If signing a new striker in the January transfer window was previously seen as a possibility for Manchester United, it now needs to be seen as a priority.
When they return to action next month, Anthony Martial will be the only recognised central attacking option, and they could be without the services of Marcus Rashford and Antony, depending on how far their respective nations get in the World Cup.
Even if they have their wingers back, the forward line looks thin. Martial has already suffered three separate injuries this season and can’t be relied upon as a long-term option; Cristiano Ronaldo will most likely never play for the club again; and youngster Charlie McNeill is still too raw a talent to be thrown in at this stage in his career.
Sources have told the Manchester Evening News that United are continuing to compile long and shortlists of targets as part of their recruitment process, with signing a striker the priority for next year.
There was already a growing clamour among the United fanbase to sign a forward in the January transfer window before Ronaldo’s interview, but the club’s preference has always been to start the next phase of their rebuild in the summer.
United’s dilemma is that the entire season could well be dictated by whether or not they manage to sign a new forward at the start of next year, but signing a top target midway through the campaign looks near impossible and would likely involve a fee far beyond a player’s true value.
Victor Osimhen is one of the leading targets for United at this stage, but he is the perfect example of a player they would have problems trying to sign midway through the season. The Nigerian forward has 10 goals in 14 appearances for Napoli, who are top of Serie A and into the Champions League knockout rounds.
Then there is Cody Gakpo, who netted the first of the Netherlands’ late double against Senegal on Monday and who was a target for United this past summer too.
The 23-year-old already has 13 goals and 17 assists in 24 appearances this season, and given the success of other former Eredivisie players on the United side under Erik ten Hag, those figures aren’t to be sniffed at.
Gakpo remains of interest to United as they go in search of signing a new forward next year, but they might need to be quick to pounce on him if he continues his scoring streak at the World Cup.
“I was close to leaving, I spoke to Erik ten Hag a few times at Manchester United,” he revealed earlier in the year. “In the end, the deal didn’t go through, which was a shame, for me and my development, and because Manchester United is one of the biggest clubs in the world.”
United’s dilemma is that Gakpo still falls short of their expectations for a natural centre-forward who can front their attacks and serve as the primary focal point in attack.
All but one of his appearances at club level this season have come when starting on the left wing, though he has often drifted into central areas as part of a fluid forward line that focuses on mobility and movement to bamboozle defences.
If that is the profile of attacker that Ten Hag wants, then there are few in better form than the Dutch forward in world football right now, but if it is a traditional central striker, then they might need to look elsewhere.
The success of United’s summer signings, as well as Gakpo’s own remarkable form this season, have certainly strengthened Ten Hag’s hand when it comes to recommending players for them to sign.
It seems certain that Gakpo will be on the move next year, but if United want a natural striker, he might not be the perfect fit.