I’ve always said as long as the club is moving in the right direction and showing the right ambition, I want to be part of the journey.Harry Kane
If you had told someone in 2019, just after Harry Kane had made these comments, that four years later, not only would he would remain trophyless, with not a single title to his name, but that he would end up so disillusioned with life at Tottenham that he would become desperate for an escape to the Bundesliga, few would have believed you. Yet to understand how we’ve ended up here, you have to look at the context in which his above quote was made. Kane was speaking in the midst of the club’s self enforced transfer ban, an 18 month spell where Tottenham failed to sign a single player. It was an oversight that the club has never recovered from.
In hindsight, it was also the defining moment of ENIC’s regime, when Levy, Lewis, and everyone associated with Tottenham’s profit hungry ownership showed their true colors. It was as emphatic a statement of non-ambition as you will ever see. Here was a young, aspirational team, led by one of Europe’s most consistent and lethal finishers, who’d come so close to the very summit of European football, and who just needed that final push to get over the line. But while fans sensed an opportunity to push on — to finally end the trophy drought that had haunted the club for so long — Levy sensed an opportunity of a different kind. He saw the perfect opportunity to stand still. His model, as far as the football team is concerned, has always been to do the bare minimum. Champions League windfalls on a shoestring budget. Ironically enough, the England captain’s individual brilliance facilitated this for years. Had Kane suffered more serious injuries, or longer dips in form, this overachievement likely couldn’t have endured for long.
Yet as long as the team was staying afloat in the Premier League, was reasonably competitive, and remained somewhat in the hunt for revenue generating European spots, nothing else really mattered. Kane, unfortunately, became a victim of his own prodigious success. Him being so consistently relentless in his goalscoring and all around performances, meant that Levy could simply rest on his laurels, declining any significant spend, and continue speculating on random gambles from the continent and lower leagues. Tottenham’s illustrious chairman was never forced into having to show any actual ambition or desire. While other clubs would have used Harry Kane to build a dynasty around, Levy used him to build a property empire. It is in the shiny new ENIC bowl, the NFL partnership, the Beyonce concerts, and the F1 track, that Levy sees his true purpose. Football has long become an afterthought, an inconvenient nuisance he must tolerate in order to access the riches he so desperately covets.
Four years, and four managers after Kane warned Tottenham that he would only stay if the club matched his ambitions, the club issued yet another emphatic statement of non-ambition. Even after all that had transpired; the sacking of Poch, the Mourinho era, the Nuno debacle, and the utter calamity of Conte’s last season, which featured no less than three different managers, a DOF found guilty of tax fraud, the club’s worst defence in the Premier League era, and the loss of European football for the first time in 14 years, there was still a chance to salvage something. Hire a top manager; finally plug long standing holes; recruit top players early on, and give the fans — and Kane — something to be excited about. Instead Levy did what he always does. Dithered in making moves. Baulked at paying for top targets. Waited to sell players no one else wanted before buying quality to replace them. If there were any doubts in Kane’s mind as to where his future lied, Levy showed once again, in no uncertain terms, that Spurs will never be a serious club under his leadership.
Indeed, years after Kane’s rallying cry, his warning to the hierarchy, not only has the club failed to progress; it’s actually moved backwards.
“To be one of the most successful clubs in Europe. The new stadium will be a game changer for us as it will create revenues that we can invest in the First Team and deliver success on the pitch – so that is a priority for us,”Daniel Levy
This was Daniel Levy speaking before the opening of the new stadium. Yet years after its construction, one has to wonder exactly who it’s been a “game changer” for? It certainly isn’t the football team, which has regressed steadily since its opening, and is still forced into selling its best players — including those who grew up in its own academy. Perhaps he meant ENIC, Joe Lewis’ faceless investment firm, of which Levy is part owner? For while the actual team has dropped precariously down the table, there is, rather predictably, one area in which the club has enjoyed a meteoric rise.
Spurs are now valued by Forbes as the most profitable football team on the planet. And according to football finance expert Kieran Maguire, they’re not just the most profitable team of the past three years; they’re the most profitable team of all time.
And yet, incredibly, when it comes to the transfer market, the club are still pleading poverty, and still scraping the barrel. One only has to look to the other side of North London to see what genuine ambition looks like. Arsenal invested £210m on Declan Rice, Kai Havertz, and Jurian Timber, and still had enough to sign the goalkeeper Spurs had tracked all summer as their number one choice to replace Hugo Lloris…as a backup to Aaron Ramsdale. Spurs fans can only dream of such ambition. Where once they soothed themselves by believing that only sheikhs and oligarchs could compete at the top, both Arsenal and Chelsea have put that theory to shame. What must Kane have thought looking across town, and seeing Tottenham’s greatest rivals elevate themselves into entirely different stratospheres?
