“You’re asking me if I’m reckless and a risk-taker?” said Fernando Cavenaghi on the other end of the phone, responding with a burst of laughter to the question FIFA.com has just posed to him. “A bit of both, I suppose,” he eventually acknowledged, in a voice that reflects the smile still on his face. “I’m impulsive. When I make a decision, I let my feelings take me where I need to go.”
His career underlines that. A leader of the line at River Plate when he was only 20, Cavenaghi promptly attracted the interest of Juventus and a number of other clubs from Europe’s top leagues but ignored their advances to sign instead for Spartak Moscow, this at a time when the Russian league’s community of Brazilian players was still very small.
Then, after becoming an idol at Bordeaux, where he won five trophies, including the Ligue 1 title, he upped and left for Spanish lesser lights Mallorca. And when a turmoil-stricken River suffered the unthinkable and were relegated, the man they call Cavegol was the only one of the club’s many former youth products to return and lend and helping hand.
After top-scoring for Los Millonarios as they made an instant return to the top flight, Cavenaghi was released. Bearing no grudge, he returned a year and half later to savour Copa Libertadores glory. Yet instead of staying on for the FIFA Club World Cup and take a tilt at beating Barcelona, he moved on again, this time to Cyprus, where, at the age of 31, he continues to make life difficult for goalkeepers.
“Anyone can come up and say: ‘I’d have done this or that’ or ‘I’d have missed this’. Like any player, I’ve had my ups and downs but I’ve scored more than 230 goals and won 15 trophies, including the Copa Libertadores with the club I support. Forget about all the moves I’ve made. I honestly don’t think I could have asked for any more from my career.”
Since making the switch to APOEL Nicosia, the impulsive, daring and fearless Argentinian striker has scored 23 goals in 26 matches. “I’ve scored more than I thought I would,” he said, before adding that he is enjoying the change of lifestyle in Cyprus: “I’ve gained a lot in terms of quality of life. I’m really enjoying being with my family, which is something that was harder to do in Argentina, because you have a lot less time at home. Coming here has been good for me and I felt that it was a move I could make. It’s a big boost for the last few years of my career.”
Cavenaghi paid for his impulsiveness in the middle of 2010, when he left France for Mallorca, who had just finished fifth in La Liga but were in no position to repeat the feat. “I regretted it,” he said. “I had this real desire to play in Spain but I’m not sure it was the best decision I’ve ever made.”
During his time with Los Bermellones, Cavenaghi struggled with his positioning and coolness in front of goal, two key qualities for a striker. Reflecting on his loss of form there, he said: “For a striker, and my career statistics show this, it’s much easier when you play for a big team than a small one.”
Cavenaghi’s decision to move to Russia in 2004 was perhaps the only pragmatic one he has made in his entire career, even if it meant drifting out of contention for a place in the Argentina team, for whom he has played a mere four friendlies. “You never know what might have happened,” he said. “During my best years with River, when I was 18/19, I was the leading goalscorer in the league and I still didn’t get the call from the national team.”
He added: “The difference in terms of pay was huge. It was a decision that was hard to make because it wasn’t my ideal destination. I was thinking more about the future, though. I played on artificial pitches and I got a lot out of it on many levels. And I really enjoyed life in Moscow. The World Cup is going to be a really great experience for so many people. Discovering Russian culture can be very rewarding.”
The good and the bad
Having made a hard-headed decision to secure his financial future, Cavenaghi then followed his heart in deciding to rejoin River in their darkest hour: “It felt amazing to give back to the club all the things they have given me. I’m grateful to River. Apart from allowing me to play, they also gave me the opportunity to study at the club’s academy and so many other things besides. It was my way of paying things back.”
That 2011/12 season made an indelible mark on him: “I just can’t compare what I experienced that year to anything else in my career. It made me grow as a person like nothing else I’ve been through. It got to the stage where I had to start seeing a psychologist just to find some calm, because it all got very stressful. It dragged on a bit but fortunately everything turned out right in the end.”
Cavenaghi has also found peace of mind in the arts, devoting some of his time to painting, writing and playing the guitar. “I’m not very good but I like it and I enjoy it,” he enthused. “It’s also been like therapy for me. It’s helped me a lot when times have got tough and it’s a way of switching off.”
The front man even wrote a book about his experiences at River: “When we were in the Nacional B (the Argentinian second division), which was such a difficult time and where I went through things I never thought I’d experience in my life, I said: ‘It would be great to write these things down, because I’ll start forgetting them tomorrow if I don’t’.”
Understandably, his memoirs take in River’s 2015 Copa Libertadores triumph: “It was always my dream and I knew that it was my last chance to win it, that it was slipping away from me. Even the best fairy tales have nothing on what I’ve experienced. I’ve had three spells at the club, from the best to the worst of the worst and then coming back to win the lot and bow out with the Libertadores. You can’t have a better dream than that.”