With less than four weeks to go until the summer transfer window closes on Aug. 31, the biggest deal has yet to get off the ground with England captain Harry Kane still at the centre of a battle between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City.
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The 28-year-old, who is contracted to Spurs until the end of the 2023-24 season, has made it clear that he wants to leave to boost his prospects of winning major honours, and his failure to report back for training earlier this week has only served to highlight his determination to move on.
Spurs face City in their Premier League opener on Aug. 15, but the two clubs remain poles apart in their valuation of Kane and the stand-off shows no sign of being resolved quickly.
With Kane set to be at the heart of a bitter transfer saga between now and deadline day, is there a solution has suits all parties?
Who wants Kane and how much is he worth?
Although Chelsea, Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain all have an interest in Kane, and continue to monitor his situation from a distance, Man City are the club making all the running in an effort to sign him.
Having allowed all-time leading goal scorer Sergio Aguero to join Barcelona as a free agent earlier this summer, City manager Pep Guardiola needs a world-class striker to fill the void — and Kane is the No. 1 target.
Sources have told ESPN that Kane has made it clear that he wants to move to the Etihad and play for the Premier League champions in the Champions League.
But with Kane only halfway through a six-year contract signed in 2018, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy has placed a £160m price-tag on his team’s star player. City, meanwhile, are only prepared to pay £100m.
There could be some room for negotiation if City are willing to top up their £100m offer with players — Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez or Gabriel Jesus have been suggested as possible part-exchange options — but, for now, Spurs are not budging on their valuation.
At 28, and with a number of injuries in recent seasons, £160m for Kane is out of step with a game that has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, but Spurs will argue that their player still has a long period to run on his contract and that City are one of the very few clubs able to find the money.
But right now, the £60m gap in valuation is nowhere near to being bridged.
Who will blink first?
There are signs that Kane is attempting to calm the waters after to return to training. He has been on holiday and is yet to return to the United Kingdom, but sources have said that he will report back to Spurs once he has completed the mandatory five-day isolation period.
But Kane certainly delivered a statement of intent by, in the eyes of many, going on strike by failing to report back when agreed. Spurs now know that he will play tough if required. Ultimately, however, this transfer will not be decided by Kane’s actions. It will boil down to Levy and his City counterpart Khaldoon al Mubarak reaching some kind of compromise.
Football clubs rarely keep players who want to leave. It is regarded as a recipe for damaging squad morale by having an unhappy, and potentially disruptive, player in the dressing room. Such a figure can also generate disharmony among supporters. So Spurs will agree to the transfer if their price is met, and Levy is ready to negotiate. City will be confident of getting Kane because clubs will always look to do a deal for a player whose focus is elsewhere.
Why is Levy regarded as a tough negotiator?
In many ways, City helped Levy forge his formidable reputation when he forced Man United into paying £30.75m for Dimitar Berbatov in 2008.
United had been expecting to pay around £25m for the striker until Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan attempted to hijack the deal on the day of his City takeover in Sept 2008. City’s late bid strengthened Levy’s hand with United and his hard-ball negotiating saw him squeeze an additional £5.75m from United to get the deal done.
Levy has since gone on to operate similar deadline day tactics to sign players or offload them, forcing Real Madrid to pay £85m for Gareth Bale in 2013.
He also regards Spurs as a heavyweight club and relishes the opportunity to leave the likes of City and United disappointed, but he may have met his match in City chairman Al Mubarak. Despite initially spending hugely inflated sums for players in the early days of Abu Dhabi ownership, City have played a different game in recent years and, until this summer, their biggest transfer outlay was £63m for defender Ruben Dias.
City have consistently walked away from transfers when the asking price has been regarded as too high. Virgil van Dijk and Harry Maguire were both key City targets until the club refused to meet the valuations of Southampton and Leicester City respectively, allowing them to join rivals Liverpool and Man United instead.
So the danger for Spurs and Levy is that, if they refuse to budge, City could walk away and leave them with an unhappy player and no huge fee to spend on new signings.
If Kane stays, can the relationship be fixed?
When news of Kane’s desire to leave emerged at the end of last season, it was met with a resigned acceptance by the fans, but he has now lost that goodwill and damaged his relationship with the club and its supporters by failing to return to training.
But despite that, many players in the past have shown that there is always a way back into the fold. Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Carlos Tevez (City) and Luis Suarez (Liverpool) all took hard line positions against their club when attempting to leave, but they soon returned to action and scored important goals for their teams.
Kane can do the same, but he may suffer the same fate as Rooney at United in being accepted, but no longer loved by the supporters who, let’s not forget, sang that he is “one of our own.”
Kane’s actions this week surprised many because it was so out of character for a previously uncontroversial, consummate professional. If Kane remains a Spurs player next season, it is difficult to envisage him not continuing to perform as he always done and scoring the goals he has delivered throughout his career.
How hard will Man City push for the Kane deal?
As mentioned earlier, the days of City being exploited by clubs wanting to offload players for inflated prices are long gone. But they are also determined to land a suitable replacement for Aguero, so they will fight hard to strike a deal for Kane.
City know that Kane wants to join them and they also know that Spurs will do business for the right deal, so it is now a case of finding common ground with Levy and working out how to get a deal over the line.
There is certainly plenty of time and they will persevere for another 2-3 weeks at least but, at some stage, there has to be a cut-off to switch targets.
Romelu Lukaku was an alternative option, but the Inter Milan forward now looks certain to return to Chelsea. Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski is another possibility, with the striker potentially available due to a failure so far to secure an extension to his contract, which expires in 2023.
But right now, City’s focus is fixed solely on Kane. The club hierarchy believe a deal can be done and they will push hard to achieve it, but they won’t simply cave in to Tottenham’s demands.
Could Kane move next summer instead?
There will always be a market for Harry Kane while he is fit and scoring goals, but the landscape could look very different next summer when both Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland could be available for transfer.
Mbappe has yet to extend his contract at PSG, so would be a free agent, while Haaland’s £66m release clause in his Borussia Dortmund contract will become active.
So if Kane is forced to spend another season at Tottenham before looking for a big club next summer, when he will be 29, he will unquestionably find himself behind Mbappe and Haaland in the transfer market hierarchy.
All of Europe’s major clubs will do everything possible to win the race for one, or two, of the game’s hottest young forwards, so Kane not have his pick of clubs as he might this summer. He would still have appealing options and it would be easier to force a move next year, when his contract would be entering its final two years, but top clubs would be wary of spending a huge sum on a 29-year-old.
So for Kane, this summer is the optimum time to get a move to a top club that can offer him the trophies he is so desperate to win.
Where will Kane be on Sept. 1?
Money always wins in football and City have the finances to get a deal done. Kane also wants it to happen, so the smart money would be on Kane sealing his move to the Etihad this month.
But if Spurs are to do a deal, they need to act fairly quickly because the worst possible scenario would be to offload their star player in the final days of the window and end up with little time to replace him properly.
Spurs and Levy know this, and coach Nuno Espirito Santo will want certainty with his squad, so expect a deal to be done with City before the final week of the transfer window.