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Thursday, February 9, 2023

Victor Osimhen is the centre forward Man United need to become title challengers

In many ways, Manchester United’s derby win over Manchester City was a thesis statement for what Erik Ten Hag wants the Old Trafford outfit to be under his stewardship. United may have received some good fortune for Bruno Fernandes’ equalising goal, but they still deserved their victory. 

United were intelligent in their approach as they restricted City to just one shot on target. The hosts were incisive with possession when they had it, effectively exploiting the space in behind. But it was their discipline off-the-ball that was most impressive. Ten Hag’s fingerprints were all over the performance by Manchester United.

Even as United shone, though, their deficiency in the number nine position was clear. Anthony Martial started, but struggled through injury and was withdrawn at half time. Marcus Rashford is in exceptional goal-scoring form, netting eight times in his last seven appearances, but he is most effective on the left wing.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s tumultuous exit from Old Trafford left Manchester United short of an out-and-out centre forward. Wout Weghorst has arrived on loan from Burnley for the rest of the season, but the Netherlands international is merely a short-term solution. Ten Hag has still to find the focal point to build his United attack around in the long-term.

Victor Osimhen would fit the bill. The Nigerian has been linked with a move to Manchester United in the past with Osimhen scoring 12 times in just 14 appearances for Napoli this season. The 24-year-old would give United the sort of cutting edge they are currently lacking in front of goal. He would almost certainly improve their attacking output in the purest terms – goals.

Yet Osimhen’s value can only be quantified to such an extent. He is extremely mobile. The Nigerian is able to press from the front, link up play and run the channels. Osimhen is a goal-scorer, but he is also a modern centre forward in the way he operates up front. Manchester United are right to be interested.

Recent reports claim United would have to activate Osimhen’s €100m release clause to prise him from the hands of Napoli this summer. There are doubts over the club’s financial position as the Glazers look to sell the organisation, but €100m would represent significant market value for one of the best young strikers in the sport – United paid a similar amount for Antony last summer.

“Yes, we are aware we lost a striker, so I think we have to get a striker in, but it has to be the right one,” Ten Hag said before the signing of Weghorst. “The right one is a player that brings quality to the team, not just adding to the squad because that only gives you problems. And, you know the criteria is high here at Manchester United.”

Ten Hag surely looks at the impact made on United’s midfield by Casemiro since his arrival from Real Madrid last summer and can envisage how the right centre forward could similarly lift the level of his attack as a whole. Osimhen would likely get the best out of teammates such as Rashford, Antony, Alejandro Garnacho, Jadon Sancho and others.

Of course, there are other options. Benfica’s Goncalo Ramos, who scored a hat trick for Portugal at the 2022 World Cup, has also been linked with the Old Trafford. Mohammed Kudus is another name believed to be on Manchester United’s radar with the Ghanian well-known to Ten Hag following their time together at Ajax. 

However, neither Ramos nor Kudus fit the bill for Manchester United as perfectly as Osimhen does. The Old Trafford club has watched as its biggest rivals have spent big on world-class strikers in recent years – see the transactions involving Erling Haaland (City), Gabriel Jesus (Arsenal) and Darwin Nunez (Liverpool) in the last year alone.

United have invested in all other areas of their squad, but they have fallen short in the search for a new number nine, settling for short-term solutions over a genuine fix for the problem. A centre forward like Osimhen will cost a lot, but the idea is that they won’t have to fill that position again for a long time to come.

Ten Hag’s Manchester United are a work-in-progress, but they are clearly heading in the right direction on the basis of their recent performances. Signings like Casemiro and Lisandro Martinez have made a big difference at Old Trafford, but someone like Osimhen could help United take the next step in their development.

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