By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer
Timing his run to perfection, Edinson Cavani latched onto Marek Hamsik's through-ball before cutting the ball to the blind side of Sebastien Frey, leaving the Genoa keeper on his backside. All that was left was to slot his 80th goal for Napoli into the empty net.
It brought the Partenopei level for the second time in a match they would go on to win 4-2, and Cavani had again instigated a positive result. Following his four-goal haul in the Europa League against Dnipro three days earlier, the Uruguayan proved once more at the Marassi last Sunday that he remains the jewel in Serie A’s slipping crown.
After a summer which saw AC Milan sell Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Paris Saint-Germain amidst a raft of notable exits, the Italian league was ridiculed by many detractors who saw the Swede as its last remaining attacking superstar. Sure, there were good things said about the likes of Andrea Pirlo, but when it came to strikers - those players who live and die by their goal tallies, which are the most notable barometers of greatness to the casual viewer - it was said that Italy had lost its final great.
That view has only been backed up by Ibrahimovic's continued great form since arriving in France. Already the runaway top scorer in Ligue 1, his magnificent four goals - capped by an outrageous injury-time clincher - against England for Sweden in midweek reminded people across the globe just how good he can be, and just how major a talent has been lost to the Italian game.Cavani had, of course, attracted attention from abroad thanks to back-to-back 33-goal seasons in his opening two campaigns with Napoli, but many questions were being asked as to how effective he might be without Ezequiel Lavezzi in the Azzurri squad following the Argentine’s move to PSG.
EDINSON CAVANI | ALL-TIME NAPOLI STATS
But his response has been absolutely emphatic. With a hat-trick against Lazio, the winner at Sampdoria, and crucial goals against Torino and Genoa, Cavani has helped the Neapolitan side to keep chase with Juventus at the top of the table despite Lavezzi’s loss, and in Europe he has been about their only positive in a largely unconvincing campaign so far.
More than that, though, it has been in his style of play and his range of goals that he has shown his ever-improving quality. Whereas many of his strikes would previously come with his front to goal on the shoulder of the defensive line, he is demonstrating an increasingly more diverse finishing ability. While he is still some way from being a 'complete' striker, he has proven over the last three months that he has the kind of game that could be a success in any of the top leagues in the world.
And that is the key now for Napoli, and for Serie A as a whole. If Walter Mazzarri's side are to have serious hopes of challenging beyond this season, then Cavani must stay, while if the league is to grow, it has to begin to hold onto its stars once more. And right now, there is no star shining as brightly as the ex-Danubio and Palermo man.
There are no heroes quite like goalscoring heroes, and so while Pirlo, Arturo Vidal et al have led Juventus to a dominant position in Serie A once more, it is the likes of Diego Milito, Stephan El Shaarawy and Cavani who are the individuals courting the real headlines beyond the Italian borders. Milito's star may not be fading just yet, but his days at the top are more in the past than the future. Meanwhile, El Shaarawy has been in excellent form but Milan still need to decide exactly how best to play him in a winning outfit.
Cavani, though, has been at the top of his game for over two years now and is still just 25 years of age. It is that which makes him the stand-out player in the league, but also which makes him such an attractive proposition to the cash-rich clubs across Europe.
So as Milan come to town on Saturday night with the San Paolo faithful crossing their fingers for a repeat showing of his hat-trick heroics last season, the powers that be at both Napoli and the Lega Serie A know a similar performance could well result in a need to further bolster their resistance to a big-money move. Otherwise, the league's 'Last Action Hero' could well fly the nest like the rest.Follow Kris Voakes on