What to make of Manchester United's £80 million bid for Alvaro Morata
It is no secret that Manchester United's manager Jose Mourinho is on the lookout for a top striker to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Red Devils have been heavily linked with a move for the Spanish forward, Alvaro Morata. The probable fee widely reported in the media is in the region of £70 - £80 million, which is a huge amount of money for a player who has 40 odd top division goals to his name.
It is not by any means my intention to cast a doubt over the ability or potential of the Spaniard, but looking at the potential transfer deal plainly from a statistical point of view I can't help but delve into the question: should United really spend that kind of money on Morata?
On the back of what was arguably a successful season for Manchester United, they will undoubtedly look to consolidate their foothold in the top four spot whilst also challenging for the Premier League title in the 2017-18 season. The United fans will hold greater expectations from the players in the coming season and finishing sixth will not be enough.
The Red Devils will also be expected to be scoring a few more goals during the course of the upcoming season after United managed only 54 in the league last time around. In fact, Jose Mourinho has gotten away with very little criticism considering that the tally of 54 goals is only the second lowest that the club has ever managed in the Premier League – an increase of only seven goals over the “boring” United side under Louis van Gaal in the 2015/16 season.
So considering the fact that the last two seasons have been the lowest scoring ones for United, it is but natural that a top striker is the biggest priority for Mourinho.
Is Morata in the mould of a 'top striker'?
There has been a lot of talk amongst the excited United fans about the potential transfer of Alvaro Morata and it has only been fuelled by the rumours in the newspapers that Morata is looking to leave Real Madrid this summer to get more game time. The 24-year-old Spanish forward is definitely a great talent and has his best years ahead of him.
However, looking at his merits purely from a statistical point of view, I have my reservations over the Spaniard. Morata scored 15 league goals in 63 games for Juventus but clearly had done enough as he was bought back by Real Madrid for a reported fee of €30 million.
He has certainly impressed at the Santiago Bernabeu upon his return as he bagged 15 La Liga goals in 26 appearances, 12 out of which were cameos from the bench. However, it is worth mentioning that only five out of those 15 goals came against a top 10 La Liga team.
This raises a fundamental question about whether Morata is ready to lead the line for Manchester United (the intended purpose of signing him is this mind you) and become a star at Old Trafford? The Spaniard has largely remained in the shadows of Benzema and Ronaldo for the Blancos and it would indeed be a huge ask to be the number one striker for the Red Devils, and not to mention the burden of a massive transfer fee.
The current market value
The current transfer market is surely inflated by a big margin and exorbitant transfer fees have become a common fixture these days. However, the valuation of Alvaro Morata needs to be analysed in the context of other big transfers. Of course, Gonzalo Higuain was part of a reported £75 million deal between Napoli and Juventus just last year but the Argentine had proven his pedigree by consistently banging in the goals for both club and country.
Another player who commanded a similar fee was Luis Suarez who was bought by Barcelona for a fee in the region of €65-70 million. This deal perhaps needs no justification considering Suarez's previous exploits and a consistent goal scoring record combined with excellent dribbling skills.
Coming to the present transfer window, Arsenal have been linked with a move for Alexandre Lacazette who is valued at around €65 million. Perhaps it is worth noting that Lacazette has been very consistent with Lyon and has amassed 91 goals in the last three years. At 26 years old, the Frenchman is arguably nearing his peak and would be a very good signing for Arsenal if the deal goes ahead.
Another player who was reportedly on the verge of joining United for £80 million, Antoine Griezmann, also has a fabulous track record to arguably justify the price tag. The 26-year-old Atletico Madrid forward has scored 83 times in the last 3 years. In light of this, a fee of £70 million for Alvaro Morata is surely excessive, given he is only 24 years old and has only 40 goals to his name in the top divisions. The Spaniard will need time to fully develop into a top striker.
Ramifications of the deal if it goes through
The Morata deal, if it goes through, will also raise much larger questions about a paradigm shift in Manchester United's transfer policy. It was just two seasons ago that United invested £36 million (potentially £56 million as it is reported) in Anthony Martial, who at the time became the most expensive teenager in world football and was expected to be the next Thierry Henry.
After an impressive debut season in England, it now appears that Martial is fading away from Old Trafford under Jose Mourinho as he played a bit-part role last season. The Frenchman's chances would be further limited if Morata were to arrive at the club. Furthermore, Manchester Untied as an institution is renowned for investing time and money in young players and developing them into world-class talents and this deal will not bode well with that reputation.
The Spaniard's arrival will also further restrict opportunities for the club captain Wayne Rooney and may also have an impact on Marcus Rashford's prospects of game time. Rashford amassed the most number of appearances for the club last season and while he may not be ready to lead the line for United yet but his potential is unquestionable.
In light of this, would it not be prudent to invest in a striker who is already at his peak and will fetch results immediately. This will also afford protection and time to both Rashford and Martial, and it will also provide a great opportunity for the young duo to learn from an experienced player.
Alternatives to Morata
Given the fact that United are not short on money, they should look to sign someone like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Edinson Cavani. Aubameyang is reportedly unsettled at Dortmund and is subject to a £63 million bid from United's fierce rivals, Liverpool. The 28-year-old has scored 104 goals in the last three years and will be a good fit at Old Trafford too!
Or perhaps, United could look towards Edinson Cavani who is the reigning Ligue 1 Player of the Year. It might be difficult to tempt the Uruguayan from PSG, but it would be a good signing from United's perspective. The striker has scored 105 goals in the last 3 years and is undoubtedly enjoying his best phase at the moment. He might be 30 years old but has at least three to four years left in him at the top.
Manchester United's priority must be to get a striker with an immediate ability to score more than 25-30 goals, given the ambition they are likely to harbour in the coming season. And for this reason, I strongly am of the opinion that United should go for Aubameyang or Cavani, who would both be excellent additions to the current United squad, and then develop Rashford and Martial for the future. Perhaps, United could make an audacious attempt at re-signing Cristiano Ronaldo!