Manchester United’s Recent Love Affair with Aging Strikers
Edinson Cavani recently signed an extension to stay with United for another season. In his inspiration I thought it prudent to examine a trend occurring at Manchester United over the last two decades. Cavani is one of many examples of United bringing in strikers that have been dubbed ‘at the end of the careers.’ In spite of this stigmatizing label, United have been able to get the most out of many of these players. Ever since Sir Alex brought in Teddy Sheringham at the ripe old age of 31 a trend was born.
The importance of these players has often been their influence on the plethora talented, young attacking players United has long fostered. Usually groomed through the United youth academy, these young players need an experienced talisman to develop in an elite player. Not every attempt was a success, but more often than not it has worked out in Manchester United’s favor.
The Who’s Who of the Old Guard
The history of buying or holding onto attacking players past the age of 30 is well documented at United. From the same era as Sheringham, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was kept at United until the age of 34 to help usher in the young Rooney and Ronaldo. Rooney stuck around until the age of 32 , helping the transition of Rashford and a young Martial.
This list also includes; Owen 30, Ibrahimovic 35, Falcao 29, van Persie 29, Henrik Larsson 35 and Cavani 34. Even Odion Ighalo was 31.
Granted, Owen was never really appreciated by fans because of his Scouse origins, Falcao was a total flop, some would argue so was Larsson, and Ighalo was a flame that burnt out very quickly. On the other hand Zlatan, Cavani and van Persie have all achieved legendary status for one reason or another. Despite what you think about any of these players they all served a greater purpose for Manchester United and most of them will have cemented at least one memory in all of our minds.
What Makes these Players So Impactful?
Sheringham and Solskjaer’s goals in the 1999 Champions League final will always stand as the gold standard for ‘impact’ players being just as important as the starting eleven. Additionally, Rooney’s statistics for Manchester United stand without contestation as one of the greatest feats ever achieved by a United player.
So, how have some of these other players cemented themselves as great players for this amazing club? I genuinely believe that each of them were bought with at least one benefit in mind; their winning perspective from a career’s worth of experience. United have always been a team that promotes youth. However, youth tends to not win trophies, at least not right away. Any coach will tell you that a blend of age and experience is always important.
Young players rarely have the perspective and maturity to be resilient and dominating enough to win week in week out. These types of older players can, at the very least, help the younger players create that killer mentality that will carry them to success. If they happen to score goals along the way then they will have often exceeded expectation.
Under the Microscope
Looking at the impact that Zlatan and Cavani have had on the Manchester United dressing room, its hard not to make a case for their cult like followings amongst United fans. Both have won buckets of trophies and have that winning knowhow. Their sheer ego’s, self-confidence and ability to back it up on the pitch are enough for both to be considered some of United’s best ever strikers.
Larsson is a bit of an enigma. With only three goals in his 13 appearances for United, you wouldn’t have predicted his cult hero status amongst both players and fans. Perhaps Larsson is the perfect example of how a player can have more impact off the field then on it.
United were in transition at the time of his signing. Allan Smith and Solskjaer were injured, prompting the need for another striker. Keane had just retired, and Beckham and Ruud had recently left for Real. At the time United were reliant on the very young and inexperienced Rooney, Ronaldo, Fletcher and Carrick. I was in disbelief of his impact until I heard it straight from the horse’s mouth. There are numerous interviews where each of these young players as well as the likes of Scholes, Giggs, Neville, Evra and Ferdinand are all insistent of Larsson’s immense impact in the dressing room.
Not all of these types of players have achieved United greatness. Some of them have barely even created a flutter in that visceral space of our minds. I think immediately of Falcao. He may have been a huge flop at United, but it is exactly how huge that forces him to stand out. As one of the few players that has a negative connotation on this list, he was still a great player that under performed for United.
Hits and Misses at Manchester United
Falcao is just one of a few examples of how not every experienced striker has been a success at United. Igahlo will always be remembered for how quickly he hit the ground running at United. His goals against LASK and Norwich were Cristiano Ronaldo-esque. He is also only one of two United players to score in each of his first four first team starts. Unfortunately for Ighalo, those moments will mostly be overshadowed by how brief his spell of success was.
Owen will always hold a special place in my personal United Hall of Fame. As a child I have terrible memories of being ridiculed because as a United fan I was meant to loath Owen for playing for the Scouse bastards. It was because I was an England fan that I was awe struck by him. When United brought him in, I took that as my coming out party as a huge Owen fan. I still get a lot of criticism for it, but all I need to do is remember his game winning goal against Manchester Shitty to be completely endeared by him all over again.
Ven Persie was probably one of the biggest hits on this list. He tallied up 48 goals and 14 assists in 86 games. That amounts to 62 direct goal involvements in 86 games. He won the golden boot in his maiden season with United, almost certainly winning us the Premier League title. Not to mention that his first half hat trick against Villa was spectacular. These numbers cement van Persie in Manchester United’s history books as perhaps one of our greatest ever veteran players, and perhaps one of the greatest strikers we’ve ever had.
So far this season Cavani has carried the United front line every time he has played. His movement opens space for other players. His runs ensure there is always someone available in the box. The budding relationship he has with Greenwood and Fernandes is flourishing. Everything points to the fact that his influence is clearly rubbing off on the rest of the United squad.
You can already see his abilities reflected in the likes of Greenwood, Rashford and Martial. Every game that he plays, you can see his skill set creeping into the games of the other players in the Manchester United front line. He is clearly mentoring the younger attacking players while bringing a killer edge to United’s attack. His winning mentality only adds to the fighting approach that Bruno, Pogba, Maguire, McTominay and Henderson bring to this squad.
His effect so far has been immeasurable. Fortunately for us United fans, wisdom and attitude is not the only thing Cavani has brought to this team. The spectacular goals he scores are merely the icing on the cake. His goal against Fulham was particularly sweet. This happens to be Cavani’s 12th consecutive season reaching a double figure goal scoring tally. He has also made Manchester United the first team to have three players to reach double figures in the goals department this season in the Premier League.
Experience Breeds Success
Speaking as a 35 year old retired striker, if players in their 30’s had the bodies of their 20’s understudies, we would be unstoppable in the world of sports. Usain Bolt was 30 when he demolished the field at the 2016 Olympics.
Ali was 33 when he beat Fraiser in Manila after 14 rounds of boxing in 100°F heat. Tyson was 30 when he won his last heavyweight title. Mayweather was 38 when he won his last title fight. Mayweather was also 40 when he beat Connor McGregor to go a career 50-0
Cristiano Ronaldo was 33 when He won his fifth champions league title and his fifth Ballon d’Or. Messi was going on 33 when he won his most recent Ballon d’Or.
Kobe Bryant was 31 when he won his fifth NBA title and second MVP award. Kobe also played in 18 NBA all star games up to the age of 38. Michael Phelps was 31 when he set the world record for most Olympic gold medals and world records for a swimmer.
Every young athlete will have an idol or mentor that they looked up to. The greatness of previous generations inspires and develops greatness for future generations. Players like Bruno, Rashford, Greenwood, Martial, Dan James, Amad and Shoretire all benefit from Cavani’s movement and tutelage. It wouldn’t surprise me if any of these players spoke of Cavani as a mentor or idol later in the careers.
Glory Glory Man United