Tuesday’s Champions League clash between Napoli and AC Milan almost played out like a trailer ahead of a summer blockbuster. We saw snippets of our principles. Box office gold Victor Osimhen in blue and Rafael Leao in red and black. The latter’s searing 70-yard run and assist for Olivier Giroud gave his side the lead on the night. The former drew level with an injury-time header, even though it was too late to save his team. But as a teaser ahead of the summer transfer window, it was richly cinematic.
Osimhen and Leao are likely to be on numerous European shopping lists this summer. The two forwards, Osimhen more central while Leao is a wide man who can moonlight in the middle, have everything you want from the modern attacker. Pace, explosion, finishing ability, adaptability. They are also each in possession of a certain je ne sais quoi. In a world of conformity, each one is a purveyor of football fantasy. If those around them are the stagnant churn of a planet getting to grips with the hollow limits of AI technology, Osimhen and Leao are pure flesh and bone. Flawed, visceral and real.
You’d think that Serie A giants Napoli and AC Milan will be able to name their price when it comes time to move the pair on. You can probably count on one hand the teams that wouldn’t be improved by Osimhen or Leao. Not only could the battle to sign them define the summer transfer window, but it could also have a butterfly effect. While the great and the good of European football chase the two Italy-based superstars, clubs could get a clear run at another, more established forward. While everyone else sprints towards Osimhen and Leao, Manchester United in particular could jog unchallenged towards Harry Kane.
Erik ten Hag’s interest in the Tottenham Hotspur striker is well-documented. While United’s name is chucked in with Leao and Osimhen too, as it is with any high-profile player who might be on the move, the Kane interest stands up. In the past it had looked like United would lose the battle for the England captain’s signature to Manchester City. But Pep Guardiola can call upon the considerable talents of Erling Haaland now. The Cityzens aren’t the only major suitor that needs Kane less than you might think.
Liverpool won’t be involved in any race for the player’s signature. Attack is probably the one area where the Merseyside club actually has strength in depth right now. Kane would probably thrive in a front line that featured two of Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez, Cody Gakpo, Luis Diaz and Diogo Jota. But given the creaky nature of the Anfield midfield and defence, adding to the frontline would be money poorly spent.
Arsenal are probably out given the fact Kane is a Spurs man through and through. If he does leave he won’t want to scupper his legacy at the club that made him a legend. Arsenal have been mentioned in the Leao debate, as have Chelsea. Given the fact that Todd Boehly’s west London madhouse has spent £600 million in a season, you wouldn’t think the mammoth outlay it would take to prise Kane away from Daniel Levy is forthcoming.
If you look further afield, Barcelona have their own version in Robert Lewandowski. They also must surely be running out of financial levers to pull. Real Madrid could go in for him, but only if Karim Benzema is ready to accept a reduced role. Even then, they are perhaps more likely to go back in for Kylian Mbappe or chance their arm with Osimhen, as is rumoured. A move to Italy would be seen as a step back, rightly or wrongly, and Paris Saint-Germain is too star-laden to accommodate a player like Kane who is used to being the top dog at Spurs.
This sounds like United should only sign Kane through a process of elimination. Quite the opposite. In fact the Old Trafford hierarchy should ensure they seize upon these circumstances to get the deal done. Because Kane at United makes too much sense for all involved not to happen.
Think back to the 2012/13 season, when a less star-studded United side than usual lifted the final Premier League title on Sir Alex Ferguson’s career. The standout performer of that campaign was a 29-year-old striker acquired that summer by the name of Robin van Persie. He was signed as a player for the here and now. Ferguson was aware that he was not a player for the ensuing decade. It was a case of adding instant, hit-the-ground-running Premier League quality to the side.
Kane would function in the same way. A player who knows the league and what it takes to be successful within it. He is not a flavour of the month with which fans have got carried away. Kane’s quality is undoubted and doesn’t appear to be waning. If Ten Hag could get two seasons out of England and Tottenham’s record scorer at his current level then trophies would surely follow. They are the element that has been missing from Kane’s career so far. While you sense the little boy inside Kane would stay at Spurs forever, his empty medal drawer might be shouting a bit louder than his inner child at this point.
Kane, Leao and Osimhen will see their names printed a thousand times this coming summer. United, City, Real, Chelsea, Bayern and the rest will experience similar. A-listers sell newspapers and harvest clicks. But with their fellow giants perhaps more preoccupied with raiding Serie A, United should look to get the Kane deal done quickly. He’s the sort of player that won’t be at Old Trafford for a long time, but he could bring the fans that fill it one hell of a good time.
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