The Tragedy of Harry Kane

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“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, 2019

In the spring of 2019, when Harry Kane made these statements, how many would have genuinely predicted the sad and miserable end to his Spurs career? Who foresaw that not only would one of Tottenham’s greatest ever strikers end up winning nothing — no league titles, no European trophies, not even an EFL Cup — but that he would end up entirely disillusioned by the club, unmotivated to play, and desperate to leave?

Not many.

It gives me no joy to say that I was among this minority. Daniel Levy had made me skeptical before. The Martin Jol sacking showed him for the cold, ruthless, and impetuous chairman that he is, but it was during the Harry Redknapp era that we first realized the full extent of his capacity for neglect. It was the first time that we saw his propensity to throw away opportunities, to fail to seize the moment, and to casually fritter away the chance to strengthen from a position of strength. It was, essentially, the first time we realized that football — or at least the trophies the sport can offer — was never going to be something that interested him. The Pochettino era cemented this notion unequivocally.

In an alternate universe somewhere, Pochettino’s 16-17 team was supported with world class signings, the club’s Champions League revenues intelligently, and ambitiously reinvested back into the football team, and Harry Kane has led Tottenham to untold glory. Alas, this Tottenham is not that club, and Daniel Levy is not that chairman.

What we’ve learned over the years, is that despite his reputation — and penchant for firing managers — Levy is not really ruthless when it comes to football. He is more than willing to keep players years past their sell-by-dates. Even when their continued lack of performance hurts the team, and the broader sense of stagnation begins to rot the squad from within. The likes of Davinson Sanchez, Ben Davies and Eric Dier — still here after a combined quarter century of service — are testament to this. Yet there is one aspect of the club in which the former property developer is still ruthlessly uncompromising: profit.

Levy’s thirst for profit knows no limit. He has long seen football — and Tottenham Hotspur in particular — as a goldmine, primed to be milked and exploited in perpetuity. He sees his club as a cash printing machine, one for whom football can become almost an irrelevance — an afterthought at the alter of the almighty dollar. And the sad reality is that he’s getting away with it.

Kane is just the latest victim. Forced, like Bale, Modric, and so many others before him to seek pastures new. Burdened by the realization that the club has never, and will never be able to match his ambitions — despite moving into a brand new stadium ostensibly to do exactly that. What a beautiful lie that was.

And yet, even though we’ve been here before, Kane feels different. Unlike the others, Kane never dreamed of playing elsewhere; scoring and playing for Tottenham was always his dream. Daniel Levy somehow managed to turn that dream into a nightmare, creating an environment so bereft of hope and ambition, so toxic, that in the end Kane’s only option was to sour his relationship with fans and force a move. 

Kane is here now less as a lifelong fan who sees his long term future at the club, and more as a prisoner held against their will at gunpoint. It’s a remarkable achievement by Levy, to not only make Kane want out, but to turn fans against him. But this is what Levy does best. Everything he touches football related turns radioactive at some point. And yet, like a cockroach, somehow he always manages to emerge unscathed, deflecting the blame away from himself, and moving quietly onto his next crisis. From the furlough debacle, to the ESL, nothing ever seems to truly stick.

When all is said and done, Tottenham Hotspur today is no different to West Ham, Southampton, Aston Villa, and other mid-level clubs. They are the also-rans, feeder clubs for the elite, clubs who develop players, only for the big boys — those genuinely serious about winning — to snatch them up and ride them to glory. They are the clubs in purgatory; too good to go down, but nowhere near good enough to challenge at the top of the table. Incredibly, Levy’s neglect in the transfer market has been so acute, and so pervasive, that Spurs will struggle this season to even finish above the likes of West Ham and Aston Villa — both of whom have fresher, better, and deeper squads than Spurs. The likes of Benrahma, Watkins and Bailey are just a few examples of players Tottenham had tracked extensively, before ultimately deciding they didn’t want to pay the money. As with Leicester, Liverpool, and other clubs who’ve usurped them in recent years, the relative regression is crushingly inevitable.

And so Harry Kane, unsurprisingly, wants out. And who can blame him? The club is rudderless, hopeless, hapless, and drifting inexorably back to the mid-table mediocrity from which ENIC had supposedly lifted them. The club has literally come full circle. 7th choice manager, Championship caliber players — in every conceivable way Tottenham is a club in decline. Any sense of style, excitement, or even basic entertainment, is long gone; football under Nuno is genuinely difficult to watch. Fans and pundits noting Harry’s lack of enthusiasm should contextualize the reality here: Harry Kane has been broken. Not by the grueling schedule of English football, not by his own ankles or physical limitations. But by his chairman. A man so unbothered about football that he stumbles from one managerial disaster to the next, one failed transfer window after another, with barely a care in the world, utterly unfussed, so long as the money keeps rolling in.

For the club’s talisman, its boyhood hero, to be put in a position where his legacy has been soured and tarnished, is nothing short of a disgrace. Kane laid down a marker, in no uncertain terms. Daniel Levy barely flinched. He proved, unequivocally, yet again, just how low football is on his list of priorities — just how insignificant the club’s lifeblood is to him and his mentor, Joe Lewis, a man who continues to sail around the world on his quarter of a billion-dollar yacht, sheltering at tax-havens, content with having the lowest levels of owner financing of any owner in England, counting his profits while his football team slowly withers away.

