2014 FIFA World Cup, 32 players to watch, Featured, June 2014

32 Players to Watch in Brazil: #19 Edinson Cavani

Again a "supporting actor" among his country's stars, Cavani will stay be significant in the South American champions' run in Brazil...

Again a “supporting actor” among his country’s stars, Cavani will stay be significant in the South American champions’ run in Brazil…

Jon Levy

We’re into the top twenty of our countdown, and today we look at one of the men who will lead the champions of South America into the World Cup on their home continent. If your new to these pieces, and wonder how they work, check out Guy Bailey’s “Englishmen’s view to Jozy Altidore.” The American came in at #20.

Number 19: Edinson Cavani

Country: Uruguay

Position: Striker

Club Team: Paris Saint-Germain

American-Based Professional Sport “Soulmate”: Evgeni Malkin, Center, Pittsburgh Penguins

 Edinson Cavani is a statuesque Uruguayan, with long flowing hair, and a face that’s a cross between “male model” and Skeletor. He also plays soccer.

Cavani is in his prime at 27 years old, and he’s full of skill, soccer smarts, and natural athletic abilities. But like so many players, Cavani has yet to master finding the right time to shine. Let’s explore.

Since his career began at Danubio in his hometown of Montevideo, Cavani has consistently scored goals for his clubs. But he’s been consistent for country too, and it was his great performance at the 2007 Under-20 version of the Copa América that earned him a transfer to Palermo in Italy. As expected, Cavani scored goals for Palermo, and after three years he joined Walter Mazzarri’s Napoli team, an attacking side that was looking to return glory to once great club.

This transfer would kick-start a couple trends in Cavani’s career. From here on the brilliant forward would continue to succeed, but would almost always be overshadowed by bigger stars, and would lack that very American idea of “clutchness” in the biggest matches. The same can be said for another 27 year old, all-word hockey forward Evgeni “Geno” Malkin. (you gotta love how hockey guys can dumb down a name!)

The "A" on his short is for "Also"- Malkin plays sidekick to Sid the Kid.

The “A” on his short is for “Also”- Malkin plays sidekick to Sid the Kid, and does the same for Russia with Ovechkin.

For Club: Upon joining his new club Edinson would immediately mesh with the manager’s system, and with his teammates, established Napoli stars Marek Hamšík and Ezequiel Lavezzi. I guess if they were hockey players their teammates would probably call them “Eddie,” “Mark,” and “Zeke,” but the Italian media has a different style, so they became “The Three Tenors.” Ha. This triumvirate went on to form the most electrifying attacking partnership that Italian soccer, and debatably all of soccer, had seen in years. But Cavani was almost always seen as the last piece of the puzzle, rather than “the guy.” That is until his final season at Napoli. Sensing the imbalance in The Force, the universe conspired to grant the goal-rich forward a move to new French super-club Paris Saint-Germain… where he would be immediately overshadowed by “I Am Zlatan” Ibrahimovic, not just the best player in the world at Cavani’s chosen position, but possibly the most interesting persona in all of sports. Good luck getting out from behind that guy.

And that particular predicament is something the dynamic and powerful “Geno” Malkin knows something about. Like Cavani, Malkin was “the guy” in his home country (Russia in this case) for about a minute before making his jump into the turbulent frozen waters of the NHL. But Geno was ready for the challenge, and after a soft landing on a talented Pittsburgh Penguins team, he immediately began scoring goals and setting them up in kind. But of course the Penguins already had budding superstar Sidney Crosby, so Malkin was never the guy in the TV promos. It was always “Crosby vs. Ovechkin!,” not “Malkin vs Anybody!” Not even a consistent theme of Malkin carrying the team when “Sid the Kid” was hurt could change this, even when Sid seemed unable to do so on the sporadic occasions that Malkin’s been injured. Malkin’s won a league MVP, a playoff MVP, and two scoring titles, but most hockey fans still concede that the “more complete” Crosby is a step above Malkin.

One of the men who for club or country always overshadows Cavani is Liverpool's Luis Suarez...

One of the men who for club or country always overshadows Cavani is Liverpool’s Luis Suarez…

For Country: And it’s the same old song and dance for both of these guys at international level. Malkin is always overshadowed by Russia’s golden boy Alexander Ovechkin. Kind of poetic how it’s the eternal rival pairing of Crosby and Ovechkin that’s keeping Malkin’s star from shining as brightly as it could.

Meanwhile, at senior national team level for Uruguay Cavani was once again seen as the last piece of the puzzle in a devastating three-pronged offensive partnership. Anybody remember the first match of the 2010 World Cup for Uruguay? It was a disjointed defensive battle in which Diego Forlán and Luis Suárez never quite found their magic. Enter Cavani up top for match number two, shift Forlán and Suárez to his left and right respectively, and you’ve got a team that can roll all the way to the semifinal, and win the Copa América the following summer. But once again, Cavani is just the right guy at the right time, not “the guy.” Forlán was “the guy” at the 2010 World Cup, winning the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player, and scoring or setting up almost every Uruguay goal. The next summer Forlán would pass the torch to Suárez who won the 2011 Copa América MVP in addition to the tournament title itself. And now, after Suárez’s most amazing season with Liverpool, he’s being framed by writers as the possible 1986 Diego Maradona of this coming World Cup in spite of the fact that Cavani, another of the world’s elite strikers, will be on the pitch with him. Now I don’t think that pisses Edinson off, but here’s something that should:

Cavani doesn’t turn in his best performances in the biggest games. We could say the same about Evgeni Malkin, whose Penguins have lately been known more for blowing elimination games at home than for the Stanley Cup they won in 2009. But at least Geno has that Stanley Cup. Cavani has yet to win either of the two biggest trophies in soccer, and that’s at least partially down to his play in do-or-die scenarios. He’s been up on Chelsea after the home leg of a Champions League playoff with two different clubs, and he’s been a party to the ensuing collapse at Stamford Bridge both times. He was ineffective in a must-win match against Team GB in the 2012 Olympics, and didn’t do much to help his team mount a comeback against the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup semifinal. Although it must be acknowledged that he scored the lone Uruguay goal against Brazil in the 2013 Confederations Cup semifinal. Perhaps most telling is the fact that Cavani has been at his absolute best in two third place matches, at both the 2010 World Cup and this past summer at the Confederations Cup.

Maybe the guy just doesn’t like it when the pressure’s turned all the way up. But I wouldn’t bet against one of the world’s best strikers identifying this trend himself, and smashing it to bits at some point. After all, even Lebron’s winning titles these days.

 Tales of the Uninvited:

Italian striker Dani Osvaldo plans to get as far away from his parent club of Southampton as possible by serving as Johnny Depp’s stunt double, both in movies and everyday situations. These everyday situations are likely to include tearing up hotel rooms, charming/”creeping on” every girl, and buying all the sunglasses in the world! Zlatan knows not of this Southampton place, and points out that you don’t need sunglasses when you’ve got robot eyes. More on Zlatan next time!

Jon Levy is Co-Founder of The Yanks Are Coming. Follow him on Twitter at @TYAC_Jon.

Jon Levy