Will he stay or will he go? Harry Kane is approaching a difficult juncture (Getty)
An age-old argument, without any definitive answer: when do you let your best player go if the rest of the team needs serious improvement? Is it at the point of emotional guilt-tripping, or when the finances make most sense? Is it when the individual starts creating negativity around the dressing room? Or is it in fact not at all – you keep the top performers and that’s the end of it?
Daniel Levy, chairperson at Spurs, has been placed in this position before, but perhaps not when Tottenham have been in such a period of weakness and at such a moment of crossroads.
When Luka Modric departed in 2012, Spurs had finished fourth and reached the FA Cup semi-final. A year later when Gareth Bale made his exit, Spurs finished one place further back in the Premier League but actually earned three points more than the campaign previous. The rebuild money across those two summers was perhaps spent in mixed fashion, but it was at a time Tottenham were trying to crack into the top clubs on a regular basis.
This time, it’s Harry Kane who looks set for a departure, with Bayern Munich offering up an initial bid – big money, but perhaps not quite big enough just yet – for the striker who has only one year remaining on his contract.
Kane has been better, more important, more consistent and longer-serving for Tottenham than either of the two aforementioned stars, or indeed any others they’ve had of late. Yet the club also finished eighth last season, their worst league placing in 14 years, and it’s time for both Kane to move on and Spurs to move on without him.
It is not for any reason so crass or emotive or frankly ludicrous as “they owe him”. Spurs do not owe Kane anything. He has been excellent for them, and they have given him the platform to be so. But he clearly has kept his level when the club has lost its own, starting at the most uppermost points of the hierarchy downwards.
Kane should be seeking a move for his own prospects, for his own ability to win trophies and his own capacity to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the greatest centre-forwards of this generation. At Bayern in particular, he’ll very much have the opportunity to do that.
Kane has been the most influential Tottenham player for years (Getty)
Of course, the flip side of the player-based argument is twofold: winning silverware at Spurs might mean more, and so too might claiming the Premier League goalscoring record. Only Kane himself can answer those two factors truthfully, but even if he were to head to the Bundesliga to rack up three or four titles now, there’s very little to suggest his playmaking and goalscoring prowess would have deserted him by the time he turns 33 or 34. A comeback to Spurs once they’ve rebuilt and he’s filled his boots elsewhere? Don’t rule it out.
A move abroad is also a risk of its own kind, between adaptation to culture and club, especially in a Euros season. But Gareth Southgate isn’t likely to be leaving out his captain any time soon even if form does desert him – let alone the question of whether there’s even an alternative candidate.
And so the decision heads once more to Levy, in charge yet again of overseeing transfers after Fabio Paratici’s enforced exit, and tasked with coming up with a price he finds acceptable for a player the fans value above all others, yet will otherwise surely lose for free in a year.
To be blunt, Spurs cannot afford the kind of bluster and brinkmanship Levy has shown before with a far stronger hand.
The team needs investment. The team might need outright reshaping, given Ange Postecoglou is almost as far removed from Antonio Conte tactically as he is by way of club interim appointments.
Richarlison, right, and Dejan Kulusevski will be key players as Tottenham is reshaped next season (Getty)
Without any kind of European football this coming campaign, Spurs have the chance to make the most of the Australian’s excellent coaching capacity on the training pitch with the additional time between matches the schedule will afford him, so to maximise a season on the fringes they should also be seeking to build the group of players which will benefit him most.
While Kane the player is irreplaceable, Spurs can provide Postecoglou with a group to more than make up for what they lose through his sale, if the proceeds are reinvested well and existing players nurtured. Richarlison is the most obvious example, especially as the potential replacement No 9, but Dejan Kulusevski has so much more to give too.
Spurs don’t need to gut the building entirely, but they certainly need a better structure than they had last season.
Selling Kane is a hard choice, but the right one for the club to move into a new phase of more normalised expectations with long-term prospects for improvement – and the right one for the striker to prove himself on a whole new level, too.