Manchester United appear to be in disarray at the moment. Despite their laudable effort at home against Liverpool, their backline could not maintain their concentration for the entire ninety and gave away a cheap equaliser to substitute Adam Lallana towards the end.
But, the defence has surprisingly been doing well this season so far under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Going into the international break, Manchester United had the least Expected Goals (xGC) to be conceded. Neither are they that bad going forward, especially in creating chances, in contrast to what the results will have you believe.
Again, heading into the international break and prior to the Liverpool game, Manchester United had the fifth highest Expected Goals (xG) to be scored in the Premier League. So, the lack of goals could be chalked down to underperformance of key stars like Marcus Rashford or injuries to the likes of Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba.
Or could it be the inexperience, lack of composure and perhaps, a lack of genuine quality upfront? A discussion in the Sky Sports post-game lounge between Graeme Souness and Gary Neville sparked a thought. Souness was right in stating that Manchester United need a goalscorer; one who can guarantee 20-30 goals a season.
But, Manchester United legend Neville was also right in stating that Ole isn’t looking for ‘just’ a goalscorer, evidenced by the departure of Romelu Lukaku, who was, despite his lack of ball controlling ability and first touch, a genuine and natural goalscorer.
Neville stated Ole wants someone like Son Heung-min or Roberto Firmino; basically, stars who can not only step up and contribute goals but also run into channels, bring others into play and lift the overall quality of build-up play at Manchester United.
But, perhaps a name he missed out on was Harry Kane. Kane was subsequently named by Roy Keane, who was also a part of the panel. So, we here, attempt to make sense of Roy Keane’s suggestion as to whether Ole wants someone like Kane and whether Kane is an achievable target.
The Ole Profile
Now, obviously, judging by how Ole has lined up his players so far, he wants to persist with a 4-2-3-1 or a pseudo 4-2-2-2. But, what is even more important is that all the four attacking options that Ole has opted to go for whenever he has the pick of the lot, are all mobile and flexible stars.
The likes of Jesse Lingard, Andreas Pereira, Daniel James, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford are perhaps, the primary set of players Ole wants to choose from. In case of unavailability or when in need of rotation, he opts to go for Mason Greenwood, Juan Mata, Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong and even Diogo Dalot in attack, to an extent.
But, the primary set is filled with players who can play all across the front four, can press high up the pitch and can use their agility to get past people. So, we can see clearly the profile Ole wants his attack to be filled with; a dynamic attack a-la Liverpool perhaps.
The Kane Analysis
To judge this, we have to examine Harry Kane’s play closely. Because, on paper, Kane is a natural finisher, which automatically puts him in a bracket that is not the one we inferred to above. So, to analyse, we have to see whether Kane fits the three traits we shortlisted in the primary set of players that Ole goes for in attack.
Kane isn’t as flexible as the current options at Manchester United in terms of position. But, the Englishman has played out wide at times for Tottenham and looked dangerous. In fact, some of his iconic goals have come via efforts from wide positions in or on the edge of the box. Kane also has a knack of going out wide to receive balls at times to enable Dele Alli and Son Heung-min.
High-intensity pressing is something that Mauricio Pochettino has employed in variables throughout his Tottenham managerial career. Kane might not be the best at pressing, but he does just enough to support others attempting to put pressure on the opposition in their own half.
Harry Kane played 21 passes against Bulgaria:
15 of those were successful
15 of those were forward
5 of those were key passes
4 were considered “big chances”
3 of those became assists
Not just a goalscorer. pic.twitter.com/V8NnA7IQvp
— bet365 (@bet365) October 14, 2019
Coming to agility, Kane might not be the most mobile forward. But, he has shown his pace at times, to get past opposition and to create enough room to eke out shots and goalscoring efforts.
So, in conclusion, we can say that Kane might not be an exact fit to the profile that Ole has chosen to go for so far at Manchester United. But, Kane is like a belt which needs an extra hole to fit onto your trousers. It may not be an exact fit, but it’s a fit nonetheless.
To continue with the analogy, wearing a belt that needed an extra hole to fit is better than not wearing a belt at all, right? You can never trust your trousers these days. Perhaps, a fitting analogy to the current Manchester United situation.
Ole needs a forward, but needs the qualities mentioned above. Kane has all those qualities but is not at the level his current options are at in those traits. Instead, what he lacks in those traits, he makes up and more for it in terms of the quality and level of finishing that he will add to the Manchester United attack.
“Go and get Kane from Spurs, it’s easy. What are you all staring at?” 😳
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) October 20, 2019
Bringing in Kane will not mean letting go of Ole’s philosophy. Rather, it would enhance it; for right now, the only thing stopping Ole’s United from getting results is the low conversion rate in front of goal.
The Realism Conundrum
Now, we have seen this situation all too often since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. David Moyes wanted Toni Kroos and Cesc Fabregas. United were linked with a host of stars under Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal. Ed Woodward has spent more time on targets that were unrealistic or unattainable in the last five years than on players who ‘wanted’ to come.
So, the first thing to validate is whether Tottenham are open to Kane’s sale. Daniel Levy is the big bad wolf in the negotiation sphere in football. But, Kane has come out and said he wants Tottenham to win trophies, hinting that ‘players’ might leave if Spurs fail to do so.
While he has never talked about himself leaving Spurs, it isn’t a farfetched notion. Kane is at the top of his game and at 26 years of age, all he’s got to show so far in terms of achievements are his Top Scorer badges from 2015-16 and the 2016-17 season.
Forwards have an average career life spanning to around 32 or 33 (barring anomalies like Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lionel Messi and a few others), which gives Kane a maximum of 6 years to add trophies to his cabinet.
The 2019-20 season could be the litmus test for Kane’s resolve. If Tottenham continue to struggle as they have so far and end the season without any credible trophies or title run, Kane might just decide to jump ship.
Now, there will be many top clubs vying for Kane, including the likes of Real Madrid, PSG and even Bayern Munich to an extent. Real Madrid have been perennial admirers of Kane. PSG have often gone for star players and Bayern Munich might need a replacement for Robert Lewandowski.
The Reciprocation Proposition
Kane is unlikely to move to any other club in London, leaving Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City as the options. Obviously, City is an enticing proposition, with Kane likely to go in and take the baton from Sergio Aguero. Liverpool could be in for him if Mohamed Salah decides to leave.
But, Manchester United are also in with a chance, given the fact that Woodward keeps repeating that Manchester United can do things in the market that other clubs cannot.
Manchester United are one of the iconic clubs in world football, not just England. Kane could be tempted with the prospect of leading the line of a club as big as United and being a part of a ‘New Challenge’ at Old Trafford.
Despite Manchester United’s struggles this season, one of the good points about their performance has been their displays against fellow big clubs, something that Tottenham have lacked for ages now.
A team cannot win a league title without defeating any or some of the big teams in the league, which is why Tottenham have struggled to mount a title challenge. A bump in his pay could also be a motivation for Kane. But, to get Kane, United would need Champions League football.
Without Champions League football, it is tough to envision Kane in a United shirt.
In conclusion, Harry Kane is not an ideal target for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but one who does fit his profile of attacking players. As far as the ‘realistic’ portion is concerned, it will depend on Tottenham’s success or lack of it this season.