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Harry Kane could claim so much more than trophies if he stays with Spurs

Harry Kane
(Image credit: PA)

It was a bland way of inviting speculation. “I'm fully focussed on doing the job on the pitch from now until the end of the summer, and then we'll see where we go from there,” said Harry Kane last week. It was notable for what he did not say: either that he wants to leave Tottenham or that he is determined to stay. 

The logical conclusion is to say that Kane should go. Spurs have regressed even as he has developed his game to become creator as well as scorer. He might win Footballer of the Year while they could fail to qualify for Europe. He could top both the Premier League scoring and assist charts while Spurs are below West Ham in the table. If Jose Mourinho is still in charge, next season is unlikely to be better than this. A semi-fit Kane featured in the 2019 Champions League final; remain at Tottenham and he might not play in the competition again until 2023, if at all. The sands of time are ticking for a man who turns 28 in July.

And yet there is a counter-argument. Kane should stay. It is partly a pragmatic case: he might have to. 

Daniel Levy might price him out of a move, slapping a price in excess of £100 million on a player who would have a diminishing resale value and has a history of injuries, and during a recession that has affected the super-clubs (and who should be scarred by the reality that very few of the supersized deals have been unqualified successes). Examine each club’s financial position and it feels unlikely that Real Madrid or Barcelona could fund a £100 million deal this summer; even Manchester United might not, while Manchester City have never gone close to those sorts of sums.

Nor would he be first choice in a market where Erling Haaland should top every striking shortlist and thus get the choice of the likelier Champions League winners. Not that being second choice might matter in other circumstances: many of the centre-forwards currently employed at the biggest clubs are in their thirties, out of contract or both. A high-class striker would be in demand were funds more bounteous. But when Levynomics meets economics, Kane might be forced to stay, a flagship player for a club with a £1 billion stadium and who do not want an admission of a lack of ambition.

But while, if Tottenham lose the Carabao Cup final, there is a growing possibility the World Cup Golden Boot winner could complete his club career without silverware, Kane ought to have another incentive to stay. Kane has 215 goals for Tottenham. He is 51 adrift of Jimmy Greaves’ club record, which has gone unchallenged for half a century. He is extremely unlikely to pass it in the next 14 months, so taking it would probably require him staying for a further two seasons.  

And yet securing it ought to count for more than a trophy or two procured elsewhere; obviously, that depends on where the success lay and a Champions League count for more than a Carabao Cup. But while it is easy to assert that the purpose of football is winning, that is only part of it.   

Clubs have a deeper identity, a wider community. Achievements are not always reflected in silverware, meaning not always shown by medals. Far fewer define a club and make an imprint in its history than win something. Greatness is not simply a question of who won more: if so, then Radek Cerny would be a better Spurs player than Kane.

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Steven Gerrard concluded that one trophy with Liverpool would count for more than several elsewhere. Perhaps Gerrard represents a cautionary tale for Kane; after all, he never won the Premier League with his hometown club. In other respects, however, he is a role model, and not merely because he lifted the Champions League; his place in Liverpool folklore was cemented by loyalty. 

He eventually resisted the temptations and if there was something self-sacrificial about Gerrard, sometimes playing with inferior footballers, exiled from the Champions League, there was also much that was admirable. Rewind a quarter of a century and Matt Le Tissier took the decision to remain at an altogether lower level; until his ill-advised foray into the world of conspiracy theories, it produced the sort of reputation many a more decorated player could only envy. 

His was a throwback career in some respects, and there can feel something old-fashioned about Kane. Tottenham have let him down this season, and he would forever remain one of their finest goalscorers if he were to depart this summer. Once the anger had subsided, perhaps few would blame him. But stay and get Greaves’ record and he could accomplish something genuinely historic.

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