That Eric Dier, Ben Davies, and Davinson Sanchez are still here, and will end up outlasting Harry Kane, tells you everything you need to know about this football club. None would have lasted half this time at Crystal Palace or West Ham. But that’s the standard of expectation at the club right now. Perform so poorly that other clubs won’t even look at you, and you might be rewarded with an indefinite stay at Tottenham Hotspur.
What sort of message does this send fans? What sort of signals does this send to our rivals? What does Ange Postecoglou, Tottenham’s already embattled new manager make of having his plans for the new season upended forty-eight hours before his first match? What about James Maddison? It’s a microcosm of ENIC’s Tottenham that the very summer the club finally bring in an elite creator to replace Christian Eriksen (four years after he departed), the player he was meant to create for is now sold. Forward, linear progress is simply not feasible under this ownership. As long as Levy is in charge, it will always be one step forward, three steps back. The club will only solve one problem, while creating another. Clearly, Harry Kane received the message loud and clear. That he would rather move to the Bundesliga, to win a title Bayern have won for the past eleven years than stay in England and break Alan Shearer’s all time record, speaks volumes. Kane has had enough of Levy’s games, of pretending to compete, of papering over cracks and having to deal with chronic inadequacies not being addressed season after season. And the sad reality is: who can blame him?
Even a one team league, who’s luster and prestige has diminished over the years, represents a far more attractive opportunity than staying at Tottenham Hotspur. It’s yet another damning indictment of the sheer vacuum of hope and ambition that persists at ENIC’s Tottenham. Spurs now exist less as a football club, and more as a confused, theme park like entertainment destination. The cauldron of White Hart Lane supplanted by a cold, hollow bowl that shares no real connection to the 140 year history of one of England’s biggest football clubs. Levy has succeeded in eroding the soul and DNA of Tottenham almost to the point of erasure. He has priced out loyal, match going fans, in the craven hope that tourists might fill his venue and line his pockets with drink and food. He has dulled the atmosphere and stripped the place of everything that once made rival players and fans fearful of entry. The Tottenham stadium — still without naming rights four years after being opened — is now little more than a cash cow for an investment fund. That is why Harry Kane wants out.
Yet it’s not just that the club’s prized asset, its talisman, is being sold, that should irk fans. It’s the manner of the departure. As June turned to July, and then into August, and Kane was still not only at the club, but still starting and scoring in games, it was looking for all the world that he was likely to stay. And as negotiations dragged on into the final week of pre-season, with no agreement in sight, fans were beginning to breathe a sigh of relief. Not even Daniel Levy would be that callous, surely. Not after the year he’s put the club through. Not after the past 22 years. But clearly a leopard doesn’t change its spots. Levy once more proved to the world that this is just business for him. He doesn’t care about the new manager’s entire season being derailed, about fans hopes and dreams being crushed, about the club having its heart and soul ripped from it 48 hours before the new season starts. For him, it was always the financial calculus that mattered.
The truth is that no one should be surprised. He’s telegraphed his intentions from the day he took control of the club. Ultimately, making money will always be the primary focus, profit over glory. All this faux bravado about holding out for a record fee, about still hoping to tie him to a new contract. It was all part of the great ENIC propaganda machine. Levy knew Kane was being sold last summer, which is the only reason the most spend-averse chairman in the history of football sanctioned the signing of Richarlison. Forget about the dire needs in defence that Conte needed addressed, forget about giving Kane some actual world class talent to play alongside — what the club really needed was a replacement to sit on the bench for a year, drawing the ire of fans and pundits alike with poor, inconsistent performances, before assuming the role of replacing the club’s greatest ever goalscorer.
Yet even by Levy’s standards, the way the Kane saga has been handled has been shambolic. Selling star players is nothing new, of course, under this regime. Along with missed opportunities and failing to back managers, selling prized assets is one of his greatest tricks. From Carrick and Berbatov, to Modric and Bale, Kane isn’t the first player to be left disillusioned by the Tottenham chairman, and he certainly won’t be the last. Yet there’s a level of incompetence — especially given what’s come before — that makes this latest saga even more difficult to stomach. With Bale at least there was the preparation early on in the window, where the club, for the first time in years actually went out and showed some proactive ambition. Of course the money was spread too thin, and few of the signings actually worked out, but at least there was a plan; a pretense of ambition. Kane’s exit is most reminiscent of the Dimitar Berbatov debacle, where Levy dragged his heels for months, pretending to be a shrewd, tough, negotiator…only to cave at the last moment, and leave Tottenham with Frasier Campbell as a replacement. This time, it’s unlikely there’ll even be a Bayern starlet coming the opposite way.
