Manchester United need another forward next season, irrespective of whether Odion Ighalo joins the club on a permanent short-term contract following a successful loan.
Ighalo has done everything that has been asked of him at Old Trafford, providing important relief in European and domestic cup games. Those demands wouldn’t change in 2020/21, yet he would still retain an important role within the squad.
However, with Marcus Rashford primarily a wide forward operating from the left – despite the bizarre and consistent media misconception that he’s actually a central striker – United are still too light up front. That has been highlighted by the fact that Anthony Martial has missed games through injury this season, while it is unreasonable to put too much pressure on Mason Greenwood.
A longer term option will suit United more than Edinson Cavani, for example, who will be a free agent next month. There would also be little gain in United paying an inflated fee for a player like Raul Jimenez, 29 this month, who is unlikely to improve further. Harry Kane will be too expensive.
It is why focus has generally been on younger talents as part of the ongoing rebuild.
Erling Haaland ticks all the right boxes, but persuading the Norwegian to turn his back on Borussia Dortmund mere months after choosing them ahead of United seems overly ambitious.
There are other options, however. Lyon forward Moussa Dembele also appears to tick a lot of boxes and there are rumours that he is both ‘under consideration’ by the club and is in turn ‘impressed’ by the prospect of joining. He will turn 24 in July, but could potentially offer a lot.
Dembele’s goal return has been impressive in recent years, having netted 20 times in all competitions last season and reaching 22 before the 2019/20 French season was abandoned as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Frenchman also has prior experience of English and British football, having previously enjoyed spells at Fulham and Celtic. He scored 15 times in the Championship for the former in 2015/16 while still a teenager, and plundered 32 goals in the latter’s remarkable 2016/17 campaign.
Dembele cost Lyon just shy of £20m in 2018 and interest would mean negotiating with the Ligue 1 club’s notorious president, Jean-Michel Aulas. Even though Aulas said in February that Lyon will sell players who want to leave to clubs they want to join, Sky Sports reported recently that Dembele will only be allowed to go if a buying clubs meets his €100m (currently £88m) valuation.
90min has previously explained that United are prioritising the captures of Jadon Sancho, Jack Grealish and Jude Bellingham. A new striker would therefore be expenditure on top of that and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward warned in late April even the Old Trafford club, while better equipped than most, is not immune from the financial impact of coronavirus.
“There’s a big disconnect between stories [about hundreds of millions worth of transfers] and the economic realities facing football clubs in general,” Woodward explained.
“Clearly it’s true we are fortunate to be in a strong financial position compared to many clubs, but we are not immune from the financial impact of what this virus is doing.”
Financial impact may force Lyon to lower their asking price, but even then it seems a stretch for United to complete a deal and still manage to land their other more important targets.
Football transfers are often as much centred on opportunism as anything else, and if the appropriate opportunity to sign Dembele isn’t there then he isn’t the right choice for United.
However, there is another player who might be. That is Celtic starlet Odsonne Edouard, a player already considered by some to be a better all-round forward than Dembele anyway.
Edouard was the man who effectively replaced Dembele at Celtic, joining the club on loan from Paris Saint-Germain in 2017 and then permanently a year later when Dembele left.
The 22-year-old has found his feet in Scotland and had scored 28 times in all competitions this season, which is expected to be called off rather than resume. That is on top of 22 last season.
Interest from an ambitious Leicester, and a manager in Brendan Rodgers who already knows him well, is a good sign that he's ready to make the leap, with the Foxes determined to become a regular Champions League club - they were third in the Premier League when football was halted.
Edouard is a couple of years younger than Dembele and so has that extra development potential, while signing players from Celtic is much more affordable than signing them from Lyon. Consider the £20m Lyon snagged Dembele for compared to the near £90m they could ask for now.