Edinson Cavani has come a long way from the ice-cream stall. The man responsible for wrecking Manchester City's Champions League dream has long had a taste for success. As a child, it took the form of frozen dulce de leche, the rich butterscotch caramel consumed in vast quantities in South America. What the Napoli striker has achieved in the last two years, though, is considerably sweeter.
"I used to play as a child at Nacional, where my Dad [Luis] was a professional," recalls Cavani. "I started with the really little kids, as a four-year-old. The player who scored the first and last goals of every game would get an ice-cream. The stall was 20 metres from the pitch."
The sweet tooth would come back to haunt him; the process of incentivisation, though, worked perfectly. He has barely stopped scoring since. He managed 26 goals in his first season at Napoli to help them in to the Champions League and his three against City in the group stage have all but eliminated the world's richest club.
Cavani may be allowed to leave Naples this summer, but only for a premium fee. The auction will be attended by Chelsea, and Real Madrid, and possibly City themselves; the asking price could yet touch £40m.
Not bad for a striker who feared his career was over at 14. "I used to leave training crying," he admits. "My legs hurt and I felt weak, like I could not run. They told me it was growing pains, but I was afraid. When I got to Italy [with Palermo, at 19] they told me your teeth had a lot to do with posture, reflexes and balance. With their help, I felt stronger, better."
Cavani's rise has been entirely in keeping with that of his nation. It was telling that, just hours before Cavani cut the Premier League leaders to ribbons, Fifa had confirmed Uruguay's primacy over England: its population is no greater than that of Wales but Oscar Washington Tabarez's team stand one place ahead of Fabio Capello's in Fifa's rankings thanks to a remarkable run to the semi-finals of the World Cup and a record-breaking 15th Copa America win.
Cavani is joined in attack by Liverpool's Luis Suarez and Internazionale's Diego Forlan, formerly of Manchester United. Sebastian Coates, the young defender, has joined his countryman at Anfield, Alvaro Pereira, the left-winger, may join the Premier League contingent at Chelsea in January.
There are more, countless more: Maxi Pereira of Benfica, Nicolas Lodeiro at Ajax, Abel Hernandez at Palermo. It is to Tabarez that the nation owes its wealth of talent.
"In the last five years there has been a comprehensive training process," Tabarez says. "Youngsters have to study, to learn about competitive football. Youth teams have to play against foreign opposition, to play outside Uruguay and try to adapt to world football. It's from those processes that Lodeiro, Coates, and Cavani have emerged."Reuse content