Harry Kane & The Tale of the Burning Bridges
Of course, one might argue that he’s had the opportunity to win trophies before. In the 2017 and 2018 FA Cup semi-finals, for example, in the 2021 League Cup final, or in the 2019 Champions League final. Harry Kane has only ever scored six goals in the League Cup for Spurs and ten goals in the FA Cup. It’s strange how players tend to forget their own ineffectual efforts in previous attempts, when they start caterwauling for a highly lucrative transfer as though they’re locked up in a tower on St Helena.
If he’s attempting a PR battle, Harry Kane’s isn’t going particularly well. Sympathy over transferring from one football club to another is harder to come by when you earn a six-figure sum per week and, much as banter merchants from other clubs have been enjoying the schädenfreude – Arsenal supporters, for example, likely need something to take their minds off their own team’s tepid performance against Chelsea in their pre-season warm-up tournament last weekend – it becomes difficult to offer too much sympathy to a player when they start simply failing to turn up to work.
The ultimate fact of this matter remains the ultimate fact: Kane signed a six year contract three years ago, and this contract still has three years to run on it. It is worth reiterating that this sort of contract length is extremely rare in professional football. Clubs will seldom have such faith in one player that they will even come close to offering one. These aren’t normal employment contracts like most of us sign throughout our working careers, either. Each one is effectively a lottery win, an amount of money which will give a player the financial freedom to do whatever they wish for the rest of their lives, once they hang up their boots.
Professional footballers, even Harry Kane, aren’t so stupid that they don’t know this. A six year contract with a club in the top six in the Premier League offers them a level of career security that is not often found in a savagely insecure profession, and you can bet a pound to a penny that a club that sought to unilaterally breach that contract would quickly find an army of lawyers descending upon them like a ton of bricks.
Such a level of security, however, is not a one-way street in terms of rights and obligations. The obvious trade-off is that for the next six years the decision over whether to move on from that club is taken out of his hands, and this doesn’t seem unreasonable, when we consider that, at £200,000 per week, the contract that he was offered doubled his weekly wage and was worth more than £60m overall. It’s difficult to avoid the feeling that Kane was either naïve or stupid to sign such a lengthy contract in 2018, but buyer’s remorse isn’t really something that can be factored in, three years down the line.
Kane and his representatives know this, too. There have been whispers about a “gentleman’s agreement” reached at the time, but… contracts simply don’t work like that, particularly not contracts worth tens of millions of pounds. Spurs deny that such an agreement was ever made, and in some senses it’s difficult to understand why they would. It is, however, a well worn trope to say that the first casualty of war is truth; in this case it’s impossible to say who’s lying, or who very much misunderstood.
All of which leads us to Not Turning Up For Training Day, a ritual in the story of any player who has decided that he’s outgrown the club that he’s contracted to. As mentioned above, though, it’s not as strong a look as it used to be. Few people will be considering him to be in shackles while he’s earning £200,000 a week, and the absolute bottom line is that taking this action makes him look fundamentally untrustworthy and unprofessional, which wouldn’t paint anybody in a good light, never mind someone who seems to place great importance upon a persona which includes being a captain and a ‘leader’.
And none of this alters the fact that, short of buying out the remainder of his contract himself, control of this entire situation rests with Daniel Levy and Spurs. If Manchester City don’t meet Levy’s demands, then the transfer doesn’t have to happen, and while fans might look at the difference between a £120m offer and a £150m offer and think that this is an easily bridgeable divide, the truth is that this difference isn’t the same as the difference between a £1.2m offer and a £1.5m offer. If the gap in the valuation of the player is £30m (and it might well be substantially higher than this), that’s a huge gap to overcome.
The matter is further complicated by the fact that Kane isn’t the only player of this one club type that Manchester City have been pursuing this summer. City have been quietly unsettling both Kane and Jack Grealish for a while, now, and yes, there is something galling about a club systematically doing this to two players who held the profiles that these two did at their current clubs. Grealish is understood to still be mulling City’s offer over. It’s fair to say that he has handled all of this far more professionally than Kane and his entourage have, so far, though.
But it’s also worth asking the question of exactly how much Manchester City even want Kane. They’ve bid £100m for Grealish and, while transfer valuations are a marketplace in which you can pull any number out and make it sound convincing, Kane would be within his rights to wonder why, if City are prepared to offer this amount for Grealish, they’re apparently only interested in trying to get him if they can do so on the (relative) cheap, rather than paying the amount that Spurs would be prepared to accept. They’ve bid £100m for Kane, but it seems fairly clear that Spurs will not accept that, and in any marketplace the value of anything is ultimately determined as much by what someone is prepared to sell for as by what someone is prepared to pay.
This morning, though, it looked as though something of a PR exercise might have been cranking into gear. Kane, according to reports, will be returning to training later this week, and believes that the entire situation has “been blown out of proportion.” Well, that much we can take for granted. There’s nothing in modern football that isn’t “blown out of all proportion”. It’s too early to say whether this is the start of a full-blown backtrack, or whether it’s little more than an attempt to reclaim a little moral highground before attempting to turn the screw on the club again. What we can say with reasonable certainty is that he would, were he to stay, have a lot of work to do to rebuild those bridges with supporters. It may already be impossible, for many.
But it is worth reflecting on the strangeness of a world in which a player can hold a club to task for not winning trophies when that very player was actually one of those out there on the pitch for those big matches, not winning them. Had Harry Kane not played in the 2021 League Cup final or 2019 Champions League when he seemed unfit to do so, perhaps Spurs might have had a better chance of winning one of those two matches. He’s never scored in a Champions League, two League Cup, or one FA Cup final, or in two FA Cup semi-finals for Spurs.
This is ultimately a story from which no-ones really emerges with a great deal of credit. Daniel Levy, for example, might well have a proportion of the supporters on his side should the transfer not happen before the end of August, but he still stands accused of having wasted the opportunity given to the club by Mauricio Pochettino’s team of 2016 and 2017.
The club’s lack of activity in the transfer market at what, when combined with the move into the new stadium, was a pivotal moment in its history happened on his watch, as did Pochettino’s subsequent sacking and disastrous replacement with Jose Mourinho, a decision the outcome of which was correctly predicted by almost everybody bar Levy, Mourinho, and a small band of weird Mourinho ultras on social media. Levy also misread the room still further earlier this year by agreeing to join the European Super League, a decision which led to protests against both that decision and, more generally, the way in which Spurs are being run.
But perhaps the most disappointing aspect of it all has been the fracture in the relationship between Spurs supporters and a player who defined the last decade of their club’s history. The disrespect shown by Kane towards supporters is honestly felt, and it has created a fracture which may prove difficult to heal. None of this, however, excuses Daniel Levy from creating the environment which led to him wanting to leave in the first place.