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?