It’s the worst-kept secret that Manchester United are once again on the hunt for a proven goalscorer to come in and lead the line for Erik ten Hag’s side.
Last summer, United chased big hitters like Harry Kane and Victor Osimhen but the two proved elusive. Kane went on to join Bayern Munich, where he has since taken to life like a duck to water. Osimhen on the other hand, elected to remain at Napoli, where he recently signed a new deal to extend his stay at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium.
United and Ten Hag went for the next best thing – a young, hungry and insanely talented goalscorer in the form of Rasmus Hojlund.
The Red Devils forked out a hefty £64 million to prise Hojlund away from Atalanta’s tight grip.
The young Dane has shown extremely positive signs. Before United’s elimination from the Champions League and Europe altogether, he bagged five goals in the competition – the current joint-most alongside other players like Erling Haaland (Manchester City), Alvaro Morata (Atletico Madrid) and Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid).
Hojlund took his time to break his duck in the Premier League, but he eventually opened his goalscoring account in England’s top flight in sublime fashion – a match-winning goal during a comeback victory against Aston Villa on Boxing Day.
He registered his second in the league during United’s most recent game against Tottenham Hotspur with a stunning finish that saw him send the ball into the roof of the net. At the moment, Hojlund is United’s top scorer with seven goals across all competitions – a very impressive return for a 20-year-old still learning his craft in the most difficult league in the world while playing for one of the globe’s biggest and most famous sporting brands.
However, it’s clear Hojlund still needs help. It’s been repeatedly mentioned that Ten Hag wants to secure the services of an experienced talisman to share some of the goalscoring burden currently on the shoulders of the club’s number 11.
United have been linked to players like Karim Benzema, Mauro Icardi, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Brian Brobbey, Joshua Zirkzee and of course, Ivan Toney.
All would make excellent additions to the ranks at Old Trafford at least on paper but one name stands out above the rest – Toney.
A case for Toney to be United’s main striker target
Toney’s numbers speak for him and his incredible ability as one of the best in the business.
Last season, the Brentford man managed 20 goals and four assists in 33 Premier League appearances. For context, only Haaland and Kane managed to score more than him.
He was factually – at least based on the numbers – the Premier League’s third-best striker last term.
Toney’s 2023/24 campaign got off to a horror start after he was handed an eight-month ban for a betting offence. He was found guilty of breaching Premier League gambling regulations and was sidelined for a lengthy period of time.
During his last match against Liverpool at Anfield before being suspended at the beginning of May, Brentford went into the game in ninth position and would finish the season 25 points clear of the bottom three.
Fast forward to Saturday’s clash vs. Nottingham Forest in which Toney made his long-awaited return to competitive action after 259 days and Brentford went into that clash 16th and three points clear of the relegation spots, although with a game in hand and in the knowledge that two of their immediate rivals in the fight against the drop, including Forest, could be facing points deductions.
The story that always seemed inevitable played out – Toney, who was handed the armband by Thomas Frank, led the Bees to their first win in 49 days, effectively lifting Brentford above Forest and Crystal Palace in the Premier League standings.
At the Gtech Community Stadium vs. Forest, Brentford looked like a side that had received a new lease of life. Their attacks seemed more coordinated and lethal.
Toney himself needed just 19 minutes to make his mark by getting on the score sheet, albeit controversially. He scored from a free kick to end a skid of five straight Premier League losses for his side.
Such was the level of just how sorely he was missed by both his teammates and the fans. He repaid them with instant impact.
He spoke after the game and said, “It means a lot [his goal]. A long time coming. I manifested this [during] the time I was out, and I’m here now. I’m just buzzing to be back and scoring goals and playing for the team.”
“I manifest things like this. And before I left my house I thought, ‘Yeah, we’re winning today and I’m scoring.’ And I made it happen, so it’s good.”
Brentford boss Thomas Frank said, “He’s a man for the big occasions. He is. He doesn’t feel the pressure.”
It’s that profile of striker that United need, for a club that harbours ambitions of fighting for top honours and returning to former glories.
Toney is already showing that he can have an impact at the very highest level, as evidenced by his exploits against Forest after such a trying period in his career and personal life. To come back and play as he did requires guts and some arrogance that characterises all great United players.
Beyond his character and mentality, he also possesses the skill set and attributes that would render him a smashing success at Old Trafford.
Earlier this year, Thomas Frank said about Toney soon after he was named in England’s squad for March’s Euro 2024 qualifiers, “He has got all the abilities. His link-up play, his finishing, timing in the box and awareness, so I am sure he will score goals in the Premier League.”
The goals have certainly not been an issue but he offers so much more. He’s very adept at linking up play and holding the ball to bring his teammates into the action. Along with his link-up skillset, he also boasts of a top-quality final ball that cuts through the defensive line. He is a specialist at picking apart a high line, by playing through either his striking partner or runners from deep positions.
The 27-year-old also offers an aerial threat that would be an asset for United both offensively and defensively. He is a set-piece expert who’s excellent at much more than dispatching penalties.
He is a master at corner and free-kick routines – an aspect of the game United are poor at. He can also score free kicks, as seen by his goal against Forest on Saturday.
Even more impressive about Toney is his ability to get out of tight spaces either by using his large frame or by leveraging his wonderful technical ability on the ball.
His ball striking is perfect, which is needed for a world-class striker. This particularly helps him when attempting to shoot from obscure angles. Often, he is able to either find the back of the net or register a shot on target. He is also very clinical and hardly wastes the chances created for him.
Toney is very athletic and at 5’10 (which appears deceptive), he has proven he can adequately meet the physical demands of the Premier League.
He is certainly the most obvious and outstanding striker option for United. One important thing to note is that, unlike foreign targets who may require time to settle into the Premier League or adapt to the pace of English football, Toney is already accustomed to it. Should he arrive at Old Trafford, he’ll most likely hit the ground running. Even better is that at 27, he seems to be entering his prime years. There is more to come from him.
He recently opened up about his future and admitted that he would like to move to a big club – a call United should be scrambling to heed.
The talisman said, “You can never predict when is the right time to move elsewhere, but I think it’s obvious I want to play for a top club. Everybody wants to play for a top club, that is fighting for titles.”
“Whether it’s this January that is the right time for a club to come in and pay the right money, who knows?”
United and Toney are indeed a match made in heaven. It’s up to the club to do everything possible to bring him in ahead of rival outfits.