It’s the transfer we’ve all been waiting for, and it’s been drawn out longer than anything anyone’s ever seen in recent memory. Harry Kane’s wanted out of Tottenham for years now, and who could blame him? Now, with Bayern having apparently offered £86m plus add-ons for a thirty-year old striker who can leave for free a year from now, it’s up to Daniel Levy to do us all a solid and accept the bid. While it’s true that Bayern could come back in January with a reduced bid, it’s all too possible that Kane could pull a van Persie a year from now, and none of us want that.Continue reading
It’s not often that we wallow in the muck and the mire, but, when we do, I hope we can still come out smelling like roses. While we’ve been busy little bees in the transfer window thus far, our North London rivals have been almost as busy, signing Maddison and Vicario while making the loans of Kulusevski and Porro permanent deals. Still, looming over that entire mess of a club like a sword of Damocles is the future of one Harry Kane, who refuses to commit his future to the club while flirting openly with Bayern. It’s a saga we know all too well.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not here to commiserate with our erstwhile rivals. If anything, I’m sizing up their chances at competing with us. Short version: even if Kane stays, they won’t compete with us. Taking a broader view, though, there are echoes in Kane’s situation that reverberate all the way back to the summer of 2013. It was then that our own talismanic striker, Robin van Persie, made it clear that he wanted out of London, creating an inescapable catch-22. The summer prior, after all, had seen us forced to sell Fabregas and Nasri. Still, van Persie was finally fit and delivered one of his best seasons with the club. However, by broadcasting his intent to leave, he created the conditions that guaranteed his departure.
Whom did we sign that summer in an attempt to persuade van Persie to stay? Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski, and Santi Cazorla. While each of them become cult heroes in their own rights and for their own reasons, none of them was the kind of signing that would convince a player like van Persie to stay at the club. The previous window wasn’t much better; none of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arteta, Mertesacker, Gervinho, and Santos were going to get pulses racing.
That’s some catch, that catch-22. By openly agitating for a move, van Persie made it infinitely more-difficult to sign the kind of players that would convince him to stay. Who in their right minds would join a club that was being held hostage by its best player, its only world-class talent, its talisman? Anyone worth the asking price would be asking “why should I join a club that’s about to lose its best player on the vague promise that doing so will convince him to stay?”
And so it is with Harry Kane. Like van Persie, he’s wasted his best years surrounded be inferior talent. Aside from him and maybe Son, I can’t name a single player I’d want in our squad, certainly not as a starter and maybe not as a substitute. Okay, maybe Kulusevski. He’d do well as Saka’s deputy. Again, though, Kane is a victim of his own demands. With that squad in desperate need of an overhaul, and with the sunset of his own career growing ever closer, he’s right to hedge his bets. However, like van Persie, he has to recognise how his own hedging hinders the club’s ability to sign the kind of players that would help him pursue or perhaps even win silverware.
Were he to pledge his future to Tottenham, he might very well convince two or three players to commit as well. He might even convince Levy to spend the money it would take to make Tottenham legitimate contenders for silverware at some level or another. The Prem title? Nope. An FA Cup or League Cup? Far more likely. A fully committed Kane would the difference between signing Caicedo, Mount, or Onana and signing Vicario, Solomon, and Maddison.
Making matters worse, even selling the talisman is no guarantee that Levy will know what to do. It was the year after we had to sell van Persie that Tottenham sold Bale only to re-invest in the likes of Soldado, Lamela, Capoue, Paulinho, and Eriksen (the last of whom did prove to be quality). This is Tottenham’s Scylla and Charybdis. They can’t keep Kane and sign a few other top-shelf players. They can’t sell Kane and sign a few top-shelf players.
Pick your literary allusion. Catch-22. Sword of Damocles. Scylla & Charybdis. Whichever way you slice it, it looks a lot like a sinking ship.
