Forget Kane; Son is Man United’s no-brainer Spurs signing…

Date published: Wednesday 20th May 2020 8:00 - Matthew Stead


Son is the summer transfer from Tottenham that Manchester United should target…

A month after one newspaper columnist wrote that ‘it would be madness if they didn’t take a serious look at signing Harry Kane’, Chris Sutton became the latest ex-player to say that Harry Kane “won’t win anything at Tottenham and United need a top, top striker and he would fit perfectly”. It’s standard 2 + 2 football fare: big club + big player = perfect transfer. Never mind the £200m price tag. Never mind the dwindling returns. Never mind the injuries. ‘If there is a convincing argument to the contrary, I would like to hear it,’ wrote Ian Ladyman, but we have not heard back.

Rio Ferdinand was sensible enough to choose Jadon Sancho over Kane when quizzed this week on the usual Manchester United question, throwing in the names of Kalidou Koulibaly and Saul Niguez in an unimaginative list of the usual suspects. It was left to Peter Schmeichel to come up with a name that made you stop in your tracks, simultaneously thinking ‘well, yes, of course’ and ‘why the f*** did I not think of that before?’

Where Kane is fragile, Son is robust. Where Kane is diminishing, Son is growing ever stronger. Where Kane is a goalscorer, Son is a goalscorer and more. Where Kane is unattainable, Son is within reach. It would truly be madness if Manchester United didn’t take a serious look at signing Son Heung-min.

We can look at the numbers: 76 Premier League goals and assists since the summer of 2016; a goal every 180 minutes of Premier League football every season for three seasons; a likely fourth season in double figures for Premier League goals. Those statistics would be impressive for an out-and-out striker. For a player who more often starts from the flank, they are extraordinary.

We can look at the moments: The goal against Swansea as he rescued a title challenge; the wonderful individual strike against Chelsea; the three goals against Manchester City in the Champions League. He marries consistency with impact, inspiration and with an explosive turn of pace that kicks all national stereotypes about hard-working but limited east Asians hard in the face.

Too much is perhaps written about Son’s versatility and his attitude (though the last two years have hinted at on-pitch frustration bordering on nastiness) and too little about his technical ability, about his ability to produce a moment of truly fantastic football. As Jose Mourinho said after a ridiculous strike against Burnley this season: “Even before these goals, my son calls him Sonaldo – ‘Sonaldo Nazário’ and today he was Sonaldo Nazário because the only thing that came to my mind is the goal where I had the honour to see, sat next to Sir Bobby Robson.

“It was Compostela versus Barcelona, 1996 and Ronaldo Nazário got the ball from behind the midfield line and scored a very similar goal to Son. That was the first thing that came to my mind when I saw it, an amazing goal…”

It’s not often we have had to cause to credit Jose Mourinho in recent years, but it was incredibly refreshing to see Son compared to Ronaldo rather than Ji-Sung Park, to hear his name mentioned in conjunction with a truly great footballer rather than see him dismissed as an asset, as a ‘useful’ stand-in for Kane, as a servant who causes little trouble and usually delivers.

As a target for Manchester United, he would truly be a no-brainer and absolutely worth a diversion from the established path of buying young, British players. He will be 28 this summer but there is nothing in his statistics to suggest he is even vaguely slowing down. He is versatile and he is probably undervalued because of his nationality. Not cheap even in the midst of a financial crisis – we are still talking about Daniel Levy – but he would fall in the £70-80m bracket, which is less than half the price of a Kane.

In the middle ground between the failed marquee era and the future-proofing of buying young, ambitious players, Son sits perfectly with four years of Premier League excellence and the promise of at least another four to come. He would undoubtedly be a superstar if he wore the colours of Brazil and he would be worth over £100m if he wore the colours of England. Either might put him out of the range of a Manchester United side in the middle of a rebuild, but South Korea and Tottenham’s beloved Son might be exactly the bridge they need.

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