Man Utd have chosen Rasmus Hojlund over Harry Kane - is it the right transfer approach?

Manchester United have chosen the Atalanta forward as the man to lead the line in 2023/24, it’s a significant decision in many senses.
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When Manchester United and Erik ten Hag began mapping out their plans to sign a centre-forward, two names immediately jumped out as leading candidates.

Harry Kane was, and still is, the most attractive striker on the market - in the short term, at least. The Tottenham Hotspur forward was United’s preferred option, but the complexities in dealing with Daniel Levy, the expectation of a drawn-out transfer saga, and Spurs’ reluctance to negotiate with a Premier League rival forced United to look elsewhere.

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Victor Osimhen was identified as an alternative and, at 24, the striker is only expected to improve, following a 31-goal haul in 2022/23. Yet, United’s hopes were spurned again with Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis claiming Osimhen’s value was around the £170m mark, a figure United could not even come close to.

Other names such as Dusan Vlahovic or Lautaro Martinez were discussed, before the United hierarchy settled on the pursuit of Rasmus Hojlund. That the Red Devils plumped for a 20-year-old with just 2,551 minutes experience at top-end European football says much about the current state of the transfer market, and United’s shifting position in it.

Strikers will always be the most expensive assets, and a summer where United, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and potentially Real Madrid could be in need of a new no.9 means there’s real competition. It’s allowed Napoli and Spurs to dig their heels in on Kane and Osimhen, while Benfica have been able to quote a staggering fee for Gonacalo Ramos, as Eintracht Frankfurt have for Randal Kolo Muani.

Meanwhile, the emerging Saudi Arabia market has totally shifted the landscape in the transfer window, and suddenly United have interested buyers for Eric Bailly, Alex Telles and Anthony Martial, players they may usually have struggled to sell. The inability of European sides to match Al-Hilal’s £260m offer for Kylian Mbappe is another indication of how difficult signing a striker is proving to be. United and Bayern should be falling over themselves to purchase arguably the world’s best player, yet both have turned their attention to cheaper alternatives.

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For Ten Hag, there’s no denying that plan is a risk. Hojlund has enjoyed a meteoric rise in Denmark and Austria over recent years, before a solitary season in Italy where he started just 23 league games. Yet, it’s the Atalanta man who Ten Hag wants, ahead of a campaign where the Red Devils aim is to close the gap to the Premier League’s top sides.

It’s a move dictated by the market, finances, the shambolic Glazer ownership, the uncertain takeover process and the mistakes in previous transfer windows, which Ten Hag and co have been forced to address this summer. Yet, ironically, it could benefit United in the  long term.

Hojlund is widely seen as one of the brightest young strikers on the planet and, given time to assimilate into the United team, a fee of around £51m may be seen as a snip in years to come. There are even comparisons between the striker’s fledgling career and the early years of Erling Haaland’s journey to world superstar.

It’s also a marked change of approach from United, who have turned to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Odion Ighalo, Edinson Cavani, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wout Weghorst in recent times, due to a lack of forward planning. At 20, Hojlund could lead the line for the next decade, and help position Ten Hag to strike when Pep Guardiola eventually walks away from Manchester City.

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For all the ongoing issues at United, there is at least some acknowledgement that the club’s transfer approach has been flawed since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure, and attempts to address those inefficiencies have been made. Football Director John Murtough now works directly with Ten Hag concerning transfers, while he’s assisted by Andy O'Boyle, David Harrison and Darren Fletcher. United still lag behind the forward-thinking City, but it’s a start.

That Ten Hag also feels confident pursuing Hojlund is reflective of a manager unconcerned about losing his job if the 2023/24 campaign starts badly. The ex-Ajax manager is planning for the future but has already spoken of the need to improve this season, on last term’s third-place finish.

The arrival of Hojlund will help that, while there is still the possibility that United go back into the market for another striker before the window shuts. That could depend on the club’s ability to sell Martial, and Ten Hag has lost belief that the Frenchman can remain fit for an entire season.

But whatever options United have in the no.9 role come 2 September, the team need more goals if they’re to continue their development, with profligate finishing a common theme in the latter months of ‘22/23. Ten Hag has already addressed that concern in pre-season, and the ability to convert chances will define the upcoming campaign.

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Other than Haaland, there’s no better finisher than Kane, yet United have taken a different path. Only time will tell whether it could cost the Red Devils a chance at the title, or propel the team towards future silverware.

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