PSG record-breaker Edinson Cavani is the perfect team player
History maker, record breaker, team player. The phrase “sometimes, it is better to give than to receive” sums up PSG striker Edinson Cavani perfectly.
The Uruguayan even said those words himself on Saturday, after PSG’s 4-0 win against Montpellier, when his 11th minute goal propelled him into the history books to leapfrog Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the club’s all-time top scorer on 157 goals.
In this case, Cavani was referring to the moment when he let his teammate Neymar take yet another penalty instead of him. Not many world-class strikers would accept a new player coming into the team and taking that responsibility away from them. But Cavani did.
And it’s not some sort of mental weakness from him, either. It is simply that he places the interests of his club before his own.
Neymar can take all the penalties if it means the balance of the team and dressing room is better; Cavani will always focus on what is good for the squad. He doesn’t complain or moan; he gets on with his job. He waited until his fourth year at the club before he finally asked for a pay rise and a new deal, when others seemingly want more money every year.
When Cavani joined PSG back in the summer 2013 for €64 million (which now looks pretty cheap considering what he has achieved in Paris), the former Napoli star was told that he was to play alongside Ibrahimovic up front. Then-coach Laurent Blanc tried it, but it didn’t work so Cavani agreed to play wide to accommodate Ibra and, again, do something that would make the team better.
For three years he played there, except when Zlatan was not on the pitch — which was not that often. He always gave 100 percent and actually scored 81 times in 148 matches out wide, but now he is playing in the centre he has shown that he is one of the world’s most lethal strikers.
His first touch is not always the best, that’s true, and he still looks a bit raw technically at times in link up play, but he is more clinical than ever. There once was a time where he was wasteful in terms of chances, but he went back to basics, spent time on the training ground and is now reaping the rewards.
He has already scored 27 goals in 31 games in all competitions in 2017-18 so far — a ratio of 0.87 goals per game — and bagged 49 goals in 50 games last season.
That is how he got to his magic number of 157 in 229 appearances (a ratio of 0.69 per game), which includes scoring 146 times from inside the box (17 penalties) and 11 times from outside (including three direct free kicks.)
On Saturday, to break the record he had been waiting three games to surpass, he used his trademark one-touch finish, showcasing how impressive his movement is. Whether it’s the timing of his runs or his intelligence on how to make them, or the fact that he is always at the right place at the right time in the box, Cavani is a penalty area predator of the highest calibre.
Yet, the 30-year-old is still underrated by many. Why? Because he plays in Ligue 1? He scored many goals for Palermo (37 between 2007-10) and Napoli (104 between 2010-13) in Italy’s Serie A, the most tactical league in the world. And Ligue 1 is also a tough league physically and tactically, as Neymar has found out.
Cavani has scored a lot in Europe, including in big Champions League games, and also adds a lot of assists (54 throughout his career) to demonstrate his work for the team further. While his defensive efforts — generous in his runs and his work rate — make him stand out from his peers.
But if you want the defining story of how the grounded Cavani values the team over his own personal ambition, look no further than the day after the humiliating 6-1 defeat to Barcelona at the Camp Nou in the Champions League round of 16 second leg last season.
When the PSG players got back to the training ground, someone had used some tape to write humilité (humility) in capital letters inside the dressing room alongside the other words already there like “ambition” and “win.” It was Cavani.
Julien Laurens is a London-based French journalist who writes for ESPN FC and Le Parisien. Follow him on Twitter: @LaurensJulien.