Cavani, the headlines man, wants to remain unknown

Updated July 06, 2018

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NIZHNY NOVGOROD: Uruguay’s striker Edinson Cavani attends a training session at the Sports Centre Borsky on Thursday.—AFP
NIZHNY NOVGOROD: Uruguay’s striker Edinson Cavani attends a training session at the Sports Centre Borsky on Thursday.—AFP

NIZHNY NOVGOROD: On Wednesday, the football world was talking about him. Edinson Cavani, though, wants to be an unknown. “I’d like to be someone nobody knows,” the Uruguayan striker says in the latest teaser of a documentary on his life, ‘Return to the roots’, conspicuously released on the same day as the whole cosmos awaited news whether he would be fit to face France in the World Cup quarter-final on Friday. “And be able to do things in the world, that I can help people and share moments and give to them whatever is in my means.”

His desire to give and help is driven by his own humble beginnings in the town of Salto where he once lived in a house that had no bathroom. His is a ‘roots to riches’ story. His two well-taken strikes against Portugal in their last-16 game last week enriching his story further.

But cruelly for him, just when he seemed to be on the cusp of greater national glory, primed to play a big part at a bigger stage, injury struck to add more drama and intrigue to his story. A swelling on his left calf means he isn’t likely to start against France.

“Unfortunately, one man’s loss is another man’s gain,” France defender Adil Rami said at a news conference in Istra, near Moscow, on Wednesday when asked if France were concerned with facing the in-form hit man. “We’re talking about Edinson Cavani, one of the world’s best strikers and he’s been on form during this tournament so I think it’s not bad for us that he’s injured. I had the same kind of injury and it took time, I tried to defy medical science and it wasn’t easy. So if he plays against us, he’ll have destroyed science, so stop making us believe he will play against us.”

France midfielder Blaise Matuidi, speaking after Rami on Wednesday, showed more compassion for his former Paris St Germain team-mate.

“I worked with Edinson for a very long time,” he said. “We’ve not spoken recently but I know him well enough to tell you that he’s a very generous man who doesn’t give up on anything, and I know that he will do everything, right up until the last moment to be on the pitch.”

As the whole of Uruguay held its collective breath over their striker’s injury, the Uruguay Football Association (AUF) put up the report of the Cavani’s MRI scan on their website on Monday. It said he’d suffered an “edema on the calf muscle of his left leg” and was ‘in pain’.

On Wednesday, in photographs put up by the AUF of a closed training session, Cavani wasn’t seen. Matuidi, though, was asked if the French were in for a Cavani surprise. “I don’t know if they are bluffing about his injury,” he said. “That’s for them to worry about. But there are injuries that can be healed quickly and others for which there isn’t a miracle cure. Uruguay without Cavani are not the same thing. Replacing one of the best strikers in the world is a handicap.”

France, however, will be prepared for that last-minute surprise, if it were to be any. On Monday, France assistant coach Guy Stephan said at a news conference that Les Bleus were preparing for Cavani to be in the Uruguay side.

“We’re going to prepare as if he’s playing,” he said. “We consider that he’s playing.” On the same day, Uruguayan midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur had allayed fears about Cavani’s injury, and said his team-mate was doing ‘recovery work’.

A day later, though, Uruguay’s star forward Luis Suarez sounded less optimistic. “He’s very important considering his form but things don’t really depend on one player and we have shown we depend on the collective work.”

On the eve of the match on Thursday, there was finally some better news. Cavani showed up at the official pre-match training, walking comfortably and without any discomfort. He trained separately from the rest of the squad here at the Sports Centre Borsky, an indication that he won’t start. For once, everyone present at the official training was concerned about him. It is the sort of hype he isn’t so used to.

For both club and country, Cavani has never been the main man, the star attraction. Marek Hamsik and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were always ahead of him at both Napoli and PSG. After Ibrahimovic left PSG, Cavani finally got the right to play in his favoured central position and he thrived. But it only lasted a year as PSG signed both Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

For Uruguay, he might be the reference point in attack but he has lived under the shadow of Suarez. His brace against the Portuguese thrust him in the limelight. It was moment for him to savour and grow his legend beyond that of Suarez for his country. Injury, however, robbed him of his chance.

He’s dominated all talk for the past several days but if Uruguay were to win without him, there could be a new hero. It could be Cristhian Stuani, the man likely to replace him who scored 21 goals for Girona in La Liga last season. That would potentially shift the focus off Cavani. But that’s how he wants himself to be — an ‘unknown’.

Published in Dawn, July 06th, 2018