By Charlie Eccleshare, The Athletic
For the next few weeks, Harry Kane will try to put his latest crushing disappointment behind him.
Having done everything he could to win his first trophy as a player, Kane once again fell agonisingly short as England were beaten on penalties in the Euro 2020 final by Italy.
The period between now and returning to Tottenham Hotspur training at the beginning of August should be about recharging after a gruelling, seemingly never-ending season that’s seen almost non-stop football for 13 months. In reality though, Kane is entering a period as pivotal to his career as the time on England duty just gone. He may not be playing, but the next few weeks will provide clarity on whether he is going to suffer a further setback this summer.
It’s no secret that he wants to leave Spurs — in May, multiple sources told The Athletic he has been “desperate” to get out of the club for some time. Yet a possible move is out of his hands.
Irrespective of his desire to join champions Manchester City, it’s a saga that could well end with him staying at Tottenham and swapping the Euros for Europa Conference League qualifiers in the space of little over a month. A deal will almost certainly not be completed in the next few weeks, but a breakthrough in negotiations during that period is possible.
Tottenham continue to insist that, with three years left on his contract, Kane is not for sale, but City have a serious interest and are intent on testing chairman Daniel Levy’s resolve. It’s unstoppable force meets immovable object time.
Talks between the two clubs rumbled along in the background during the Euros, but with an understanding that nothing should be said publicly for fear of destabilising the player. It was the public nature of the reports, as much as their veracity, that so riled City and Tottenham when it was written in June that the former had lodged a £100 million bid. But now the European Championship is over, we can expect this period of detente to end, with the starting pistol fired on the next round of the “Will Kane stay or go?” saga.
So, what happens next for Kane? How hard will City push? And is there an argument that Levy should soften his stance?
From a physical perspective, Kane will be given a minimum of three weeks off from the end of the Euros before he is expected to report back to Tottenham. That will leave him with just under a fortnight to get ready for their first game of the season on Sunday, August 15 — which, deliciously, just happens to be against Manchester City.
Should he wish to return sooner, he can, but even if Kane is nominally “on holiday”, he will still spend next week and the week after gradually building up his fitness — paying particular attention to his vulnerable ankles and hamstrings. It’s only in this first week off where he will properly indulge in what’s known as passive rest: staying horizontal and recharging after an exhausting tournament both mentally and physically.
Sunday’s extra-time-and-penalties final alone will have caused a great deal of psychological and physiological stress, and it’s hard not to feel sympathy for someone who, despite elevating himself to the very top of the game, continues to fall just short of major team honours. Levy has said that he shares Kane’s disappointment at Spurs’ failure to win trophies — the question is how likely they are to end what will soon be a 14-year drought in the coming seasons.Kane received a silver medal at Euro 2020 after England lost the final (Photo: Shaun Botterill – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)
This being Kane, the expectation is that he will almost instantly put Sunday’s disappointment behind him, though that doesn’t mean he will be any less determined to belatedly start winning trophies.
From a physical perspective, it’s worth remembering today’s elite footballers are so motivated and well-conditioned that even during the off-season they are working to ensure they don’t dip far below peak fitness. With that in mind, Kane will step up his conditioning work next week, bringing in mobility and stability exercises before building up to strength and sprint sessions ahead of his return to Hotspur Way.
When he does report back to work, Kane will see a couple of notable new faces, because in the period while he was at the Euros, Spurs appointed both a new head coach and their first managing director of football.
Nuno Espirito Santo and Fabio Paratici have both kept their distance to allow him to focus on England, but the expectation is that they will be in touch over the coming weeks. Levy? That’s less clear — the chairman is understood to have been furious at the timing of Kane intimating, at the start of the final week of the Premier League season, that he wanted a move.
Not that Levy’s frustration makes him any more willing to sell the striker. He and the club have been resolute in their stance that Kane is not for sale at any price — saying so from as early as February when reports began to circulate that a £150 million offer would test their resolve. Nuno and Paratici are equally desperate for the England captain to stay.
Despite this, were it not for Levy’s obstinance, City would feel reasonably confident of getting a deal for Kane over the line.
They are very keen to sign the player and, in their desire to give Pep Guardiola an appropriate send-off over the next couple of years, would be willing to break with their policy of generally not spending more than around £60 million on any single player. Especially if they can shift the likes of Bernardo Silva and Gabriel Jesus. But they know from their painstaking negotiations over signing Kyle Walker from Spurs four years ago that Levy will not back down without a big fight.
