In normal circumstances Harry Kane’s interview with Jamie Redknapp last weekend would have been the start of a dance as old as time.
“I love Spurs, I’ll always love Spurs but I’ve always said if I don’t feel we’re progressing as a team or going in the right direction, I’m not someone to stay there for the sake of it,” Kane said. “I’m an ambitious player, I want to improve, get better and become one of the top, top players. It all depends on what happens as a team and how we progress as a team. So it’s not a definite I’m going to stay there forever but it’s not a no either.”
You can interpret that in any way you like. In fact, Kane’s words were almost certainly deliberately and carefully chosen for that exact purpose, to be picked over and spun in various different ways.
In some respects what he said was so obvious it’s barely worth looking at. Of course he can’t guarantee that he’ll stay at Tottenham forever. Nobody can guarantee anything. At the moment we can’t even guarantee that football is actually going to happen in the foreseeable future.
What Kane said was bland enough that it can be easily and convincingly brushed off whenever someone gets the chance to ask Jose Mourinho about it, but with just enough spice to set tongues wagging and speculation starting. In this context, in the desperate and frantic sliver of human existence that is the transfer rumour mill, even acknowledging that something could happen is enough to convince someone who wants to be convinced, that it definitely will happen.
It could have been scripted by his agent, and perhaps was. In the world of the football transfer, this was a player ‘laying the groundwork’, gently introducing the suggestion that you might want to make a move, but at the same time trying to retain some immediate sympathy by implying that it would be the club’s fault for not progressing if you did. This was classic phase one.
The trouble is, if this was Kane trying to get the ball rolling for a transfer away from Tottenham, he probably couldn’t have possibly chosen a worse time to do so. Because this might be the first time since he established himself as a proven goalscorer four or five years ago that nobody will either want or be able to buy Harry Kane.
There are several factors at play here. The first is Kane’s performance: we know that increasing numbers of teams place a lot of emphasis on data and analytics, and there are various sets of analyses that suggest Kane’s underlying performances have been declining for the last few years: here’s one, and here’s another.
Of course, Kane made it pretty easy to brush off and even mock such doomy forecasts by scoring 27 goals in 31 appearances for Tottenham and England this season. But whether you place any stock in analytics or not isn’t really the point: the point is that plenty of clubs now do, and may use that as a reason not to make what would have to be a substantial commitment to a player that may have already peaked.
There’s also the issue of his physical wellbeing. Kane has missed 52 games with assorted injuries since the start of the 2016/17 season, including his seemingly annual ankle injury that has kept him out of some crucial stretches of games. And that’s not including the games he’s rushed back for when not fit, last season’s Champions League final being a case in point. Everyone gets injured at some point, but when you can point to precedent and predict that a player will be missing for about a quarter of your fixtures, you’ll at least pause before getting the chequebook out.
All of which is before you consider whether anybody will actually be able to afford him. Logically, you would think that the coronavirus crisis and the potential financial calamity in football will have a relatively significant impact on transfer fees: after all, the less money clubs have, the less they should be able to spend. The CIES Football Observatory reckons collective global player value could drop by 28% as a result of this whole thing.
Will this crisis have the unexpected impact of ending the £100m plus transfer? Will it force clubs to be more parsimonious? Of course, football – and in particular transfer fees – often don’t subscribe to logic, but this crisis must at least enter their thoughts over the next year or two.
Even if player value drops, that doesn’t mean that clubs will necessarily ask for less money, which brings us to the question of who any potential Kane suitor is dealing with. Daniel Levy’s reputation as a nightmare negotiator is enough that Manchester United apparently hide under the desk and ignore his calls, and anyone who gets in touch to ask about Kane will most likely be sent away with the shortest of shrift, or quoted a price approaching Neymar money that only the desperate would pay. He remained stubborn when Christian Eriksen agitated for a move, ditto Toby Alderweireld and Danny Rose, and going back a few years it was a similar story for Luka Modric and Gareth Bale before they were eventually allowed to leave, on Levy’s terms.
Levy almost certainly wouldn’t sell to another English club, Bayern Munich tend not to pay the most astronomical fees, it’s doubtful that any of the Italian clubs could afford him, which leaves Barcelona and Real Madrid. The former’s finances have been chaotic for some time and laid bare by Leo Messi and pals having to take a 70% cut just to keep the lights on, and while the latter can always be relied upon to pull something absurd out of their back pocket, they have dealt with Levy before.
At any other time, Kane setting the process of a potential move in motion would be a textbook piece of transfer chicanery. But right now, even if he does actually want to go, the prospect of anyone being willing or able to take him looks remote.
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