As of this writing, the ball that Harry Kane blazed over the crossbar to consign England to a 2-1 defeat to France has been found in near-Earth orbit, having forced the International Space Station to adjust its own orbit in order to avoid the ball. For as high as it sails, the trajectory of Kane’s career threatens to follow an opposite course. This had the makings of a make-or-break moment for Kane, and its outcome may just break him. It could do the opposite, but the circumstances do not bode well for the 29 year old, who is facing the very bleak and very likely end of a career bereft of silverware of any kind.
First, a bit of context and comparison. It was 1998 when a 29 year old Dennis Bergkamp missed a penalty in a shootout against Brazil. He suffered a season-long slump that may or may not have cost Arsenal a chance at a treble. We lost in the FA Cup and League Cup finals and finished second in the Prem. By then, though, Bergkamp had won numerous honours for club and country, thereby removing most of the pressure that Kane must now feel having failed to secure England’s place in the semifinal and fumbling a chance at overtaking Wayne Rooney to become England’s top scorer.
By contrast, Spurs fans might say, our own Bukayo Saka flubbed his penalty against Italy at Euro 2020. This is true, but the contrast couldn’t be starker. That Saka was a 19 year old ingenue pressed into service at a moment’s notice, not the captain of club and country as Kane has been. What’s more, Saka at least forced a save from Donnarumma, which, had it been a pen like Kane’s, would have at least offered a second chance. Beyond that, Saka has come back with a vengeance, insisting on taking—and converting—all three penalties since that miss. He’s now a 21 year old whose future looks so bright that you have to look away for fear of blindness. He’s won a trophy already, most likely the first of many, and doesn’t suffer the burden of a barren career. He’s playing a for a club atop the Premier League with room to grow. It’s possible, maybe even probable, that his current season will end with one trophy…and that would be two more than Kane has ever won.
At a broader level, Spurs are in bad shape. Key players, like Kane (29), Lloris (35), and Son (30), are ageing, the rest of the squad are decent but not world-beaters, and their youth pipeline is nonexistent. Oh—and they’re saddled by stadium debt and run by a manager who specialises in short-term results, exactly the kind of results that this squad will find almost impossible to achieve. Their best chance was that gilt-edged 2018-19 season when they made it to the Champions League final only to succumb to Liverpool. They had it all: a young, dynamic squad; a progressive, determined manager, and, it seemed, ambition. However, that’s where it all fell apart. They made no transfers that summer and then wasted more than a million pounds on Ndombele, Bergwjin, and Sessegnon in the following window. In fact, it’s hard to point to any signings they’ve made in the last three or four years that have been unqualified successes.
By contrast, we seem to have a plan and a manager with the vision and determination to implement. Of our major signings of the last few years, we have one flop—Nicolas Pepe—and numerous successes: Ødegaard, Magalhães, Partey, Saliba, Tierney, White, Ramsdale, Tomiyasu, Jesus, Zinchenko. No, not all of them were under Arteta, but we’ve at least avoided the panic-buys and flops that have characterized Tottenham. We’ve also cleared out enough deadwood to build a log cabin.
And that brings us back to Kane. He reminds me a bit of Robin van Persie. He must be looking atround at his teammates and assessing his own age and wondering how many chances he’ll have left. Like van Persie, he has to realise that he’s running out of chances, and his supporting cast is not up to snuff. Unlike van Persie, his conttract lasts another full year, limiting his leverage. He can’t really force his way out, and his list of suitors is getting shorter by the day. Man City have Haaland. Barca have Lewandowski. Man U just parted ways with an ageing, slow striker. Would PSG take him? They have become a sort of senior circuit of late. Wherever he goes, it’s past the point at which Tottenham can get a massive fee for him.
If he stays, he runs the risk of follwoing Ronaldo’s path, saddling the squad with a past-it would-be galactico to whom others in the squad will defer, consciously or otherwise. He’d still score goals; he’s too good not to, but the squad would stagnate.
