Marcus Rashford to Luke Shaw to Harry Kane, goal. This was the combination that set England on their way to a commanding 7-0 thrashing of North Macedonia at Old Trafford on Monday night's Euro 2024 qualifying match, but it was also a glimpse of the club future that could await Kane next season.
United will hope scoring at the Stretford End has whetted the 30-year-old's appetite. Given Tottenham Hotspur's reluctance to sell -- and a £100 million valuation for a player with one year left on his contract -- Kane's potential suitors will likely need the man himself to push for a move if he is to end his stay in north London.
Any deal is further complicated by the calibre of the competition United face. Real Madrid will pursue Kane if there is any indication he could leave while Paris Saint-Germain have also been credited with an interest.
But this was an affirming experience that may yet entice Kane to Manchester. England were not supposed to train at United's Carrington base in the build-up to this game, only switching venues at a late stage when Manchester City opted to renovate their pitches instead of accommodating Gareth Southgate's squad.
Shaw wasted no time in seizing the opportunity, posting on Instagram that he had given Kane and Declan Rice a tour of United's facilities before admitting he had been speaking to several players about joining him at club level.
Even Southgate admitted "the players are tapping each other up" -- probably only half-joking -- and so the subtext to this international coda at the end of a long season has barely been concealed given so many England stars face uncertain club futures.
Not that it distracted from the team's performance. North Macedonia were limited in threat and capitulated after a relatively competitive opening half-hour but England overpowered them with a stylish display featuring several high-quality goals and a superb hat-trick from Bukayo Saka.
After Kane's opener on 29 minutes, Saka doubled England's lead nine minutes later with a drive high into the roof of the net before Rashford got in on the act with a close-range finish. Saka netted again two minutes into the restart with a sublime strike, controlling Trent Alexander-Arnold's raking pass before firing in a swerving 20-yard volley. His third was another cool finish from Kane's clever pass, and aged 21, it made him the youngest player -- and first Arsenal player -- to score an England men's hat-trick since Theo Walcott in September 2008. And all while carrying an Achilles injury, as ESPN revealed on May 24.
"He's had it for a few weeks," said Southgate. "It is an injury that just needs managing. But it would have been easy not to appear. I think when you've have probably one of the best nights of your life, it's a reminder to everybody that it's worth going through these things. To see the joy on his face, he's such a popular member of the team, so humble. Works incredibly hard."
That joy on Saka's face extended to his post-match interviews, with the 21-year-old explaining he would "probably frame the match ball but hold it in my arms for a few days first."
Arsenal's success in tying Saka to a new four-year contract last month looks shrewder with each passing day, contrasted awkwardly for Tottenham with the conundrum they face over Kane as he enters the final year of his Spurs deal. After substitute Kalvin Phillips scored his first England goal with a 64th-minute tap-in, Kane had the last word, netting a record-extending 58th international strike from the penalty spot after Egzon Bejtulai pulled down John Stones.
Kane was substituted ten minutes later to a standing ovation -- another moment in this grand old stadium which United will hope can pull at the heartstrings -- leaving him on 41 goals from 64 appearances for club and country in the 2022-23 season. It is only the second campaign in his career he has surpassed the 40-goal mark and to do so in a Tottenham team that sacked their manager and his interim replacement, missed out on European football altogether and played against a backdrop of fan protest at the ownership is yet another sign of his prowess.
When United played Tottenham in north London two months ago, United fans sang: "Harry Kane, we'll see you in June." That was a reference to United's interest in signing Kane rather than Monday's England fixture -- but the two narratives ended up being intertwined once again.