Manchester United bragged they scouted 804 right-backs in their process that ended with the signing of Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Scouts first clapped eyes on Alex Telles at Galatasaray in 2014 and United started monitoring Amad in 2016.
However watertight United’s scouting network is, some are bound to slip through the net. In 2015, they invested £58million in Anthony Martial while Leicester bought N’Golo Kante from Caen for £6m. A year later, Paul Pogba returned for a world record £89m and Chelsea spent £35m to prise Kante from Leicester.
Martial was attached to Monaco, third-place finishers in Ligue 1 in 2014-15, whereas Caen came 13th. Pogba rejoined United in 2016, when Didier Deschamps selected Kante in the France squad for the first time. At the time of Martial and Pogba’s transfers, few would have opined United had bought the wrong Frenchman.
Kante is now a European Championship short of collecting the full club and international set of honours: Premier League, Champions League, Europa League, FA Cup, and World Cup winner’s medals have dangled around his neck. He was the man of the match against Manchester City in Porto.
United are still so stung by missing out on Raphael Varane 10 years ago they are discussing signing him this summer. Ryan Giggs scouted Kylian Mbappe and felt he was gettable for £5million.
Varane has already left a legacy at United without playing for them. The academy bought French teenagers Hannibal Mejbri and Willy Kambwala for €13m in successive summers. In 2018, the United website advertised for a ‘First Team Scout’ role in France ‘to identify world-class and emerging talent for the club’.
Youth scout Mathieu Seckinger unearthed Mejbri and Kambwala while the suitably named Romain Poirot replaced David Friio to identify first-team targets. Friio, who first met Pogba when he was 15 at Le Havre, was ‘livid’ at United’s handling of Pogba’s contract discussions in 2012.
At the Elysee Presidential Palace where France celebrated the 2018 World Cup triumph, Pogba took the mic and started a rendition of Kante’s chant:
The international teammates are practically opposites in every way: blue and red, little and large, defensive midfielder and attacking midfielder, introvert and extrovert, bargain buy and marquee buy, Mini and Rolls-Royce.
At a celebratory ceremony at the Stade de France in 2018, Pogba danced toward the World Cup trophy as if he was John Travolta. Kante bashfully applauded fans.
It is a pity for United – and Chelsea – they are unable to pair them at club level. Chelsea’s chances are more auspicious as Pogba’s deal ticks towards its final year but Kante’s contract only runs until 2023.