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Zlatan's departure has led to Edinson Cavani enjoying prolific leading man status again

The Uruguayan is on course to deliver the best season of his career.

Image: Christophe Ena

IT’S BEEN A mixed season for Paris Saint-Germain boss Unai Emery. His side are currently trailing Monaco by three points in the race for the French title and given their level of domestic dominance in the last number of years, the new guy is coming in for some criticism.

Still, he’s had to oversee a club in transition. In the summer, their talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic joined Manchester United. Luckily for Emery, he already had a perfect replacement in the squad.

Edinson Cavani joined in 2013, a year after Ibrahimovic’s arrival. The Uruguayan walked into Zlatan’s playground and spent three years playing second-fiddle to the brooding, relentless but single-minded striker. With Ibrahimovic through the middle, Cavani was pushed to the flank – a neat metaphor for the PSG pecking order. Still, he scored goals – just not as consistently as anyone would’ve liked. There’s been a steady progression: 16, 18, 19 over the past three campaigns but figures that still paled in comparison to what Ibrahimovic was putting up.

And he became affected by it. Last term, it seemed like his time in the French capital was over. He’d had enough. Twelve months ago, Premier League clubs were carefully monitoring his situation as it seemed inevitable Cavani would leave in the summer.

France Soccer Source: Lionel Cironneau

“There is a problem with Cavani’s behaviour but my job is to think of the entire squad as a collective”, said then-boss Laurent Blanc last January.

“We did hold a staff meeting and among the various issues we discussed were Cavani and his complaints. The desires of the individual can’t affect the rest of the team”.

Ironically, it was Blanc who left. And Ibrahimovic too. And Cavani settled back into his stride, supported by Emery and allowed to rediscover the striker’s role he craved so much. At 30, he’s the lead character – probably for the first time since his days at Napoli.

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Spain Soccer Champions League Source: Daniel Ochoa de Olza

And he’s on course to deliver the best season of his career. He has been in superb form and has netted 25 goals in Ligue 1 – that’s an average of a goal per game.

The last few weeks, in particular, have been explosive. In his last six games, he’s scored nine times. The last time he failed to score was a month ago. It’s a magnificent run of form and, with PSG desperate to show they can step up in the Champions League, Cavani is absolutely crucial to their aspirations.

In January he spoke about his issues last year and refused to single out Ibrahimovic for any blame. It wasn’t a personality thing. It was a positional thing. Zlatan, like his current situation at Manchester United, was undroppable, unmovable, unshakeable. And no matter how many times he scored, Cavani still had to sit out wide and take on a role he never really felt comfortable with.

“There was a chance to return to Italy,” he admitted.

In football sometimes things happen that are outside of your control, leading the club to make decisions. Last year I did not play further forward, as I love to do. Instead, I played more on the outside. That is why I was considering the idea of returning to Serie A. But in the end I decided to stay at PSG.”

“He (Ibrahimovic) has nothing to do with the decision and anyway, we won together. We were not at odds but I need my space there up front.”

Goalscoring never left Cavani in the last three years but his confidence certainly took a hit – and in his prime too.

But he’s back with a vengeance. Barcelona is a tough test but Cavani is out to show everyone he’s never quite been easy playing a supporting role.

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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