EPL TALK: Harry Kane must decide if he's happy trophy-less
Year after year Tottenham have come up short, and it's unfair to hold him hostage to the idea of a one-club superstar
NO ONE tried to make the relationship work more than Harry Kane. He forgave every indiscretion, all those dodgy nights out in Europe and the odd weekend to forget in Sheffield. He stood by his partners like a hopelessly devoted cuckold.
But it’s not working, is it? It’s not you, Harry, it’s them; cheating on your talent and loyalty by standing you up against AC Milan. Tottenham Hotspur didn’t show.
A parting of the ways feels necessary now.
Heaven knows, Kane did his best to make it work. He broke all the records worth breaking. He reimagined a comic-book hero for the 2020s, a one-club superstar who stays with his boyhood heroes. There was Roy of the Rovers in print. There was Harry of the Hapless Hotspurs on the pitch, doggedly persevering with a misplaced idealism that has long since been jettisoned by just about everyone else.
The Spurs skipper has done his bit. He’s emulated the nobility of Mark Noble and stuck it out like Matt Le Tissier at St Mary’s, but there are obvious differences. Le Tissier’s languid demeanour hardly screamed “ceaseless ambition” and with all due respect to Noble, West Ham never had to fend off the big boys’ advances like Beyonce’s security.
Kane is needed at Tottenham, but wanted elsewhere. Spurs’ exit from the Champions League ensures another trophy-less season for their undisputed world-class employee. He’s the only one secure in his identity at a club stuck in an identity crisis.
Existentialism reigns at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, as supporters toil like first-year philosophy students, discussing their reason for being. From chairman Daniel Levy and manager Antonio Conte to angry, benched forward Richarlison, no one appears to have the first clue.
Right now, Spurs exist only to provide a future museum for the sacred scrolls of Kane’s goal-scoring accolades, whatever the final number might be. His club record 268 goals in 423 appearances is already in the bag and he’s still after Alan Shearer’s all-time Premier League tally. (Shearer finished on 260. Kane currently stands on 201.) Beyond that, the point of Tottenham is hard to fathom.
North London’s kings of anti-climax are still in the top four chase, but there’s a sense of it drifting towards a familiar, dull nothingness: out of all the cups, out of form and out of the way. Far too good to ever go down, far too inconsistent to ever win anything, Spurs are secure in their nonentity status. They are a mediocre Netflix movie at weekends. No chance of an Oscar. No chance of a Razzie. They are just there, filling space and killing time.
Kane is too talented to be doing either, especially in his 30th year. If he stays, he collects records and an unwanted membership to the nearly men club. He joins George Best (best player to never play at a World Cup) and Billy Bonds (best player to never play for England, I’m biased, but look him up anyway) in becoming the best player to never win a trophy. Kane ends his career as a coffee shop table debate, except there is no debate, not when it comes to the best player to never win a trophy.
It’s Kane. Easily Kane. It’s a testament to his status as a homegrown colossus that no one else comes close, which also makes it such a cruel asterisk. A trophy-less career is not a stained legacy, but an unfair one.
Man United a clear destination?
If Kane decides to leave at the end of a 13th unlucky season, he’s not betraying a club, but defending that comic-book sentiment. Kids fantasise of scoring goals and lifting trophies, in that order. No one dreams of record books and property portfolios. The kid always wants the cup. And the kid in all of us should want Kane to lift one.
The collective craving for justice that demanded Lionel Messi lift the World Cup now expects the finest striker of his generation to lift something of value, too, which means Kane has to leave Tottenham.
And the potential match-up must be the most obvious since Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan made romantic comedies together in the Nineties. All that’s missing is Erik ten Hag meeting Kane outside Big Ben with a teddy bear in a Manchester United jersey. Right now, there is a Kane-shaped hole in the heart of United's attack.
Of course, Kane would have to displace Wout Weghorst, which is a bit like Black Beauty displacing a rocking horse, but the prospect of England’s captain working alongside his international heir apparent, Marcus Rashford, feels strangely poignant. Before the elder statesman passes on the baton, the young buck can follow him up the Wembley steps.
Alternatively, Kane stays at Tottenham, the loyalist who put the greater good of his club ahead of personal ambition. Conte isn’t going to do that. He’ll soon head back to his Italian homeland, a place where the deep, defensive block never goes out of fashion. Richarlison may not do that either, if he continues to slag off Spurs whenever he’s benched.
Ironically, Tottenham staff with just a fraction of Kane’s pedigree and commitment can walk away without a backwards glance, guilt-free, but Kane alone must trudge from game to game, season to season, dealing with this hand-wringing angst. It’s nonsense.
He gave Spurs 13 years. They gave him a dire 0-0 draw in the Champions League, a single effort on target against AC Milan and another wasted season. At this point, they can only give him Shearer’s EPL scoring record.
Maybe it’ll be enough for Kane. Maybe he’ll end his career just like Shearer, bowing out at his boyhood club. Kane will finish with the eternal gratitude of Tottenham supporters, just as Shearer finished with the eternal gratitude of Newcastle supporters, along with the EPL winners’ medal he picked up at Blackburn Rovers.
At least one of them got what they deserved.
(Kane) gave Spurs 13 years. They gave him a dire 0-0 draw in the Champions League, a single effort on target against AC Milan and another wasted season. At this point, they can only give him Shearer’s EPL scoring record.
Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 26 books.
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