When Manchester United qualified for the Champions League at the close of last season, their fans would have been thrilled if you’d told them Harry Kane would be on the field for their first game back in the competition. Those same supporters will be less happy to see the England captain line up against them in a Bayern Munich shirt tonight (Wednesday 20th September).
Kane leaving Tottenham Hotspur had looked inevitable for a long time. Manchester City had been interested but instead opted for Erling Haaland and have never looked back. Real Madrid were a possible destination at one stage too, but Los Blancos appear to be marking time until Kylian Mbappe finally joins.
Meanwhile, the Red Devils had always been linked with the Spurs superstar. With their two affluent rivals out of the way, it looked like United would have a clear run at signing Kane. Not a moment too soon either. With Wout Weghorst’s goal-light loan from Burnley ending and Cristiano Ronaldo long gone, the club desperately needed a striker. The injury-prone Anthony Martial was the only out-and-out frontman in the squad, with Marcus Rashford being more effective on the left flank.
But United’s recruitment department, led by new transfer negotiator Matt Hargreaves, quickly decided Kane would not be pursued. Spurs chairman Daniel Levy is known to be a determined negotiator at the best of times and he certainly wouldn’t have relished losing his best player to a top four rival. Sensing a long and expensive negotiation that could have left them empty-handed, United moved on.
Instead of Kane they secured the signing of 20-year-old prospect Rasmus Hojlund from Atalanta. While the £72 million fee was a considerable outlay, it is far less than the £100 million Bayern paid to snare Kane. That fee could see the Bundesliga side pay up to £20 million more in add-ons.
United needed to strengthen and did so with the signings of Andre Onana, Mason Mount, Sofyan Amrabat, Altay Bayindir and Sergio Reguilon. Were such widespread changes not needed, perhaps United could have stumped up the full price for Kane. But it simply wasn’t realistic to focus so much of the budget on one player with the squad needing a number of improvements.
They may not have expected to feel the full weight of that decision so soon. Bayern will be United’s first Champions League outing of the season. It is about as undesirable an opener as the Red Devils could have asked for. The German giants are unbeaten in 34 Champions League group games, winning 13 of them in a row. Both of these statistics are competition records. You have to go back to 2009 to find the last time they did not score at least one goal in a group stage match.
This would be intimidating enough were United in-form. But Erik ten Hag’s side is far from that. They have won two and lost three of their Premier League outings so far this season, including consecutive defeats in their most recent two games. The team has lacked cohesion, with even their best players of last season struggling to recreate their best form. Casemiro has looked a shadow of his former self while Rashford is struggling for confidence. Bruno Fernandes is still searching for the talismanic streak he finds when at his best. Meanwhile, the 20-time English champions are missing a number of key players.
Antony is unavailable as he remains on a leave of absence while he deals with a number of abuse allegations made against him. Raphael Varane, Harry Maguire, Sofyan Amrabat, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Kobbie Mainoo, Mason Mount and Luke Shaw are all out injured. Jadon Sancho is out of the team after a social media post he wrote publicly questioned Ten Hag. A full-strength United would be underdogs against Bayern. A vastly depleted one barely stands a chance.
It will be cruelly poetic if Kane was to be the one to put United to the sword. One wonders how they would be doing now if they had signed the then-Spurs striker. After all, Kane’s 30 goals in 38 Premier League games last season came in a poor Tottenham side. Would the 30-year-old have elevated this mis-firing United side and helped steer them through their mass of absences?
We’ll never know. Kane is certainly a weapon United could have done with when facing a club of Bayern’s stature. Instead, he will line up for the Bundesliga kings against a Red Devils side at their lowest ebb. It is a game that could have dire consequences for a United team already low on confidence. It does not feel like an exaggeration to say this could be a season-defining game for the Old Trafford club.
Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. Ten Hag’s men are back in Europe’s premier competition. They find themselves pitched against one of the best teams in the Champions League. A victory would transform the feeling around the club. But a defeat could send them further into the abyss. It’s a huge start to their Champions League campaign as they prepare to meet a familiar face who could have worn a different shade of red this season
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change