“Manchester United plot £90 million Harry Kane transfer bid.”
And there it was. Just two days after the fan protest that forced Manchester United’s game against Liverpool to be postponed, out came the inevitable transfer story.
It’s a trick almost as old as the game itself: face a tough situation; leak a transfer story.
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Of course, it’s not just United who use or have used such a ploy. See all of those Arsenal “transfer war chest” stories during Wenger’s tenure - many that just so appeared to come out in and around the week of season ticket renewals - as another example.
But the Glazers are very much mistaken if they think that a suggested move - or even an actual move - for Kane will be enough to suppress the mood of unrest amongst the supporters. And not least because £90m would barely buy Kane’s dogs, let alone one of the best strikers in the world.
Sunday’s protests went far deeper than just a dissatisfaction at a lack of success and spending at Old Trafford. In fact, spending has barely been the issue – United have spent well over a billion pounds on players since 2010, second only to Man City and Chelsea in transfer outlay.
It’s the lack of buy-in that has upset the supporters, the sense of a club at a standstill, being stripped of its financial and footballing advantages by owners who have limited interest in matters on the pitch. All of which was encapsulated in the Glazers’ leading role in trying to force through the European Super League.
One story about trying to sign the England captain isn’t going to change how their tenure is perceived. Particularly when fans return to an increasingly ramshackle Old Trafford, where flaking paintwork and tired concourses offer reminders of the owners’ perceived attitude towards the club.
All of this leaves manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in a tricky position, one he tried to negotiate when speaking to the assembled media ahead of Thursday’s Europa League semi-final second leg against Roma.
“The last few weeks have been tough,” admitted Solskjaer, who also briefly mentioned a personal apology from the Glazers.
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“Sometimes frictions and challenges can move things forward,” the United boss added. “I know our fans want a team that is likeable, playing attacking football, scoring goals, winning trophies and being humble — that can identify back with them. My job is the results. We want to get back to winning trophies, we haven't won for a while and that's something we're working on.”
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For Solskjaer, the best job he could do for his club’s owners right now is to lead the team to a major trophy. And, with United 6-2 up against Roma after the first leg of their semi-final, he will surely have a chance to do that in the Europa League final later this month.
As for Kane, he may well leave Tottenham this summer if his comments last week are anything to go by. The striker, speaking after picking up another individual gong at the London Football Awards, told reporters that: "as much as this is great, I want to be winning the biggest team prizes”. Those are the sort of comments that tabloid headline writers describe as a ‘come-and-get-me plea’.
But Kane has three years left on his contract at Tottenham. And at 27 years old he is not yet the sort of over-the-hill forward that United have signed up with remarkable regularity of late.
Still very much among the leading forwards in world football, Kane is both the top scorer in the Premier League and the top assist maker; it’s going to take an awful lot more than £90m for Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy to let the team’s best player and biggest asset go.
But whether winning the Europa League or signing Kane would be enough to distract from the owners’ handling of the club is doubtful at this stage. It feels very much like the smokescreen era is over at United; it’ll take major changes for the Glazers to get over this.
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