Until Harry Kane stays or goes, Tottenham are stuck in neutral

Harry Kane’s future remains unresolved going into the final year of his contract (EPA)

Tottenham spent 72 days without a manager earlier this year, amid the surreal interregnum of Cristian Stellini and then the tenure of the interim to the interim, Ryan Mason, amongst talk of Julian Nagelsmann and Thomas Tuchel and Arne Slot and Luis Enrique and Xabi Alonso and Vincent Kompany and Ruben Amorim and Roberto De Zerbi.

And yet, the eventual appointment Ange Postecoglou has soon discovered, it is not the longest they have spent in limbo. A few weeks into his reign – or, perhaps more pertinently, after a few weeks of working for Daniel Levy – and the Australian has found that Spurs have spent the summer so far in a state of permanent uncertainty.

Everything – the mood, the expectation, the tactics, the transfer-market policy – is dictated by the question of whether Harry Kane stays. Postecoglou does not know what the answer will be. “It is fair to say I am not relaxed about it,” he said on their pre-season tour of Australia. It is safe to say that was an understatement.

Postecoglou is blameless in the Kane saga. Levy is not. The Tottenham chairman is entitled to refuse offers for his club’s greatest goalscorer or to hold out for the best possible price. But a reason why Manchester United, despite their admiration for Kane’s qualities, were quick to decide they would not pursue him this year was that they could see this scenario coming: that a summer spent fixated on Kane could end in futility, perhaps costing them other targets and meaning they missed out on a striker altogether. There was a lesson from history: that was Manchester City’s fate in 2021, even if it did not prevent them from becoming champions the following season.

Now that may be a glimpse of the future, either for Tottenham or for Bayern Munich. They cannot both end up with Kane on 1 September: time is running out for one and the longer they spend squabbling over him, the greater the chance the loser will deem this a wasted window, with alternative attackers bought by other clubs in the meantime and their forward line left shorn of a potent force. Bayern may be better equipped to cope, despite the problems the lack of a No 9 caused them last season, but they run the risk of a second season in their own unhappy limbo, lacking a worthy successor to Robert Lewandowski. But Bayern have had two bids rejected while Uli Hoeness has claimed that, if Kane keeps his word, he will join them.

Kane’s ubiquity in any discussion involving Tottenham was clear to Postecoglou and not merely because Hugo Lloris’ probable departure appears a sideshow in comparison. “Such a massive figure,” said the Australian and Tottenham’s other failings in the last four years, from poor managerial appointments to misguided signings to the drop-off in other players, have all contrived to render the ever-excellent Kane still more important.

If Levy is partly culpable for that underachievement, he must share some responsibility for a situation where the balance of power has shifted. In to the last year of his contract, with no reason to re-sign right now and no probability he will during this window, Kane holds the cards. There is an argument – perhaps more footballing than financial – that Tottenham should risk losing him on a free transfer for another season of a guarantee of goals and the possibility that would power them into the Champions League. There is also the chance Levy’s is a self-defeating brand of obduracy, that the coup of keeping Kane simply ends up costing Spurs: that it is his version of Antonio Conte playing for a 0-0 draw against AC Milan as Tottenham exited Europe.

Ange Postecoglou, right, before a washed-out friendly with Leicester in Bangkok (Reuters)

One way or another, Postecoglou could be collateral damage. His reign has begun with an upbeat feel and, in James Maddison in particular, a potentially terrific signing. And yet he is currently bogged down by the never-ending issue of Kane. “I don’t think that is good for anyone,” Postecoglou said. “I don’t think it is good for Harry, I don’t think it is good for the club.”

Nor is it good for him as it all drags on. The last manager to take over at Tottenham in a summer, Nuno Espirito Santo, walked into a similar situation, albeit with a couple of significant differences. Kane then tried to force a move; he missed Spurs’ first game of the season – a deceptively encouraging win over his suitors from City – whereas he is on the pre-season tour now. Kane scored a lone league goal for Nuno; the Portuguese was miscast as Tottenham manager and Postecoglou looks an altogether better fit.

But his reign could also be defined by Kane. If Plan B is for Richarlison to lead the line, it would require quite a few alterations to the gameplan. If Plan C is for a new signing, any replacement would be a downgrade and, because Kane can be both prolific and a playmaker, scarcely a duplicate. So Postecoglou will have to formulate different strategies, with or without Kane. And so far, he is unsure which ones he will need. And for the Postecoglou revolution to take effect, he first needs the Kane resolution.


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