First Lionel Messi, now Harry Kane. Manager Pep Guardiola is becoming accustomed to missing out on his top targets at Manchester City and, make no mistake, he will regard the failure to tempt Kane from Tottenham as being more damaging to his club’s hopes of success than the inability to persuade Messi to leave Barcelona for the Etihad Stadium 12 months ago.
Messi was always a vanity project for City — a chance to boost the club’s global popularity by landing arguably the greatest player of all time. Kane, though, was a necessity, and his decision to stay at Spurs leaves Guardiola with less than six days left in the transfer window to find somebody capable of scoring the goals that he had been expecting the 28-year-old to deliver this season.
City will try to move on quickly from the disappointment of Kane’s decision to abandon his attempts to leave Spurs for the Premier League champions, because they have to. With all-time club record goal scorer Sergio Aguero leaving City for Barcelona at the end of his contract earlier this summer, Guardiola has needed to find a world-class centre-forward to fill the void. Kane was the only serious candidate in the eyes of the City manager.
But despite making it clear as early as May that he wanted to leave Spurs in order to win major honours, a huge gulf between City and Spurs in the fee required to sign Kane has proved to be too wide to bridge — Spurs wanted £150 million, City were reluctant to go above £100m — and it has left last season’s Premier League winners scrambling around for alternatives in the final week of the transfer window.
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Thanks to City’s immense wealth due to their owner, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan, it would be foolish to write off their prospects of doing a big deal between now and next Tuesday’s 11 p.m. BST (6 p.m. ET) transfer deadline. But whoever they end up signing, it will not be Kane and it means that Guardiola’s blueprint for this season is in tatters.
No transfer is ever guaranteed to succeed, but Kane was as close to a nailed-on certainty as there is had he been able to force a move from Spurs to City. His incredible consistency in a Tottenham shirt has seen him score 20 or more Premier League goals in five of the last seven seasons. He hit 17 and 18 goals respectively in the two campaigns when he fell short of the 20 mark, so Guardiola and City know they could expect the same again, if not more, at the Etihad.
With a team that creates as many chances as City, feeding off crosses and passes from Kevin De Bruyne, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, Riyad Mahrez and many others, Kane would have seen his chances-per-game rocket in a blue shirt. And Guardiola would be assured of having a star player who knows the Premier League inside out, as well as one who is capable of playing in a three-man forward line, as a lone striker or even as a No. 10. Guardiola demands versatility from his players and Kane has that in abundance.
Aside from a habit of being sidelined at least once a season due to injury, it is difficult to find any downside to Kane as a player, which is why Guardiola was so determined to sign him as Aguero’s replacement. But having announced that he is now staying at Spurs, Kane has left City and Guardiola with a major problem. With Aguero gone and Gabriel Jesus not of the quality required to lead the line for City as a goal scorer, Guardiola must come up with Plan B — and fast.
So what are the options? Two obvious solutions have already been crossed off the list with Messi signing for Paris Saint-Germain and Romelu Lukaku leaving Inter Milan for Chelsea.
Had City known a month ago that Kane would stay at Spurs, it is inconceivable to think that they wouldn’t have used the funds set aside for him to make a move for Messi, but that ship has sailed. City could now enter the race for Kylian Mbappe, a player always rated highly by Guardiola, and attempt to hijack Real Madrid’s €160m move for the PSG forward, but Mbappe and Real have been flirting with each other for so long that it’s difficult to envisage him leaving Paris for anyone else.
Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland is another option, but Chelsea tried and failed to persuade the Norway forward, or his club, to the negotiating table this summer and all odds favour the 21-year-old staying at Signal Iduna Park for one more season and then triggering a reported €75m release clause when it becomes active in 2022.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus are both open to a move away from Turin this summer, but aside from the 36-year-old’s connection to Manchester United, it is debatable as to whether he does enough off the ball for a Guardiola team. Aside from versatility, Guardiola demands a high work ethic from all of his players. Ronaldo, for all of his goal scoring qualities, is not the type to drop deep or press the opposition defenders.
Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski is a potential option. Guardiola worked successfully with the Poland striker when he was manager at Bayern, and Lewandowski has hinted at moving away the Bundesliga champions. At 33, he still has plenty to offer and will contribute goals and work-rate wherever he goes, but City may shy away from paying a big fee for a player in his early 30s.
So that leaves Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Lautaro Martinez — two players who are both available due to their clubs, Arsenal and Inter, needing to raise cash for signings.
Aubameyang, at 32, is a high earner but a proven Premier League goal scorer, while Martinez has impressed with Inter and would likely have signed for Barcelona last year but for the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic
At 24, Martinez would be a better long-term option, but Aubameyang is a ready-made Premier League striker with a proven record, although he is in the Ronaldo bracket when it comes to work rate. But that is the problem that City is left with after Kane’s decision to stay at Spurs. They need a solution, but none of them are as close to perfect as Kane would have been.
Without a striker, City will struggle to retain the Premier League title or win the Champions League. The stakes are high, and Kane has left them with precious little time to do anything about it.
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