Manchester United’s pursuit of Harry Kane demonstrates that the club is already preparing for life beyond Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo turned back the clock with a magnificent hat-trick on Saturday, sealing a thrilling 3-2 victory for Manchester United over Tottenham in the race for fourth place. Ronaldo’s 59th hat-trick of his illustrious career became him the most prolific scorer of all time, with 807 goals, and brought his season total to 18.
Only Mo Salah has scored more Premier League goals than Ronaldo this season, but the United leadership is well aware that its legendary No.7 is expected to depart this summer, following a lone season at Old Trafford in his second spell. While Kane’s arrival is far from likely and will cost United a record fee in the region of £120 million, interim manager Ralf Rangnick – who will step down as a consultant this summer – has already stated that a new striker is a priority.
Ronaldo is unlikely to accept the role of backup to Kane or anyone United recruit to spearhead their attack, which means the 37-year-old is certain to leave Old Trafford this summer after reminding the club of his enduring class. For United fans who want to see Ronaldo stay for another season, the best scenario would be for him to be accommodated into the same team as Kane, who could slide into a somewhat deeper role than his customary No.9 position.
But that is a pipe dream, not least because United’s new manager would have to consider where to put Bruno Fernandes, who, despite a terrible season, is arguably the most accomplished No.10 at Old Trafford, while Kane and Ronaldo would both want to be the main man upfront.
With Edinson Cavani almost certain to depart this summer, Ronaldo’s departure would allow United’s incoming manager — whether Mauricio Pochettino, Erik ten Hag, or someone else – to entirely rebuild the forward line. With Jadon Sancho now thriving and living up to his £73 million transfer fee, Fernandes deployed in the No.10 role, and Anthony Elanga indicating he may secure a permanent spot next season, the only significant question mark for United is who will lead the line.
With Erling Haaland on the verge of joining Manchester City from Borussia Dortmund, Kane is the clear choice for United. While City was unsuccessful in their pursuit of Kane last summer, the 28-year-old will have only two years remaining on his contract this summer, effectively forcing Spurs to offer him a new contract or sell their best asset.
Ronaldo’s hat-trick demonstrated that he can still turn it on at the highest level, but with United unlikely to qualify for the Champions League next season – Ronaldo will not want to play in the Europa League – and a squad rebuilds the priority for the incoming permanent new manager, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner would almost certainly find himself marginalized if he chose to stay.
United has identified four areas that need to be strengthened this summer: a striker, a holding midfielder, and full-backs on both sides. Whether or not Kane is the guy who will lead United’s attack into a new era this summer, it appears that Ronaldo will not be that man.