Spurs don’t deserve to keep brilliant Kane as they fold into mediocrity yet again
Spurs ended their home season in an appropriately downbeat way against an excellent Brentford team. If Harry Kane’s future is in doubt, why should he stay?
It’s been a long week, but the wait was finally over. Roll over, Real Madrid. Move along now, Manchester City. Silence, Sheffield Wednesday. Pipe down, Peterborough United. It’s Saturday lunchtime and time for the Premier League’s most important battle: The Race For Seventh Place.
This year, it’s… LETHARGIC. Four teams are in the mix, but only one can go on to spend the autumn complaining about not having enough depth to spend every other week having to play teams from cities they’ve never heard of in the Europa Conference League on bloody Thursday nights, with all their Saturday kick-offs moved to Sundays as a result.
Spurs arrived for their game against Brentford with something to prove, even if only to themselves. It remains a possibility that this could be the last time that season ticket holders – bar the platinum tier masochists going to Leeds on the last day of the season – will see Harry Kane live in a Spurs shirt. It certainly is a strange thought.
The television cameras were focused on him and him alone prior to kick-off. The camera probed his face, looking for signs that he may be about to burst into tears, lay a wreath, or otherwise give something away about his summer intentions. But Kane remained poker-faced throughout. Even when he gave them the lead after eight minutes, there was no emotional burst of energy, merely warm appreciation for another beautifully taken goal. He kept running throughout, an increasingly isolated and frustrated figure as the game progressed, trying to lead but with nothing to lead.
For a club in grip of a season-long existential crisis, Spurs purred for a while during the first half, relatively. Heung-min Son ran through and had a shot saved by the excellent David Raya. He then crossed for Emerson Royal to have a header acrobatically cleared off the line by Rico Henry. But normal service resumed within five minutes of the second half. The colour drained from the home side’s faces, yet another display of this budgie-hearted sickliness that has been on display just about all season.
It was all so inevitable. Time and time again this season, Spurs have just folded like this. One minute in a match, they look capable of pulling clear. They start to look like a football team. But then, and it often seems to simply come from out of nowhere, it all folds in on itself again. The passing becomes misplaced. The defence takes on the consistency of blancmange. That familiar Spurs feeling of skittishness without urgency descends again, like a fine mist.
And that’s exactly what happened on this occasion. Brentford gently prodded the underbelly of the ‘beast’ and found not that it wasn’t merely soft, more that it didn’t even really exist at all. They were playing a team presenting as an optical illusion, and the introduction of Mikkel Damsgaard at half-time proved to be all it took to unlock them. His introduction for Frank Onyeka was like a golden key. All it needed was for him to see the angle, and Damsgaard could pass the ball through it without worrying about the home defence doing anything other than acting as onlookers. Not for the first time this season, all you could really do was look on in awe at how easy it was being made for them.
Brentford were everything that Spurs weren’t. They were compact, tidy and committed. They didn’t completely lose their heads as though trying to run in four directions at the same time whenever they were pressured. They played to a game plan that seemed to cover 90 minutes rather than just the first 45. Bryan Mbeumo was a muscular flurry on the right, drifting inside for two goals as the home defence folded before him. Twice in just over 10 minutes he out-thought the Spurs defence by thinking anything at all, flipping the lead on its head. Yoane Wissa completed the job with a couple of minutes left to play. Early fears that Thomas Frank’s team will severely miss the now long-term absent Ivan Toney may be wide of the mark.
It was wholly appropriate that The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium should have been half-empty by the time the final whistle blew. The final scene was the end-of-season portmanteau they deserved. Ryan Mason looked on disconsolately from the touchline. It’s not his fault. He’s a symptom, not a cause: the guy who will do the job for the rest of the season because, well, who the hell else was going to do it? Kane looked as lost as he so frequently has this season. This isn’t his fault, either. He’s scored 28 goals. It’s not his fault that the club’s forward planning seems to have consisted of Daniel Levy sitting with his fingers crossed, praying for his life that Kane will just a do little bit more of that sort of thing.
But why should Kane stay? Loyalty is a two-way street, and if we can presume that promises have been made to him in the past concerning the club’s future strategy, we can only really also assume them to have been broken, unless they consisted of, “continue to stagnate while relying on you to dig us out of the increasingly deep holes into which we keep digging ourselves”. As things stand, they still don’t even know who their manager is going to be for next season. Still, at least if they’ve already completely ruled out Mauricio Pochettino and Julian Nagelsmann, it’s got to be someone really brilliant, AMIRITE?
Perhaps Arne Slot will be the patsy. This is looking increasingly likely as time progresses. Perhaps he will be a genius, the perfect marriage of head coach and club. Or perhaps the problems within have long been greater than any manager can fix, or even any record-goalscoring striker can. Perhaps Tottenham Hotspur are all fur coat and no knickers, a gleaming edifice of a stadium with no heart, where the only thing that anyone ever seems to ‘dare to do ‘ is mediocrity. And perhaps nothing will change until there is change at the top.
At the moment, it seems as likely as not that Spurs will miss out on a place in the Europa Conference League next season, and if they do, then fair enough. Quite frankly, they’re not good enough.
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