For fans across the globe, the 2020/21 season was the most soulless and disengaging season in recent memory, because of the ongoing pandemic fans were not able to attend games and support their teams live.
This was no different for Manchester United fans who, home and away, pride themselves on their non-stop vocal support throughout matches and have a long history of doing so. However, out of this season came a glimmer of hope for many United fans, in the form of summer signing Edinson Cavani.
The signing of the then 33-year-old initially raised a few eyebrows due to it being perceived as a ‘panic buy’ in the latter stages of the transfer window, and the fact that Cavani was an ageing player who spent the prime of his career in Ligue 1.
Former United player Gary Neville voiced his concerns over the signing at the time stating; ‘it’s very last minute, it’s come out of nowhere’ as reported by Sky Sports News, going on to label United transfer strategy ‘not good enough’ off the back of Cavani’s signing. This was a similar feeling amongst the fans at the start of the season, that was until Manchester United faced Southampton in the league.
Cavani started on the bench, but after going 2-0 down in the first half, he was brought on as a half-time substitute in place of young striker Mason Greenwood, with hopes the Uruguayan could find some goals to bring United back into the game.
United went on to win the game 3-2 with Cavani having a hand in all three of United’s goals, assisting one and scoring two, with his last being the match winner in stoppage time.
This was a turning point for Cavani with the fans, the first time they not only saw his natural ability as a striker, but the passion he plays with, as could be seen with his celebrations after scoring the winner. The Guardian reported that this performance ‘ends debate about his signing’. It is safe to say this was the moment Cavani began his journey as a cult hero of United.
After the Southampton game, Cavani continued to provide big goals in crucial games, especially during the clubs run in the Europa League, scoring six goals and getting three assists in five games, including the only goal United scored in the final against Villareal, which they eventually lost.
In the league Cavani managed impressive numbers once more, scoring 10 goals and getting three assists in 1,366 minutes, proving to be a crucial player in the race to earn top four.
It is fair to say that many United fans would not have expected the aging striker to deliver as much as he did in the way of attacking contributions, with BBC reporting that ‘fans can be forgiven for feeling somewhat underwhelmed at the prospect of signing Cavani’, on the day United signed the striker, proving the atmosphere around the signing was one of concern to say the least.
But Cavani soon proved his doubters wrong, finishing the 2020/21 campaign with 17 goals and 6 assists within 39 games across all competitions for Manchester United.
The new cult hero’s crowning moment arrived at the final league game of the season at Old Trafford against Fulham, with a 10,000-capacity crowd allowed inside Old Trafford for the first time since the pandemic began.
Cavani scored what ESPN described as a ‘wonder goal’ as he chipped the goalkeeper from near the halfway line, the celebrations with the crowd after the goal was one of the most passionate moments of the season for United, and the love the fans in the ground showed Cavani that day solidified his place amongst the likes of Eric Cantona and Ander Herrera as a cult hero at the club.
It would appear that the feeling is mutual between the player and the fans as at United’s first home game of the season, fans continuously sang Cavani’s new song even though the striker was no available for selection in the game, proving just how highly he is thought of by the fans.
The striker, having seen the footage, thanked the fans ‘for their affection’ on social media after the game, as reported by Manchester Evening News. With the Uruguayan signing a contract extension with the club recently, it would appear the love affair between United fans and their new cult hero is far from being over yet.
Written by Jennifer McCord