And for a man who’s made a reputation of being an expert negotiator, a brilliant businessman who always “wins” at deals, it’s telling that he’s ending up with a relatively modest fee for one of the greatest strikers English football has ever seen. Kane’s upfront price is less than West Ham got for Declan Rice, and also less than they’ll receive for Lucas Paquetta; two players with nowhere near the same standing in the game. It’s not an anomaly either. Outside of failing chronically to provide the environment for top players to stay and succeed, Levy has also never understood the art of selling players at the right time, and using funds to reinvest in the team. At one point the likes of Eriksen and Dele were both worth upwards of £150m. Levy managed to recoup a grand total of £19m for the pair of them. Perhaps this “expert” negotiator, isn’t so great after all…
Thus even adhering to his investment fund principles of “buy low, sell high,” seems too difficult for Levy, who now appears to follow the “buy low, keep forever,” style of asset management. The amount of deadwood the club not only collects, but retains for inordinate amounts of time is staggering. Half of the first team squad was up for sale this summer, yet as has been the case for years now, no one really wanted them. Instead of cutting his — and the club’s losses — and allowing Spurs to finally move forward, he did what he’s always done: just kept them around indefinitely in the hope that whichever lame duck manager walks through his revolving door next might find a new use for them.
In Tottenham’s final pre-season game against Barcelona, Eric Dier — a player who’s been at the club for nine years, seen off five different managers, and failed in three different positions — was made to look like a pub league player. By the end of the match he was literally spinning around like a drunken carthorse as the Catalans scored three goals in quick succession to come back and win the game. To call him a liability would be an understatement. Yet without the Kane money, the club were unable — or unwilling — to sign a second center back to finally render him surplus to requirements. A genuinely shocking state of affairs for one of England’s supposed Big 6, and one of the world’s richest clubs.
Amidst this backdrop, it’s hard to imagine anyone begrudging Kane a move. Bayern, PSG, Chelsea, United — for Kane it didn’t matter. He wanted off this sinking ship, this hollow vessel of a football club. He wanted more than the occasional illusory jolt of ambition. He wanted a hierarchy and leadership dedicated to winning trophies, who’s every operational component was geared towards achieving just that. At Bayern, he will get this. Sure the Bundesliga isn’t the most competitive league in the world, but for Kane, and any other serious footballer, it’s a world away from the neglect and chaos of ENIC’s Tottenham.
I close my eyes and I picture myself lifting the Premier League trophy at our new stadium with my mates. I’d trade 100 goals for that feeling.Harry Kane
This was Kane speaking just before the opening of the new stadium, when anticipation and expectation for Tottenham’s future was sky-high. The club had endured some lean years, including some extraordinary austerity measures, but here was a new dawn, a new chapter of dominance and success for the club he had grown up at. He had no idea that all of his hopes and dreams of future glory would be eschewed in favor of banking profit and enriching his employers. As heartbreaking as it is to see Kane leave, the one positive impact is that it might open the eyes of many to just how little Levy cares about football. His actions have reached new levels of greed and cowardice, and it is nothing short of an act of betrayal to let the club’s greatest ever goalscorer, leave on the eve of the new season. Tottenham is now once more plunged into turmoil, with the only upside being the spotlight it will cast on those responsible. If the general antipathy and distrust of ENIC — who have now overseen a year in which they’ve hired and fired 3 managers, seen their DOF banned for tax fraud, raised ticket prices beyond the point of affordability, seen their owner federally indicted on charges of corruption, and now sold their star player just hours before the start of the new season — doesn’t swell to deafening levels, then nothing will.
The truth is that Kane got sick of the lies, and sick of the constant state of uncertainty. How many more rebuilds was he supposed to stick around for? He was fully invested under Pochettino, again under Mourinho, and once more even under Conte. None were backed, and look where that got him. The harsh truth is that Spurs, under ENIC, have been “rebuilding” for 22 years. There never has been an end game, no definitive target or even aspiration for success. The only tangible goal is to keep moving the goalposts, and to continue the grift for as long as physically possible. Levy pays himself the highest executive salary in the league to oversee constant failure, still having to sell off best players, and still presiding over perpetual managerial churn. His delicate balancing act of treading water on the pitch while siphoning off profits to other ventures might look great for their shareholders, and may even placate a large section of fans, but it’s not enough for top players who actually want to win trophies.
Of all the the myriad mistakes and sins of the ENIC era, failing to match the ambition and build a winning team around Harry Kane is undoubtedly their most egregious. Mike Ashley would have done more to build a team around him. Levy now sits alone as England’s most maligned chairman, hated by his own fans, loathed by his peers, and derided by rival fans and journalists. He will go down in history as the man who sold the club’s crown jewel instead of using it to drive the success it so desperately deserved. And yet, despite all this, his position as chairman remains unassailable. He answers to no one, and has no real pressure to succeed. As long as the profits keep rolling in, he will remain in his role forever.
Kane did not have to stick around. In truth, he’s been trying to engineer a way out of the club for years. After a long struggle, he’s finally got his wish. And the saddest part, is that no one connected to the club can even blame him in the least.
Spurs need new owners, and fast.