In his absence, Uruguay lost to Argentina and Bolivia back in November to put their place in Qatar in jeopardy. But Cavani has played a role, usually off the bench, in their final four qualifiers.
They won all four to finish third behind Brazil and Argentina in the final standings, meaning Cavani, if he can stay fit, will be heading to his fourth World Cup finals.
Who Cavani is playing for by then remains to be seen but he’s likely to have a broad choice of suitors in Europe and South America in the summer.
Even if he’d stayed fit all season, Cavani’s appearances would have been limited. He didn’t know Ronaldo was about to walk through the door when he committed to another year. Let’s not forget Solskjaer’s best-laid plans had to be ripped up.
Not only did Cavani have to cede the No 7 shirt and wear No 21 but the Portuguese megastar was always going to take the centre forward role.
Ronaldo may be older than Cavani at 37 but he’s managed to remain fit for the vast majority of games this season and made enough telling contributions without setting the Premier League on fire.
United’s interim manager Ralf Rangnick faces an uphill struggle to achieve a top four finish
United resume their season after the internationals in sixth, four points off a top four place
As United scramble to overhaul Arsenal and snatch a Champions League place in the final nine rounds of the season, Ronaldo will be relied upon more than ever. Certainly above a half-fit Cavani.
Around the time of that Tottenham win in October, there was an attempt to get Cavani and Ronaldo – combined age 70 at the time – playing in tandem in a forward two.
It certainly worked to fine effect on that occasion but Solskjaer’s dismissal and Cavani’s injury niggles put paid to the experiment.
Hopefully he will get a fond farewell at some point but United, dogged by inconsistency, may well be out of top four contention by the time it happens.
It all threatens to be a little bit underwhelming for the man lovestruck United fans had taken to calling ‘The King of Uruguay.’