Neil Humphreys: Only Harry Kane can save Manchester United
England striker offers greater consistency
Manchester United always had a knack for signing the right forwards at the right time.
Some were obvious choices, like Ruud van Nistelrooy and Robin van Persie.
Others were obvious with the benefit of hindsight. Eric Cantona and Teddy Sheringham both looked a natural fit, but only after joining the club.
And one or two were entertaining gambles on cult heroes. Zlatan Ibrahimovic brought a swagger of arrogance to a brittle club. And Henrik Larsson managed to guide an unsteady ship towards title-winning waters in just 13 appearances.
As much as the Theatre of Dreams likes to push its romantic tales from the academy, clever recruitment usually made the difference up front.
For every Class of 92, there was a Wayne Rooney. And for Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood, there needs to be a Harry Kane.
United's Europa League exit pinpointed the underlying difference between the current squad and successful dynasties of old. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side did not underperform. They just underwhelmed in front of goal.
Europa League semi-finalists rarely produce 20 shots on target and yet United did. Somehow, they squandered the lot, apart from Bruno Fernandes' penalty.
A similar story played out in the quarter-final against Copenhagen. Decent possession was rewarded with another Fernandes penalty goal.
Across the two games, United fashioned 46 shots. But their inability to score once from open play is an indictment of poor recruitment over many years and a slight misreading of Sir Alex Ferguson's template for success.
Solskjaer likes to wave his membership card to Fergie's exclusive inner circle, reminding us of his deep understanding of the Manchester United way.
Youth and speed remain his buzzwords. Academy kids and fast football will guide United back to familiar territory.
In a literal sense, that's true. Three semi-final defeats in a single season felt very familiar, even if that's never happened at any other club before.
But United faltered for not entirely replicating Fergie's philosophy. Promoting the likes of Greenwood - and then exhausting the teenager - repeats only half of the Fergie story.
Ferguson mostly supplemented his line-up with academy graduates. He didn't expect the young ones to carry a season across 61 games.
Solskjaer's reverence for Ferguson's youth policy should not underplay the Scot's canny eye for a striker in the transfer market.
When he wasn't winning everything with kids, Ferguson was also capturing Cantona, Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, van Nistelrooy and van Persie at the peak of their striking powers.
These signings were hardly the work of a tactical alchemist with the gift of second sight.
The biggest and best club bought the biggest and best strikers available.
Had a striker of Kane's calibre been available during any of Ferguson's dynastic periods, the Scot would've pulled every trick to sign him.
After all, he lamented the one that got away for years. Alan Shearer was the only one that really eluded Ferguson's grasp.
In terms of stature, ability and consistency, Kane is very much the Shearer of the modern era. Solskjaer cannot allow United to make the same mistake twice.
Anthony Martial, Rashford and Greenwood are good forwards, possibly closing in on greatness. Of the three, Greenwood looks the most likely to fully realise his youthful potential. But they are not there yet.
United's trio all spurned reasonable chances against Sevilla. By the most conservative of estimates, Kane would've converted at least one of them.
Martial, 24, Rashford, 22, and Greenwood, 18, are still improving and shared 62 goals among them last season. But Martial and Rashford are not quite exploding in a manner befitting a United striker chasing goals and trophies.
They'll get time. United have developed a welcome habit of indulging their academy graduates for longer periods (perhaps out of necessity in recent years).
Such loyalty has been rewarded with three consecutive seasons without a trophy, the first time that has happened in 31 years at Old Trafford.
Ferguson was never so loyal to his fledglings. If they didn't deliver quickly, he went shopping for superior replacements.
If there had been an opportunity to sign a 27-year-old forward with 188 goals in 287 first-team appearances, Ferguson would've demanded a blank cheque from the men upstairs.
Solskjaer might consider a similarly audacious poaching expedition.
Yesterday, club legend Paul Scholes insisted that Kane was a more important target than Jadon Sancho. The Red Devils' impotence against Sevilla validated Scholes' claim.
But a solution clearly exists. He can be found, restless and trophy-less, at Tottenham.
If Solskjaer is a true student of United's history, he'll pay whatever it takes to sign Kane.