Some of the great footballing rearguard actions last 90 minutes. Daniel Levy’s has spanned months. There were no cracks in his defence, no weaknesses to be exploited. Harry Kane was denied, Manchester City were repelled and a supposed gentleman’s agreement ignored.
Levy is being acclaimed as the master of obduracy. If Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham, who kept on losing leads last season, were as good at protecting what they have as their chairman is, then the Portuguese would still be at the helm.
Victory was announced in the form of a disingenuous tweet where Kane admitted defeat in his bid to leave. In some senses, it is a triumph for Tottenham: Kane was both the Premier League’s top scorer and leading assister last season. He is finisher and playmaker in one. He is a guarantee of goals and has a symbolic importance that goes beyond the statistics. Selling him to a domestic rival may have ratified Tottenham’s relegation to the second rank of clubs, a couple of years after they were Champions League finalists. Letting him go late in the window would have left Spurs with little time to find a replacement; losing him at any point might have ended their chances of getting a top-four finish before the season was really underway. As it is, with back-to-back victories in the Premier League, a hugely encouraging start for Nuno Espirito Santo, and the endorsement that keeping Kane, however they did it, brings, Spurs have renewed optimism.
And yet it may prove a pyrrhic victory. Not if Tottenham secure a return to the Champions League, admittedly, but even with Kane in London, the widespread assumption is that four clubs are substantially stronger than everyone else and Spurs could be competing to be the best of the rest.
But few missed the significance of the wording when Kane stated he will be staying at Tottenham “this summer.” So 2022 may bring another saga but there is unlikely to be as big an offer. Had Levy been flexible and shown a greater willingness to negotiate, Spurs could have secured a British record fee. Not next year.
Yet the repeated suggestions Tottenham wanted £150 million or £160 million in effect priced Kane out of a move. Spurs may have pegged that value in relation to Jack Grealish’s £100 million fee or Philippe Coutinho’s £140 million cost or Neymar’s £198 million outlier but Real Madrid’s £137 million bid for the far younger Kylian Mbappe, even if he has a solitary year left on his contract, looks more realistic, especially in a depreciating market.
Precious few of the biggest transfer deals have really paid off for the buyer: of the 14 biggest concluded before this summer, only two – Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale’s moves to Real Madrid – are genuine successes. The savvier clubs may have taken note. Tottenham had only one bidder and no auction to drive up the price: perhaps Levy would never have sold at any price, but if he was trying to hold City to ransom, he failed.
🗣 "Fantastic news for everybody."Tottenham Head Coach Nuno Espírito Santo gives his reaction to the news of Harry Kane staying at Tottenham and says his training sessions have been great and is an option for tomorrow 👇pic.twitter.com/hcc9gqybpbAugust 25, 2021
Factoring in Kane’s wages, it was expecting them to commit a quarter of a billion pounds to a player with precious little resale value in four or five years. If Spurs were trying to play hardball, a policy of never budging cost themselves a windfall which they will not get again, or the resulting opportunity to reinvest in the squad. It is unlikely Tottenham will get an offer in excess of £100 million for Kane again, even if he does not pick up another ankle injury.
Next summer he will be 29 and into the final two years of his contract. City may be more reluctant to bid again, and not merely because of the difficulties of dealing with Levy, with the knowledge that Pep Guardiola is going in 2023. Chelsea will not need a centre-forward now they have recruited Romelu Lukaku. Erling Haaland should be available and thus everyone’s top striking target.
For those of us who hope Kane stays at Spurs for the long term and cements his legendary status there by claiming the goalscoring record of an all-time great in Jimmy Greaves, this is fine. Yet Levy’s reputation has been made as a hard-nosed businessman. Keeping Kane for another year may be an eloquent display that Spurs are no pushovers but financially, it threatens to be an awful trade-off.
Unless Kane fires Tottenham into the top four, his eventual departure could come for £50 million or £60 million less than they could have secured and without achieving anything extra. And that is not Levynomics as we used to know it.
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Richard Jolly also writes for the National, the Guardian, the Observer, the Straits Times, the Independent, Sporting Life, Football 365 and the Blizzard. He has written for the FourFourTwo website since 2018 and for the magazine in the 1990s and the 2020s, but not in between. He has covered 1500+ games and remembers a disturbing number of the 0-0 draws.