LONDON — At the end of a week in which Manchester City broke the Premier League transfer record by making Jack Grealish England’s first £100 million player, Leicester City’s 1-0 Community Shield victory over the champions at Wembley showed they may need to spend even more on Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane to give Pep Guardiola’s team a realistic chance of retaining their title this season.
Guardiola may have seen the irony in Leicester’s winning goal being scored by Kelechi Iheanacho, the Nigeria striker that the City manager determined in 2017 was surplus to requirements because he could not envisage him challenging Sergio Aguero or Gabriel Jesus for a first-team spot at the Etihad. City inserted a £50m buy-back clause in the £25m deal that took Iheanacho to the King Power Stadium and, with all-time record goal scorer Aguero allowed leave on a free transfer to Barcelona this summer and Jesus proving himself to be little more than a backup option in recent seasons, the 24-year-old is perhaps just the kind of forward that Guardiola needs in his squad right now.
When Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers needed to shake things up in the second half, he turned to Iheanacho as a substitute he knew was capable of making a difference, which he did by first winning (Iheanacho drew a clumsy foul from City defender Nathan Ake), and then scoring, the 89th-minute penalty that settled this curtain-raiser for the 2021-22 season.
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Guardiola had no such option on the champions’ bench. Aguero’s departure and Jesus’s extended summer break following Copa America duty with Brazil left the City manager without his two senior strikers from last season, but beyond those two, the locker was totally bare and he admitted after the game that it’s by no means guaranteed that he will be able to address the problem in the transfer market.
“No. It depends if it is possible,” Guardiola said. “If it is we do it, if not we go without a striker.”
City still have several players on holiday following summer international tournaments, but none of them are centre-forwards. By starting with a front three of Ferran Torres and raw teenagers Cole Palmer and Sam Edozie, Guardiola left nobody in any doubt that he has a huge hole to fill in his attacking options ahead of the season.
The City boss confirmed on Friday his interest in signing Kane, but he also admitted that a deal cannot be done if Spurs refuse to engage in negotiations. Sources have told ESPN that Spurs chairman Daniel Levy will not even come to the table unless City are prepared to pay £160m for the England captain, so that leaves Guardiola with a problem because his chairman, Khaldoon al Mubarak, believes that Kane’s true value is between £100m and £120m.
Whichever way you look at it, City’s and Tottenham’s valuation of Kane are both huge numbers, but this game highlighted just why City need him so badly and why Spurs have every right to hold out for their valuation.
City won the Premier League and Carabao Cup last season, and also reached the Champions League final, with Guardiola choosing to play without a recognised striker on many occasions. In the biggest game of all — the Champions League final defeat to Chelsea — Guardiola left both Aguero and Jesus on the bench, using Kevin De Bruyne as a false nine with Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling out wide.
But it would be bordering on reckless for City to head into this season without adding a world-class centre-forward to their squad, and that is why they may have to meet Tottenham’s huge valuation of Kane. Guardiola cannot rely on Jesus and Torres to shoulder the goal-scoring burden this season, while Palmer and Edozie are basically kids whose appearances are likely to be restricted to the early rounds of the domestic cup competitions.
Grealish, who made his City debut as a 65th-minute substitute for Edozie, will add goals and create plenty of chances for his new team, but without a proven goal scorer on the end of his assists, his talents will be wasted.
Kane is City’s No. 1 target up front. There is a potential interest in Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski as a contingency plan, but right now, it is all about landing Kane and this defeat against Leicester will enable Guardiola to make an even stronger case for his acquisition to Al Mubarak and chief executive Ferran Soriano.
Guardiola will tell his bosses that City keeper Zack Steffen had many more shots to save than his Leicester counterpart Kasper Schmeichel and that the champions were worryingly toothless in an attacking sense. He may also point out that Manchester United have bolstered their attacking options by signing Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund and that Chelsea are on the brink of re-signing Romelu Lukaku from Internazionale.
City’s rivals are getting stronger, and the gap will continue to narrow unless Guardiola can find a striker before the Aug. 31 transfer deadline.
They want Kane and Kane wants to move to City, so there is plenty of momentum behind a possible deal. But the happiest man watching this game would have been Spurs chairman Levy, because he will have seen that City really need Kane and, if they are to get him, they will have to go much closer to his valuation to have any hope of signing him.