There is a chance, of course, that Kane will rebound from his mistake in a manner similar to how Saka rebounded from his. Saka, though, could see his entire professional career unfolding before him, door after door after door opening.. Kane, on the other hand, might have seen doors slamming shut. Even going into this World Cup, he looked weary and jaded. He logged heavy minutes at this World Cup to no avail. Worse, he’ll now carry the burden of feeling that he failed his country. I don’t wish misery on anyone regardless of who they play for, but this is the kind of misery that is more likely to crush than it is to inspire.Spurs are out of the League Cup already, face a tricky Champions League knockout with AC Milan, and sit eight points behind us (and we have a game in hand).
Long story short, I don’t see Kane rishing phoenix-like from the ashes of this debacle. Do you?
…and I dare you to prove me wrong. During the shiny, happy international break about which no one anywhere has anything remotely resembling a complaintTM’, we have some time on our hands to revisit old gripes and issues. To white, we’re here to judge once and for all why Cesc Fàbregas on his best day is a bigger snake in the grass than Robin van Persie ever could be on his worst.
They share some similarities, to be sure. Each jilted us in a horrible fashion, confirming the worst rumours about the club’s ambitions and undermining Wenger’s plans in the worst possible ways, but, at the same time, heaping our scorn on van Persie is taking the effect and making it the cause.
Let’s enter the TARDIS and go way back to the 2009-10 season. In the Prem, Fàbregas had delivered 15 goals and 15 assists and looked to be hitting his prime at just the right time. Van Persie, meanwhile struggled with injuries, played in just 16 Prem matches, but found enough time to contribute nine goals and seven assists. There was reason to believe that a fully fit van Persie and an in-form Fàbregas would positively erupt in the 2010-11 season. Instead, as Fàbregas flirted with a move to Barcelona, his numbers slumped somewhat: three goals and 13 assists. Not bad, but a bit of a slowdown. Van Persie, by contrast, continued to plumb his depths, playing 25 matches and getting 18 goals and seven assists. If he had been playing alongside a fully-invested Fàbregas, who knows what he could have achieved?
Instead, Fàbregas sandbagged it through that season and forced his way out of London, in his prime, and flitted off to Barcelona, and for what? Yes, he scored some goals, and, yes, he won some silverware, but he was only ever a bolt-on part, a hood ornament. He had to know that his return to his “boyhood club” would be difficult; he had to know that he had next to no chance of supplanting Xavi, Iniesta, or Busquets—indeed, he didn’t. For the most part, he was slotted in here and there as an accessory. Had he stayed at Arsenal, he would have continued to grow and evolve and flourish. He could have become legend.
He traded all of that for a fat wage-packet and a few trophies. Hell, Alex Song did as much.
By doing so, he pulled the rug out from under Wenger, who had been building a squad around him, who had made him captain,who had grand visions of what such a squad could achieve. His season-long flirtation and eventual departure didn’t just deprive us of one of the best players we’d had since the Invincibles. It confirmed our status as a selling club with no ambition. It discouraged transfer-targets from joining. It convinced others in the squad to leave (more on that in just a sec). Whom might we have signed had Fàbregas committed himself to the club? A few names come to mind: Hazard. Benzema. That other Touré. Mascherano. We were heavily linked to all of them and more, but uncertainty around the club’s ambitions, fueled by Fàbregas’s flirtations with Barça, scotched them all.
Let’s turn to van Persie. Yes, it stings to think of him going to a hated rival, and, yes, he really did sh*t the bed with his announcement, but look at it from his perspective. He watched as the heart of this squad—Fàbregas, and then Nasri—left for bigger wages. Nonetheless, he soldiered on. In the window in which we sold Fàbregas and Nasri, we brought in Arteta, Mertesacker, Gervinho, Ox, and Santos, none of whom felt all that inspiring. Van Persie turned in his best season to date, playing all 38 Prem matches and scoring 30 goals, winning the Golden Boot along the way. He almost single-handedly dragged us to a third-place finish in the Prem. That’s a sharp contrast to Fàbregas’s dawdling as he forced his way out of the club. He had reason to hope, nay, insist that we reload.
The club’s response was, well, tepid to say the least.
