x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Cavani comes of age

Marcotti's Man: As a youngster, he merely loved the game. Today, amid the chaos surrounding Palermo, the gifted striker has transformed into a reliable man.

Palermo's Edison Cavani lets fly with an overhead kick in a Serie A game against Lecce.
Palermo's Edison Cavani lets fly with an overhead kick in a Serie A game against Lecce.

Let's start with his name. Edison Cavani does not actually exist. The name on his birth certificate and passport reads Edinson, with an extra "n", a clerical error which will follow him to his grave. It's the kind of baggage he has learned to live with, just like the baggage that comes with big expectations others doubt you can fulfil.

As a youngster, growing up in Salto, in the far northwest corner of Uruguay, his talent drew the attention of scouts as he broke scoring records for his local side, Club Salto Uruguay. But when he went for trials, a strange thing happened. He had athleticism, strength and technique; it's just that the three elements did not seem to work together, almost as if there was some kind of mental disconnect.

Something was missing. "Maybe the problem was that, while I loved football, I loved playing it, as a game," Cavani said. "I wasn't obsessed with becoming a footballer. At that age, I had other interests too. In fact I still do." And so it was Danubio, not Penarol or Nacional, the traditional juggernauts, who took a punt on him at the age of 17. It was not an easy transition and it took him a few years to make his debut, probably because he was still trying to harness his gifts.

He helped Danubio win the Apertura championship in 2006 as a reserve, and then become a starter in the Clausura. That January, he was called up to represent Uruguay in the South American Under-20 tournament. Cavani scored seven times and was the competition's top scorer. Uruguay lost agonisingly in the semi-final, going down 1-0 to an injury time goal against Argentina. But there was no question that, along with a lithe Brazilian named Pato, Cavani was the real star.

Offers started pouring in. Danubio fielded enquiries from Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Ajax, Bayer Leverkusen and other clubs. Boca Juniors spoke to him directly, effectively telling him: "Look kid, you're good, very good and one day you'll end up in Europe. But why not spend a season or two with us? We're the best finishing school out there." But while the big clubs were intrigued, they told him flat out that he was not the finished article.

Yes, he had the physical gifts, but he was still, unquestionably, raw. The interest was high, but money talks and the offers were nowhere near Danubio's expectations - until Rino Foschi, Palermo's sporting director, flew to Montevideo to speak to him directly. "I wanted to look him in the eye and tell him that we were ready to spend what for us was a lot of money," Foschi said."I wanted him to understand that we were willing to do so because we believed in him. And that maybe these other so-called big clubs did not believe quite as much as we did."

Palermo put ?4 million (Dh20.2m) on the table and Danubio accepted. The idea was to bring him along slowly, give him a couple of years to settle before he replaced the resident goalmachine, Amauri. And, in his first 18 months, he largely watched and learned. In his second season, he served as Amauri's understudy, replacing and, occasionally, partnering the big Brazilian, learning the trade of second striker and, occasionally, even oversized winger.

By the summer of 2008, Palermo had seen enough. The kid was ready. Amauri was sold for ?22.8m and Cavani slotted into the first XI. He responded with 15 goals in all competitions, not a bad tally for a youngster who turned 22 halfway through the season. The good form has continued into this year, where, partnering the elusive Fabrizio Miccoli, he has already reached double figures. All of which happened while Palermo, under their enigmatic president Maurizio Zamparini, remained a by-word for Serie A instability - they have made eight managerial changes since his arrival.

Cavani, meanwhile, has turned into a constant, reliable presence. Amidst the chaos, he's the one man Palermo know they can bank on. Roma v Palermo, 9pm, Aljazeera Sport +1