11:15 AM BST
Mark OgdenSenior Writer, ESPN FC
It was typical Roy Keane: blunt, perhaps a little unrealistic, and demanding of only the very best, regardless of what it takes to get it.
Speaking in his role as a Sky Sports pundit following Manchester United’s 1-1 draw against Liverpool at Old Trafford on Sunday, the club’s former captain suggested that the solution to their goal-scoring problems would be to sign Harry Kane from Tottenham. “Just go and get Kane from Spurs,” he said. “Easy. They [Spurs] are in disarray. Go get him.”
Keane then appeared incredulous when his studio colleagues — Gary Neville, Graeme Souness and Jose Mourinho — looked at him in silence. “What are you all staring at?” he said. “He’d scored 20 goals a season with his eyes shut. Go and get him.”
Keane was serious, but there was also a hint of mischief about his comments. Maybe the Irishman knows that United are simply no longer capable of landing the biggest names like they used to, but was throwing it out there, regardless.
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Back in the days when Keane ruled the roost at United, the club would regularly sign the best players in the country. United may have twice missed out on Alan Shearer during the 1990s, but they broke the British transfer record to sign Andy Cole from Newcastle in 1995, Rio Ferdinand from Leeds in 2002 and an 18-year-old Wayne Rooney from Everton two years later.
During Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign, United also pulled off the signing of Robin van Persie from Arsenal in 2012 and were prepared to engage in lengthy battles with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy before completing big money deals for Michael Carrick and Dimitar Berbatov. All of which resulted in plenty of silverware.
If this was the old United, a world-record move for Kane would be the obvious next step for a club in desperate need of a talisman and goal scorer to breathe new life into the team.
Since the start of this season, United have only scored more than one goal in a game once — when they hit four past Chelsea on the opening weekend. Meanwhile, Kane has already netted five goals in nine Premier League games for Spurs this season, with another two in the Champions League.
Even in a team that is struggling almost as badly as United, the 26-year-old is still able to find his way to goal as consistently as he has always done. He has scored 122 goals in his last five full Premier League seasons — 10 more than Manchester City star Sergio Aguero over the same period — making Kane the most consistent goal scorer of his generation.
The England captain would be a transformative signing for United should they actually pull it off. He would bring goals and leadership, his presence as centre-forward would enable Marcus Rashford to play in his favoured position on the left of a front three, while he would also be the signing that could unlock the best of Paul Pogba, giving the French midfielder a similarly high-profile teammate who puts the finishing touch to his creativity.
Even with a midfield that is in desperate need of reinforcements, signing Kane would instantly take United to another level and make them capable of scoring more than once in a game again.
But here comes the reality check, both for Keane and anyone else who thinks that Kane can be United’s saviour: Manchester United, for all of their history and wealth, are no longer the attractive destination they once were for the best players.
Kane may be reaching the stage in his career where he has to decide whether his best chance of winning major honours will come at Spurs or elsewhere, but if he does choose to move on, it is doubtful that Old Trafford would even be in the top five of his preferred options.
There is too much uncertainty hovering over United for Kane to even consider a move to the Premier League’s most successful club. Most notably the question marks over Pogba’s future and that of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who, despite the public backing of executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, will come under increasing pressure if results continue to leave United in the bottom half of the table.
The United of old, of Keane’s era, would have made Kane their No. 1 target. A £200 million move for the Premier League’s top striker would have been their catalyst for a rise back to the top.
United are not the force they once were, but if they are serious about reversing their fortunes, perhaps they should heed their former captain’s advice and be bold enough to make Spurs, and Kane, an offer they can’t refuse.