While we did sign Giroud, Podolski, and Cazorla, none of them were of a calibre to elevate the squad. Van Persie must have looked around, looked at himself, and seen that the club were launching yet another re-build. The ambition just wasn’t there. We knew it. Fàbregas and Nasri confirmed it. All that van Persie did was act on it. He had to know that his body only had a few seasons left in it. Indeed, he gave to Man U one scintillating season, one really good season, and one pretty good season before going off to Fenerbahçe.
Who are we, then, to heap abuse on van Persie, who was after all only responding to a series of events that Fàbregas had set in motion? Yes, when the rats are deserting a sinking ship, it’s the captain’s duty to go down with the ship. That’s asking a bit much of van Persie, innit? Fàbregas saw that the ship was starting to list a little and threw an anchor at Wenger and the rest.
None of this should convince you to embrace van Persie. However, the worst-case scenario is that he saw the writing on the wall. Fàbregas is the one who scrawled the wall. Sure, he pops up on social media to claim he’s still a Gooner at heart, but that’s puerile, putrid pablum right there.
Before I leave you, I’ll go out on a limb. I blame Fàbregas for putting us in the predicament we’d found ourselves in ever since he left. There was a vision of Arsenal. He ruined it. Maybe there’s something cosmic in the notion that Arteta, signed the same summer that Fàbregas set sail, might restore our former glory.
Still here, loyal reader? Take issue with what I’ve asserted. Prove me wrong or forever hold your peace.
Nasri, who left in 2011 for Man City (just nine days after Fàbregas forced his way back to Barcelona), has been linked with a return to Arsenal by Football Insider in a story that offers little in the way of direct evidence, other than Nasri’s warm feelings towards Arsène, saying “I’m close to Arsène Wenger, I’ve always said he is my football father…he’s the best manager I ever had in my career.” Beyond that, though, it’s slim pickings. It does derive from the larger possibility that the entire Man City squad could face a massive overhaul after failing to win the Prem or make much progress in the FA Cup or Champions League. For Nasri, it has to have been frustrating, going from one of Arsenal’s brightest future stars to one of Man City’s options. His contract runs through 2019, but at 28, he has to wonder what his future holds. He might be young enough to have options, but is he good enough to play for Arsenal?
Van Persie, on the other hand, is a shell of his former self. He’ll be 32 in a few weeks but looks aged and decrepit. He’s now two seasons removed from his peak, when he scored 30 league goals for us in 2011-12 and 26 for Man U the following year. Age, injury, and attitude have all conspired to undermine him to the point that Holland teamamte Pierre Van Hooijdonk claims that he “received information from Turkey about Robin and Fenerbahçe. You knew that United had sent people to test the water for a move,” perhaps during the January window. His contract runs out in 2016, and somehow it doesn’t seem like he’ll be able to use that as leverage as he did with Arsenal. That deal may now come back to haunt him, as it’s unlikely that any club will be willing to pay him that £200k weekly wage. It’s an albatross around his neck, and for as much as we seek a striker, he no longer seems like a stark upgrade on Giroud.
While each man can boast of having won more silverware than they had at Arsenal, those boasts ring hollow when stood up to what they traded to get it. I won’t wax rhapsodic about what could have been had they stayed; I’m sure you can imagine it for yourselves. Instead, I’ll imagine them as those fleeting glory days of theirs circle the drain like used toothpaste, together with the adoration and self-respect they might have enjoyed. Each of them will continue to chase the next big payday and eventually come to realise that the cynicism that motivated them to leave will earn them the same cynical treatment in return. They once deemed that Arsenal was not good enough for them. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, I’m sure they’ll appreciate the ironic turn of events.
Our midfield is so stacked now that, even if we were interested in Nasri, he’d have to accept a spot on the bench. While it’s true that we’re still looking for a world-class striker, van Persie no longer qualifies for that label. I’m sure they’ll each find a club willing to give them a tidy weekly wage, but it’s unlikely that either one will get his first-choice destination. It sure won’t be Arsenal.
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