Edinson Cavani ran into yards of space, collected a perfect through ball from Goran Pandev and then kissed it past the Roma ‘keeper with the inside of his left foot. That was four minutes after kick-off, whilst early in the second half, turning on another Pandev pass, his right-footer flashed past Mauro Goicoechea for his second. Twenty minutes later after several more goal-scoring attempts, the Napoli striker rose above the crowd to head home through the goalkeeper’s legs. It still wasn’t over and after narrowly missing with a free-kick, he had the ball in the net for a fourth time only to be ruled narrowly offside. Going clear on goal after that, only a fabulous finger-tip by Goicoechea saved Roma.
That performance in Week 19 of 2012-13 showed Cavani at his predatory best and nothing articulated his many assets more than that triple strike, as part of a 4-1 win. Not that many Napoli fans were surprised, as the omens that were portended in his first game, had been fulfilled many times over by then.
Yet sadly for fans of Italian football and especially those of Napoli, they might never see that sort of action again from the big Uruguayan. Regardless of your club loyalty it cannot be denied that the Matador has brought a touch of class to most proceedings. However, it seems that being successful in Serie A today, means invariably a transfer out of it tomorrow. There used to be a time when great players decided where they wanted to play and not go where teams offered the most money.
But back to reality, arriving in Naples for the 2010-11 season Cavani scored twice as Napoli beat Elfsborg 2-0 in the Europa League on his full debut in September. Anyone who saw him then, knew he would be a winner and somewhat inevitably Serie A would be a loser.
Just to put those omens to bed, three days later he headed home the opener in the 1-1 draw at Fiorentina in Serie A. It was the start of a spectacular campaign that saw him score a magnificent 26 goals in Serie A to help Napoli into third spot and bring them Champions League football.
In Europe the following season he was again worthy of top billing, scoring five goals in eight games, including strikes against Chelsea and Manchester City. Meanwhile in the League his 23 goals saw Napoli end the campaign in fifth spot.
However, in 2012-13 he moved into overdrive and by the start of the ritorno had scored 26 goals in all competitions, which included four cracking strikes against Dnipro, in the Europa League. It was a performance that rated a mind-blowing 10 out of 10 in the Gazzetta dello Sport. He also became a Serie A Centurion, scoring his 100th League goal in the 1-1 draw with Fiorentina in Week 21.
Yet Cavani’s impact has not been just about goals, it is also his attitude, which he demonstrates in defence. “Edinson is amazing, but not only for his goals,” said teammate midfielder Gokhan Inler. “He also helps a lot in defence and makes crucial tackles.” It is an ability to break down attacks from the front and more than pull his weight at the back that has been integral to Napoli’s success.
But it’s goals he is famous for and his 29 this season saw 17 come via his fabulous right foot. These include the howitzer of a free kick against Torino, that even Diego Maradona would have been proud to claim authorship. Another six came from his weaker left foot while the others were headers, as Napoli finished second and grabbed automatic Champions League entrance. “I just want to enter the hearts of the people and the history of the club,” he admitted. He certainly did that and history was his as he lifted the prestigious Scarpa d’Oro award. The last time a Napoli player won the top-scorer prize was when Maradona lifted it in 1987-88 with 15 in 28 games.
Today Cavani is the club’s third most prolific striker after Maradona and Attila Sallustro and those 104 goals also included nine hat-tricks along with 15 potent penalties. However, above all there is one strike he treasures most. “Fortunately, I’ve scored so many beautiful goals in my career but I think the one in the Cup Final against Juventus was my best,” he revealed. “As it helped the club win a trophy after a long period without success.”
Certainly Cavani brought success to the club and joy to the terraces while also adding a touch of glamour, something not seen since the days of Diego.
And although, should he leave, no-one can ever replace Il Pibe for the pure unadulterated joy he has brought to the San Paolo, the Uruguayan got pretty close with his screams of delight and the shaking of his shirt after another superb strike.