Edson Cavani and Greatness by Contrast

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What do you think about Uruguayan striker Edson Cavani? Yeah, I have no clue either. In general, we soccer fans like our greatness as our oatmeal: consistent throughout. Cavani, though, is perhaps the least consistent consistently great striker in Europe. He’s scored goals by the boatloads for his club teams in Italy and France, and also a few big ones for Uruguay.

Still, one can’t get over a sinking sensation when you watch him play: does this guy know what he’s doing?

Cavani is a well-paid professional footballer. He clearly knows what he’s doing. However, as fans, we clamor for more. We smell potential and want to see greatness. Nothing frustrates like a player who is painstakingly close to the peak of the mountain, only to get stuck in a snowdrift.

And Cavani is stuck in a helluva snowdrift. For starters, he’s now got the keys to the car. For Uruguay over the summer, Luis Suarez was rested for the Copa America and Cavani became the focal point of attack. The result? Uruguay failed to advance past the group stages. He started all three group stage games and, over 270 minutes of soccer, scored zero goals.

Why? How can a striker so prolific suddenly go cold?

Of course, streaks happen to all forwards. Sometimes the goal seems two feet tall and one foot wide. However, yesterday’s tie with Arsenal was instructive as to the nature of Cavani. Basically, within the same match, he oscillates between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: he will score a header or a fantastic goal of unsurpassed skill, and then miss a few sitters and moderately difficult chances.

There is no in-between.

Without the quick-thinking and workrate of Suarez for Uruguay, and sans the power of Zlatan at PSG, Cavani is left alone and exposed. He is not a sole striker or even somebody you want to lead the line. He struggles to play with his back to goal. Even when he shields the ball, his decisions are both erratic and come too slow. Yes, he can turn or glide past a centerback with ease, but he needs the ball to his feet to be most lethal.

Cavani needs a strike partner to play his best. Yet what’s most striking is that one can imagine Cavani himself as two different players, depending on the moment of the match. One minute, you think he’s a worldbeater. Another, and you wonder if he just got called up from the reserves.

Thus, Cavani is a headache for fans and also defenders. Only the stars know when and how his next goal will come. His golazo may make your jaw drop, but only after you’ve shaken your head a few times after some missed sitters.

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