Kaoru Mitoma’s next transfer decision is obvious amid Man Utd, Man City & Chelsea links
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He may have barely arrived back in Brighton after his run at the Asian Cup in Qatar, but Kaoru Mitoma is already been linked with a move away from the south coast. Speculation, summed up by a report by Football Transfers, is mounting that the Japan international could be the next player to be sold on from the Amex after the Seagulls agreed a £16m deal to sign young winger Ibrahim Osman from FC Nordsjælland in the summer.
His move would be a natural conclusion to the life cycle of a Brighton player – they are bought for a pittance (in Mitoma’s case around £3m), developed into high-quality players, and then sold at a substantial mark-up to another, wealthier club. In this case, a fee of around €60m (£51.2m) is mentioned and Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea (surprise surprise) are the clubs allegedly interested.
It’s the process that players like Moisés Caicedo, Alexis Mac Allister and Marc Cucurella all went though and while no Brighton fan will want to see Mitoma leave, the addition of another promising winger alongside the continued emergence of players like Facundo Buonanotte means that it would be no shock to see the 26-year-old move on in a few months’ time, even if his contract does run until 2027. The question is – where should he go? We’ve taken a look at how he might fit in at the three teams that Football Transfers believe are interested.
United will most certainly be in the market for a wide forward this summer between Jadon Sancho’s exile and Antony’s profound struggles since arriving from Ajax. Marcus Rashford remains off the boil and while Alejandro Garnacho is rapidly growing in stature and improving his decision-making, he remains a frequently frustrating figure in the front three.
Mitoma, then, would offer United a lot of what they’re missing – both goals and guile. Mitoma scored seven and picked up five assists last season and is, a month-long spell on international duty notwithstanding, on track for a similar haul this season. United sorely ned someone who offers a threat in the final third, and Mitoma definitely provides that.
It helps that he looks like a pretty natural fit for Erik ten Hag’s more direct style this season. He’s excellent at finding space down the side of the pitch to receive quick balls forward, and averages nearly 11 deep pass reception per game. He has the speed and dribbling ability to beat his man and get balls into the box, and all of that would suit United nicely – assuming they stick with Ten Hag and his current scheme into next season.
He’s also comfortable getting both out wide in space and in narrower spaces closer to the central striker, which could be important. Rasmus Højlund has started making the most of his chances up front but is still starved for service and getting a player who can create space and shooting chances inside the penalty area could be a big boost.
The only issue is the simple fact that Mitoma is most comfortable on the left flank – which is where Rashford plays. The England forward may be struggling for form and there have been numerous reports of off-field issues, but he has too much quality for United to wilfully abandon him at this point in his career. Rashford can play in other roles across the front line, of course, but there may be some risk that Mitoma’s transfer ends up being similar to Mason Mount’s and that he finds his natural position occupied by a different and arguably better player.
Mitoma fits the profile of the kind of wide-man that Pep Guardiola likes to make a project out of – the broad brushstrokes of his playing style are similar to those of Riyad Mahrez, in particular, and it doesn’t stretch the imagination too much to picture Guardiola wanting to try the same trick with Mitoma.
He has the same sort of spatial awareness, technical quality and willingness to work as part of a pressing unit as Mahrez did, and with Jack Grealish apparently drifting slowly out of Guardiola’s plans, there may be a vacancy on the left wing which Mitoma could fill admirably.
Much of the logic behind this move hinges on Grealish’s future. The former Aston Villa man became a regular after a slow start to life at the Etihad, but has been sidelined for much of this season while flashes of form from young Belgian winger Jérémy Doku threaten to push him further down the pecking order – but if Guardiola still wants him as a part of his long-term plan, then it makes little sense for them to sign Mitoma, especially at a substantial cost.
If Mitoma gets the chance to sign for City, it’s hard to argue against it from his point of view. Any doubts over such a deal would be more likely to come from City’s end, and much will hinge on Grealish’s form over the second half of the season and the continued development of Doku.
The current Chelsea owners seem to like nothing more than spending an exorbitant amount of money on Brighton players. Caicedo, Cucurella and goalkeeper Robert Sánchez have all hopped on the train up the Gatwick line towards Stamford Bridge since Clearlake Capital took the reins, with what can politely be called mixed results.
They’ve also assembled an expensive array of wide forwards, and it’s hard to know whether they will feel well stocked at that position now, or whether they simply can’t resist the lure of picking up another. From Mitoma’s perspective, however, it would be hard to imagine Chelsea being the best place he could go – he would immediately find himself competing directly with Raheem Sterling and Mykhaylo Mudryk, among others, for a starting spot. Perhaps that’s a fight he can win, but it does not look like the path of least resistance, especially when they may well not be able to offer European football.
It's also debatable whether Mitoma would be as effective as part of the fluid front three that Chelsea operate with now. In recent matches, with Cole Palmer playing up front, he has often drifted to the right, leaving the left winger isolated and with a great deal of ground to cover. Mitoma tends to thrive in close quarters with his team-mates, so there’s a chance that Chelsea’s tactical direction doesn’t suit Mitoma ideally either.
Of course, everything could change given that there is no shortage of speculation over Mauricio Pochettino’s future. They may splash out on a traditional number nine who re-balances the attack somewhat. There are few guarantees of anything at Chelsea just now, and perhaps there are better reasons for Mitoma to be optimistic about his playing time and prospects of success at Chelsea come the end of the summer. But if you were Mitoma’s agent right now, you’d probably advise him to look at a move to Manchester.