“Like having blood in your piss,” as one source close to those negotiations described the experience of dealing with the Tottenham chairman.
City have also walked away from deals previously if they felt they were being strung along or would have to pay a lot more than they are willing. This was the case with Harry Maguire in 2019 when he joined Manchester United after City pulled out once it became clear Leicester wanted around £80 million. They also couldn’t agree a fee with Napoli for defender Kalidou Koulibaly last summer.
In previous years, City wouldn’t match what had been offered for Alexis Sanchez and Frenkie de Jong by Manchester United and Barcelona respectively. In the case of Sanchez, they were also burned by their tactic a few months earlier of playing the waiting game and hoping to reduce Arsenal’s leverage as deadline day approached. In the end, they left it too late and, much to their irritation at the time, missed out on the Chilean forward.
This time around, City are expected to act more decisively. They are willing to bide their time in the next few weeks, yes, but there is a feeling that this summer presents a very small window during which they can sign Kane.
Guardiola has long been an admirer, and with it clear that the player wants to move, with the Etihad his preferred destination, he and City know this could be their last chance to get him.
By next summer, Kane will be about to turn 29 and potentially starting to decline as a player, meaning it will be a harder move to justify financially. Plus if, as expected, Guardiola leaves City at the end of his contract in the summer of 2023 that would halve the number of seasons in which Kane could potentially help them finally win the Champions League after losing last season’s final to Chelsea.
City resent the perception of them having bought success but, as stated, would make an exception to their policy of not going over £60 million for a player in Kane’s case. Guardiola’s claim in April that for City such a deal “is impossible, we cannot afford it”, should be taken with a degree of scepticism — and the situation may well have changed in the intervening months (Guardiola did not say these words only last week, as has been reported). After all, Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish is another big-money target for City this summer in what could be a momentous transfer window at the Etihad.
When thinking about how much City would spend, their £100 million bid for Kane last month (which was a part-exchange, rather than cash-only, offer), came before the England captain went on to score four goals in four knockout games at the Euros. His achievements at the competition though won’t massively shift the dial, since there was already overwhelming evidence from the last seven years of his world-class abilities. As recently as last season, he topped both the Premier League’s goalscoring (23) and assists (14) charts.Will City target Kane soon be ‘coming home’ to a house in Manchester? (Photo: Shaun Botterill – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)
Kane’s achievements in an England shirt in recent weeks also might not have a transformative effect on his commercial appeal, which could have raised his transfer valuation even further.
“Being the England captain that won the Euros would have made a massive difference, that really would have transformed him,” says sports marketing consultant Tim Crow. “But really, he’d only have gone up to the next level if they’d have won and he’d done something like scoring in the final.” However, Richard Adelsberg, managing director at creative sports agency Ear To The Ground, says that “leading the team out and scoring goals at a major tournament are absolute gold for brand partners”.
Either way, sources have told The Athletic theyexpect City to be willing to pay more than £100 million for Kane, but it’s less clear if they would go as high as £150 million — a figure that could give even Levy food for thought.
The other possible destination that’s been suggested for Kane is Manchester United, but they are not expected to push for a deal, having a) already spent £73 million on his England colleague Jadon Sancho this summer and b) endured torturous transfer negotiations with Levy previously.
On two of those occasions, their attempts to sign Spurs players ended with Luka Modric and Gareth Bale instead joining Real Madrid. In both those cases, Modric and Bale stopped turning up to training and had to push hard to leave the club. It’s extremely difficult to imagine Kane doing something similar.
And with Levy resolute in his position that the player is not for sale at any price, at present it looks as though Kane will stay.
This raises the question, though, of whether refusing to countenance letting him go is the right approach.
Speaking to more dispassionate observers, there is a degree of bemusement at Levy’s stance.
Some sources feel that the money Spurs are being offered for a player who turns 28 in two weeks’ time is too good to be turned down. Especially since, to a large extent, they need to sell before they can buy.
