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new era It’s time Manchester United axed Cristiano Ronaldo and rebuilt around Harry Kane

Summer is key for recruitment of young talent to bring trophies again

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Do Manchester United need to urgently turn a new leaf and build a new team this summer without Ronaldo? Photo: PA/Reuters

Do Manchester United need to urgently turn a new leaf and build a new team this summer without Ronaldo? Photo: PA/Reuters

Cris

Cris

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Do Manchester United need to urgently turn a new leaf and build a new team this summer without Ronaldo? Photo: PA/Reuters

Manchester United look like a mess. An apparent hotchpotch of unhappiness. A club where an opposition manager can pitch up at Old Trafford and accuse their players of not working hard enough, of cheating the system, as Ralph Hasenhuttl did after Southampton’s draw on Saturday.

Whether it is Mauricio Pochettino, Erik ten Hag or whoever, the new man in the dugout is going to need help when he arrives. Off the pitch but also on it. Despite the lavish spending, the squad are just not good enough and mistake after mistake has been made. They must be the most psychologically brittle team in the country.

As part of their recovery, United require a new leader, a new talisman. They still have some building blocks; the kernel of a decent young team. But they lack so much. They hoped that leader would be Cristiano Ronaldo but, unless there is the most extraordinary turnaround, that will not be the case.

In fact, let us cut to the chase. Edinson Cavani is going at the end of the season and Ronaldo should follow if a deal can be reached over his final 12 months. With a combined age of 72, they were never going to represent the future in any event.

It is an upheaval but it also presents an opportunity – specifically for Harry Kane. United have come close to trying to sign Tottenham’s centre-forward in the past, before ultimately deciding it was simply undoable, but this summer it really is now or never for them and for Kane.

At this point Tottenham and their fans will roll their eyes and maybe express anger at a column advocating the sale of their prize asset. Understandably so. They should not want to lose Kane, and especially to a club they are competing against. Besides, chairman Daniel Levy refused to sell last summer when Manchester City were ready to pay 130 million, so it will not be an easy deal. No one needs reminding that Spurs have their own issues.

Kane wanted to go. He made that clear. He even believed he had a gentlemen’s agreement with Levy. He has professed himself happy under Antonio Conte but is the head coach happy at Spurs? Their only chance of winning a trophy this season is the FA Cup and, as things stand, they will not even qualify for Europe next season; not even in the Europa Conference League.

They require a brave change as much as United and if Kane still wants to go, it means he has been unsettled at Spurs for at least two seasons – and possibly longer. That is long enough to keep an unhappy player, especially one who turns 29 in July when he will have less than two years left on his contract.

He may sign another deal, one that would effectively tie him to Spurs for the remainder of his career, but let us see. There must eventually come a temptation for Spurs to change the dynamic in their own squad and to use the money they can realise from the sale of Kane to help reshape things.

Levy reasoned it could not happen last year with the volatility around his struggles to hire Jose Mourinho’s replacement and the discontent that was still simmering over his decision to involve Spurs in the aborted European Super League. He evidently felt that losing Kane then was a step too far and there was logic in that.

Maybe this summer it will be different. Maybe it is time for Spurs to shift their focus and build their team with Son Heung-min as the main attacker because, if they do not qualify for the Champions League, it will be three seasons without being at Europe’s top table.

United’s priority, once the new manager arrives to replace interim appointment Ralf Rangnick, is midfield, where they will probably already have to replace Paul Pogba, whose contract is expiring, and there is a distinct lack of quality. Maybe they will concentrate their efforts on a move for West Ham’s Declan Rice and a transfer window of trying to sign the 23-year-old and Kane would obviously be difficult to execute, not least financially. But a new centre-forward has to be an absolute must and Kane would fit the bill.

He is not a leader in the sense that he is vocal or imposes his personality. But he is in the example he sets; the way he plays; the desire he has, the mentality and – crucially – his acceptance of fitting into a system. It is the reason Gareth Southgate selected him to lead England and be the cornerstone of a young team.

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The comparison with United is obvious, not least because of the crossover of players: Marcus Rashford, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw and Jadon Sancho. All were Kane’s team-mates at Euro 2020 and all will harbour ambitions to be alongside him in the squad for the World Cup.

Adding Kane to that cohort would appear a good fit. It is not about trying to copy what England did but to look at the blend and mix within the team and identify where the weaknesses are and how it can all be made more harmonious. A front three of Rashford, Kane and Sancho has real potential for club and country.

Will it happen? If Pochettino leaves PSG and is appointed at Old Trafford then a move for Kane is expected, while sources close to the player have indicated in the past that he would want to work with the Argentine again. Obviously there are a lot of moving parts to make this happen and that immediately casts doubt on any deal, but if United are decisive, and if they act early, then it increases the chances of the move finally being completed especially if, as expected, City have moved on to other targets. It clears the field.

Spurs will not want to strengthen a rival. If an offer comes from abroad it will be looked on far more favourably but there is a sense of an impending natural end for Kane at Spurs and maybe that new beginning will be at United. For their sake, they need to make it happen.

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