When Real Madrid were most interested in Harry Kane around 2017, their executives were impressed with almost everything they saw, but couldn’t help wonder about one aspect of his career: an apparent contradiction.
This was evidently a player who was willing to go down the Cristiano Ronaldo route, and execute every marginal gain in order to maximise his body and make himself the ultimate athlete. His highly-tuned physique best attested to that. Kane was doing everything to give himself the best possible chance of winning trophies.
Everything, that is, except perhaps the most important. He wasn’t moving to a club where trophies are an expectation, and thereby a guarantee, rather than a hope.
This, to be fair, is something that has been increasingly playing on Kane’s mind over the past year. It has led to some of those pointed public comments about his future, that have irritated Tottenham Hotspur.
It has also, according to some sources, led to pointed private discussions. One figure who knows Kane well told The Independent that there has been talk with Daniel Levy that they might eventually let the striker go to a club like Madrid if Spurs don’t evolve as he’d hope in the peak of his career.
We might well be at that situation. Spurs look further away from a trophy than at any stage since 2014. Kane is 27 this summer, and suddenly at that point where a player is wondering how long he has left at the top.
The time might finally be right for the player and the club to separate.
It might not be right, however, for either the market or many of Kane’s previous suitors.
It is possible he’s missed his own window.
While it does seem inappropriate to be discussing something as ostentatiously trivial as football transfers during the height of the coronavirus crisis, the blunt reality is that the pandemic will have as much of an effect on the market as it does on everything else. That market will be greatly depressed.
Clubs just won’t have the money or, just as pointedly, won’t want to spend it.
Sources at several top clubs say they are keenly aware of the atrocious optics of immediately spending over £150m once this is all over.
Spurs are not one of those clubs. They have other concerns: all financial. Several people around the hierarchy say they are one of the clubs going to be hit hardest, in relative terms, due to the move to a new stadium. There are also concerns about all manner of income routes, like season ticket sales – due to the struggles of some financing companies – and the purchase of executive boxes. Spurs could be set for some lean years.
It is for this reason Levy is at least more open to selling Kane than he ever was.
It is also why he would want around £200m, with his hand strengthened by the fact the striker still has four years left to go on his six-year contract.
That hand is immediately weakened by the likelihood no one goes anywhere near that price.
The harder truth is that if that market definitely doesn’t exist for Kane now, it probably didn’t exist even before the Coronavirus crisis.
The nature of modern football business means that no halfway intelligent club is paying so much for a player – and particularly a physique-dependent striker – in his late 20s. It’s all the truer when you have a recent injury record like Kane’s.
And, even before you get to issues like resale value, there is the issue of the value of the purchase. They just don’t know how many years they’re going to get out of any such player.
It is this obvious but belated realisation that has seen the transfer market shift in the last few years. Most of the money goes on players about four to five years younger.
This is precisely why most of the buzz around Kane himself was in 2016, and why both Madrid and United were so willing to spend so much on him then.
The Old Trafford hierarchy would have gladly paid over £100m for him.
They have now both moved on to other targets, whose identities only emphasise the problem for Kane.
Madrid now barely have any interest. They are instead intent on the electric Kylian Mbappe, who is five-and-a-half years younger than Kane. They’d certainly pay well over £100m for the Paris Saint-Germain star.
United meanwhile don’t have Kane on their list of targets. They’re fairly happy with the striker options, and willing to complete a permanent move for Odion Ighalo. Their primary target this summer is Jadon Sancho. Again, as with Madrid and Mbappe, they’d similarly pay in excess of £100m for him. His age and talent ensure it just makes sense.
And that in turn poses questions about the sense of some of Kane’s career.
While it was in its own way laudable to decide to stay at Spurs so long, especially when they looked so vibrant under Mauricio Pochettino, was there really any need to sign a six-year contract in 2018?
Many in the Tottenham squad had already got wise to that as a key Levy tactic, and one reason Pochettino was able to keep the team together so long despite the club paying them relatively little compared to major rivals.
Incremental wage increases were constantly offered, but at the cost of locking them in that big longer, and greatly strengthening the chairman’s hand if anyone else ever wanted to buy them. Christian Eriksen was the first to truly realise this, which created a minor crisis for Levy, which spread around the squad.
Kane hasn’t been able to avail of this option. He’d already been locked in to a long deal, which meant Levy could make him almost unsellable. The issue may well come down to whether Levy has a bit of a realisation himself. If he does end up wanting to sell Kane for financial purposes, he may well have to greatly lower that asking price.
The question is how much lower?
With that considered, Kane might not be the ultimate example of Levy’s contract approach. He might well be the ultimate example of the Wilfred Zaha dilemma. He’s a player too good for his current team, but who has stayed at the club too long, and now might cost too much for a player of his age.
Many sources believe Kane could well end up staying at Spurs his entire career. It is a prospect that suddenly doesn’t seem as completely positive as it would have at any point since his breakthrough.
It could well lead to one other aspect greatly missing in his career and another apparent contradiction. One of the great strikers won’t have had the great medal collection to match.
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