Others make the point that a club should not want to keep a player if it’s clear he sees his future elsewhere. Some Tottenham supporters share this view, even if the vast majority are desperate for Kane to stay.Beloved by Spurs fans as ‘One of their own’, Kane now wants to leave his boyhood club (Photo: Paul Childs – Pool/Getty Images)
On the economic side, Spurs’ finances have taken a huge hit from the pandemic, as Levy has been quick to point out. Their last financial results showed a loss of £63.9 million for the year ending June 30, 2020, compared with a profit of £68.6 million for the previous 12 months. Those financial results also revealed the club’s debt was up to £604.6 million from £534.3 million in 2018-19.
The sale of Kane would be a huge financial bonus and facilitate the “painful rebuild” of the squad their then-manager Mauricio Pochettino stressed the need for more than two years ago. Paratici did something similar when effectively remoulding Juventus into Champions League finalists the season after they sold Paul Pogba to Manchester United for almost £90 million in summer 2016; though, from their own experience with spending the Bale money, Spurs know that these kind of rebuilds are rarely straightforward.
Another interesting wrinkle in all this is what effect playing another hugely demanding summer tournament will have on Kane — especially given his injury record.
After the last World Cup three years ago, Premier Injuries collected data that showed a spike in injuries the following season for players who had reached the competition’s latter stages. Spurs were actually one of the teams worst hit. Eight of their nine players who had reached the quarter-finals or later in Russia suffered injuries in 2018-19, and in doing so accounted for 48 per cent of the squad’s injuries that season, and 52 per cent of their days lost to injury.
Kane himself was badly affected — missing 17 games and 91 days in total with ankle injuries he picked up in the January and then again in the April (the highest for both in his career up to that point).
It was a similar story after Euro 2016. Kane missed 73 days and 14 games with ankle problems in the September and March of the 2016-17 season.
Kane’s shortened pre-season puts him more at risk of injury in the coming campaign, even though he will do all he can over the next few weeks to ensure he is ready to hit the ground running when he returns at the start of August.
The challenge for players with a short pre-season is that the aches and pains in their bones, muscles and tendons won’t have fully dissipated come the season starting in mid-August, nor will they have fully recovered the optimum level of freshness, and this can cause issues later on in a season.
It should be noted though that, despite his fitness concerns, Kane has still averaged a very healthy 53 appearances for club and country over the last seven seasons and only missed three Premier League games in 2020-21. In fact, he played 65 times for Tottenham and England, on the back of the shortest pre-season in football’s modern history. Whether all that catches up with him next season remains to be seen.
How much of a concern should the state of Kane’s body be for a potential buyer?
“The likelihood of injury goes up significantly after a big tournament, so if I was Manchester City I would be very, very wary of spending £100 million on Kane,” says Simon Brundish, a sports science consultant for the Football Association. “Because he normally misses games anyway, and he’s slowed down.”
Echoing the spike reported by Premier Injuries, Brundish adds: “I looked at the data and there was something like a 28 per cent increase in the likelihood of injury for players who reached the 2018 World Cup knockouts, compared with those who didn’t. There is an increase — through fatigue, and stress. Think about the extreme stresses of playing in the tournament just gone. Think about the physiological damage as well as the psychological from Sunday night — going to extra time and then losing on penalties.”
It’s a compelling argument, but Kane has always demonstrated an exceptional ability to rebound from physical and psychological setbacks. He may be running far less these days than he did previously, and be past his physical peak in some observers’ view, but as he showed last season, Kane’s intelligence is such that he can adapt his game to remain as effective.
Though a note of caution should be sounded here as despite Kane registering an outstanding 14 assists in the Premier League last season, his expected assists (xA) figure — which measures the expected goals value of the shot that is assisted — was around half that at 7.1. This suggests the quality of chances Kane created last season would be expected to lead to roughly seven goals. That they resulted in twice that many was largely down to the exceptional finishing of Son Heung-min, but the expectation is that an output so beyond what was expected is not sustainable and that Kane’s assist numbers will now revert to closer to the 3.75 per season he averaged over the previous four campaigns.
To a large extent though, these numbers are immaterial when Levy’s stance remains so resolute.
Like the bind Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu found himself in with Lionel Messi last year, Levy feels he simply cannot be the man who sells Kane. As with Bartomeu (who has since left the Catalan giants), and Messi, it would be too damaging to his reputation — especially at a time when tensions between Levy and the fans are higher than ever.
So it may be that, off the back of losing the Euro 2020 final, Kane has to resign himself to missing out on the fresh challenge he was hoping for.
That’s certainly what looks likely unless he, City, or both, seriously force the issue