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The unsung Cavani

Laurence Griffiths

Edinson Cavani is overrated as a striker. At least for me. His raw numbers are spectacular, but what they don't really show is the number of chances he spurns. He's a brilliant finisher when he scores, but it's always felt like -- and I've watched a good deal of Cavani over the years -- that he wastes opportunities, even easy ones, more often than a Radamel Falcao or a Robin van Persie would.

While he makes up for his occasional flubs in front of the net by creating more chances than more or less anyone else with his superb movement and ability to go head to head with even the toughest defenders, his troubles applying the finishing touch make it difficult to wholeheartedly endorse him as a goal machine. He's not a bad finisher, but as far as pure centre forwards go, there are probably better options.

That doesn't sound too promising, does it? When the sort of money being talked about -- Cavani's release clause alone has been widely reported to be €63 million -- he'd better be an elite something. And he is. Rather than being the pure goalscoring menace he's built up as, Cavani is probably the most complete striker in world football. He has Walter Mazzarri to thank for that.

The Confederations Cup semifinal between Brazil and Uruguay saw Cavani fielded as a right winger, tasked more with stopping Marcelo running rampant down the flanks than with building up attacks. To the amazement of many, he was more than up to the challenge, playing an intelligent, disciplined defensive game. Granted, he scored a goal too, but that was a result of putting pressure on the Selecao back line and taking advantage of the rare Thiago Silva error that resulted.

That one of Europe's best strikers was pushed out of position for Diego Forlan seems absurd, but it makes a great deal more sense when you look at his role in Napoli's old 3-4-3, especially in his first two seasons with the club. While Cavani was used as a traditional centre forward while his side were in possession, it was actually Ezequiel Lavezzi who was furthest forward while defending, giving the Partenopei a chance to take advantage of his blistering speed on the counterattack.

And that meant that whatever defensive tasks that the left winger would normally undertake in the system actually devolved to Cavani instead. And he did them very well indeed, routinely getting back to help out the midfield and defence. This wasn't the mad rushing about that typifies most centre forwards when they're forced to defend -- it was disciplined, tactical play, executed superbly.

Too often a centre forward's goals come at the expense of his all-around game. That's definitely not true with Cavani, who helps his team out on every single front. In addition to his defensive acumen, which is unparalleled in any centre forward I've ever watched, he's able to drift back and help build up attacks and his passing on the counter is excellent.

With that set of skills, it's difficult to see Cavani failing to adapt to life outside the Serie A. While his finishing is, in my eyes, pretty vastly overrated, the rest of his game -- the stuff that doesn't get mentioned -- is absolutely brilliant. He's probably not worth what we'll end up paying for him, should we sign him, but he's a marvelous, unique player. It's a privilege to watch him work.

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