Harry Kane has announced he’s staying at Tottenham. This is like announcing that you’ve agreed not to speak to the dead, that you are choosing to abide by the laws of Newtonian physics. You don’t have any say in the matter, but you can pretend to, if it makes you feel better. It’s been an open secret for a while now that Kane wants to move on from Spurs, who have fallen off the pace lately, failing to qualify for the Champions League for two consecutive seasons, but Spurs are a difficult club to leave. If you’re at Sevilla and make eyes at Real Madrid, or Everton and tell management you want to move to Manchester United, you’re apt to get a reasonable response. Alright, fine, you’ve outgrown the club. If we get a decent offer, we’ll let you walk. Spurs slap a ridiculous price tag on you, dare the competition to pay it, and then tell you they’ll see you in training next week after nobody decides to pony up a buck-fifty on the dollar.
Chairman Daniel Levy isn’t much for negotiating. The guy simply doesn’t sell players he doesn’t want to move on from. It took Luka Modric a year-and-a-half of sulking and grumbling and asking to move to Chelsea—who made three official bids, all of which were rejected—before Real Madrid finally came for him in the summer of 2012, for $40 million. The next offseason, Madrid dispensed some $115 million to land Gareth Bale, and in 2017, Manchester City paid a premium of nearly $60 million for Kyle Walker. That’s the entire record of really good players exiting Tottenham over the past decade. Every other potential bargain has been driven so hard that the other party threw up their hands and decided to pursue other targets.
Kane knows this as well as anyone, having been at the North London club since he was a boy. And yet this summer he set himself the quixotic task of agitating for a move with three years still left on his contract. Reports indicated that there was a Gentleman’s Agreement—totally binding, totally real, definitely not something Levy could just throw in the trash if he felt like it—between Kane and management that they would entertain offers for him this summer. This makes sense on paper: Kane is 28, one of the best strikers in the world, and would like to play for major trophies that Spurs aren’t particularly close to winning, as currently constructed.
Except the only serious bidder for Kane over the past few weeks has been Manchester City, and Levy more or less decided that if Kane was leaving, he was going to have to cross the English Channel to do it. If Madrid or Barcelona or Paris Saint-Germain had put in a huge offer, it might have been accepted. Instead, City tried something in the neighborhood of $170 million. Spurs turned them down. Kane skipped a few training sessions. Spurs held firm, demanded about $220 million, a number City correctly assessed as ridiculous. And that was the end of that. Try again next window, Harry.
Meanwhile, Kylian Mbappé is joining Real Madrid. It’s been a long-simmering development that will conclude either this summer or in 2022. Mbappé grew up idolizing Cristiano Ronaldo, has been talking about Madrid in the press for years, and with only one season left on his contract, he’s refusing to renew at PSG. The message being: sell me now or I’ll walk in ten months.
Conventional wisdom has been that while PSG would obviously rather keep the 22-year-old superstar forward, they also do not respond well to threats and won’t blink at the prospect of sacrificing a gigantic transfer fee for the opportunity to compete for a Champions League title. (And maybe they’ll win Ligue 1 too, which they strangely are not a lock to accomplish every year.) At present, they have an absurdly talented front line with Mbappé, Neymar, and Leo Messi. If it’s only intact for one season, so be it. Let Mbappé go to Madrid and maybe they’ll bring Erling Haaland aboard to replace him. The club is an abundantly funded propaganda arm of an oil and natural gas state and the Financial Fair Play regulations that are supposed to rein in their spending hardly have any teeth. They don’t need transfer income.
In a mild twist, PSG are reportedly at least considering selling Mbappé. The proposed figure of around $260 million is eye-watering, but Madrid have bought and sold well over the past few years and going by their track record are overdue for a big-money acquisition. It’s a club defined by its starpower, and perhaps they’re overeager to kick off the Mbappé Era. Not for nothing, they could also really use the sublime Frenchman on the pitch after finishing second last season in a weak Liga. They might pony up, as the mega-rich often do, out of equal parts boredom and desperation.
As the Mbappé situation is proving, Kane screwed up in signing a six-year deal in 2018. Most clubs accommodate their best players, because they don’t want to be seen as holding their talent hostage, but when you’re at one of the few gilded cage outfits in Europe, overlong commitments are death. Mbappé always knew he would make the move to Madrid at some point, so he kept his options open and ran down his contract. He’ll soon get what he wants. Kane was 25 when he locked himself in at Spurs, and though the club was riding high at that moment, he had to know that Spurs weren’t going to hang with the extremely wealthy EPL upper class forever, and that he could easily find himself where he is now. Not that it’s the worst thing in the world, pulling down a massive salary at your boyhood club. But if he truly wanted City, he needed to plan for it. Because Daniel Levy doesn’t sell. Not unless you force him, and Kane doesn’t have the leverage.