Of course Kane is still physically at Tottenham. But let’s not kid ourselves: mentally, he checked out long ago. Terminal damage has been done. Yes, obituaries are being written for his Tottenham career, yes his relationship with the club is irrevocably altered, and yes, one man alone is responsible for this.

In the month in which one of the club’s greatest ever legends has just passed, it’s worth putting things into perspective. Jimmy Greaves was signed in the summer of 1961, just after Tottenham had become the first team in modern history to win the league and cup double. They already had the league’s top scorer in Bobby Smith. Again: Spurs had just won the double, taking a young, vibrant team all the way to the summit of English football, before deciding to break the world record to bring in another world class striker. Spurs fans can only dream that level of ambition being shown today. The discrepancy between the Tottenham of then, and the Tottenham of today, is startling. Levy talks a lot about DNA, heritage, uniqueness, etc; the harsh truth is that he’s subverted everything great about this club. The style, the glory, the trophies — all carelessly eschewed in order to line his pockets.

When the history of Harry Kane’s time at Tottenham is written, it will tell of his goalscoring exploits, his London derby performances, his ability on the ball. But ultimately, it will be a story of failure; a sorry tale of what might have been, of missed opportunities, and of wasted glory. It will be a microcosm of Tottenham’s past 21 years.

The real tragedy of Harry Kane doesn’t lie with player himself; but the environment in which he found himself. The sheer reluctance of the ownership deciding his — and his club’s — fortune to build a winning team around him; to ever push the boat out, and to ever truly try and compete with its rivals. His story is a poignant reminder of the perils of stagnation, a cautionary tale for standing still in a sport as dynamic and demanding as football, and a damning indictment of Daniel Levy’s leadership. How many other chairman in world football would have failed to build a winning team around a talent as relentlessly prolific as Harry Kane? It’s hard to imagine even Mike Ashley, Newcastle’s much-loathed chairman, doing much worse given the sort of gifts with which Levy was bestowed.

Unearthing a £150m+ player from your academy is like a free hit in football. No one expected Kane to become the player he is; not his scouts, his coaches, his mentors, and certainly not his chairman. Yet once that gift arrives — and for Spurs, it did over half a decade ago — the onus is on the club to make the most of the opportunity. Levy, of course, did the complete opposite. He used Kane’s brilliance as an excuse to rest on his laurels. With the striker guaranteeing 20 goals a season, the stock of the homegrown hero growing by the day, and a place in the top 6 almost guaranteed with his mere presence, why bother strengthening the team around him?

Of course, football doesn’t quite work like that, and it should come as no surprise to see Tottenham’s complacency leading to stagnation, and that stagnation leading to regression. Tottenham under Nuno look like facing a struggle for a place in the top 10 on current form.

Kane, inevitably, is coming in for criticism from all corners. Another lackluster performance in the North London Derby continued his worst start to a season in six years. Yet is it really his fault? The underlying statistics of Nuno-ball make for miserable reading. Tottenham rank 20th in shots per game, 20th in key passes, 20th in chances created, 20th in xG, and 18th for shots faced per game. Yes, Kane is an elite striker, but he’s playing in a team that is barely functional.

An athlete’s mental state is also just as important as their physical state. In a week in which he’s had to watch his international teammates going up against the likes of Juventus and PSG in the Champions League, Harry Kane is preparing himself for Europa Conference action against NS Mura, Slovenian minnows with a stadium capacity of 3,782. Whatever his notions of “moving in the right direction, and showing the right ambition,” truly were; this, most certainly was not it. Kane will also be acutely aware that even if he wanted to rest, and miss the game, the club still does not have another senior striker on their books. It’s a sad, sorry state of affairs for one of the world’s richest clubs, who continue to confound and annoy in equal measure.

Perhaps most ominously, if ENIC’s 21 year reign has taught us anything, it’s that while trophies and glory might be non-existent, eventually, there will be more talent to exploit. More young starlets for fans to worship, celebrate, but ultimately mourn in the coming years. Whenever Levy stumbles on his next trump card, and decides to stand still and admire his balance sheet rather than build a winning team around them, that player, too, will become disillusioned, and the same old cycle will invariably repeat all over again.

There will never, however, be another Harry Kane.

1 thought on “The Tragedy of Harry Kane”

  1. Spot on as always. The nightmare continues. I can’t remember feeling as bad as this for a long time about my club but the question is where do we go from here. The protests have to start again and in greater numbers. Unfortunately the THST refused to add its name to the call for Enic to sell citing that we have to work with what we’ve got. They did call for Levy’s resignation (the executive board) but then met with them and recently requested another meeting! It’s reform or revolution time. They’ve chosen reform.

    Having said that you ducked the question of whether Kane should have been sold. Sure we shouldn’t have been in that situation but the truth is we are and Levy missed the chance to recruit a talented alternative in Vlahovic or Martinez by keeping Kane and having his (Levy’s) ego massaged further. We should give city an ultimatum – first week of January, £120m come and get him – and use as much as we have to on one of those strikers.

    Then at least we can get on with the job of finding a buyer for Dele, Ndombele and others and recruit some quality.

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