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Harry Kane needs to step up to help make Spurs relevant again

With Harry Kane staying at Spurs, could the decision to hold the star striker end up backfiring?

Tottenham Hotspur v Aston Villa - Premier League Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Less than five months ago, Tottenham Hotspur traveled to Leicester City on matchday 38 hoping to qualify for yet another season of European football. The stakes were high — Leicester would have qualified for Champions League with a win and Spurs needed all three points to edge out rivals Arsenal for seventh place.

Under interim manager Ryan Mason, Spurs went down 2-1 in the 52nd minute after Jamie Vardy’s second converted penalty of the day, and it looked like Europe was not in the cards for Spurs. However, in the subsequent 40 or so minutes, an own goal from Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel and two late goals from Gareth Bale guided Spurs to a 4-2 win to end out a tumultuous 2020-21 season that ended way below their expectations.

And while the win was important, it was anything but the main headline. Tottenham’s talisman Harry Kane was quite emotional as he thanked the traveling fans at the King Power Stadium and embraced fellow teammates Heung-min Son and Dele Alli.

From the minute the game ended, media and pundits ran with the rumors of the England captain leaving the club he had been with since the age of 11. I should add here that two days ahead of that Leicester City match, Kane’s interview with Gary Neville on The Overlap promoted the idea and the suggestion that Kane wanted to leave Tottenham for the 2021-22 campaign.

Kane’s desire to win domestic trophies and break Alan Shearer’s all-time Premier League goal record implied that a move abroad would likely be out of the question. After months of speculation, it was reported that City’s final offer for Kane had been roughly €50 million off of Tottenham’s valuation. Spurs chairman Daniel Levy found City’s offer unacceptable, and Tottenham refused to entertain any notion that they would sell.

Putting myself in Daniel Levy’s shoes and with the understanding that Kane’s valuation was in the €120-130 million range, he surely understood that keeping Kane would give Spurs the best chance to get back into Champions League football. If Tottenham were to get into the top four, it would likely mean an excess of roughly €50 million and even the potential for more if Spurs were to go on a deep run.

With that being said, if Levy’s plan were to work, Spurs could very well part with Kane next summer and not lose out entirely on big money. Of course, it is a risky proposition, but it likely explains the chairman’s intransigency to move on from Kane. The gamble so far has certainly promoted some questions. And unfortunately, the gamble has led to a tricky situation for Nuno Espírito Santo and one that he has handled quite well. Even during the latter stages of the summer transfer window, Nuno played his cards right on Kane, refusing to discuss the possibility of a summer transfer and expressing faith in the rest of the Spurs squad.

However, Nuno’s style of play has led to perhaps the slowest start Kane has had in his career. While both Nuno and José Mourinho can be described as pragmatic, defensive managers, it is also true that Mourinho’s attacking approach funneled almost entirely through Kane and Son. So far, we have yet to see that cutting edge from Kane under Nuno. Almost halfway through October, Kane sits at zero Premier League goals. He does have five goals in the UEFA Conference League and a goal in the League Cup, but much more is expected from him.

And there is of course the possibility that perhaps Kane’s health and age are becoming an issue, and his lengthy injury history is keeping him from kicking into that next gear. If Kane’s heart is elsewhere and he still wants that move to come, he may not be pressing the issue given the possibility and his propensity to get hurt. At 28, Kane has logged a lot of minutes, especially in the past two years. Think about it — not only did Kane play all the way through this past summer’s EUROs, but Spurs also played the highest number of games out of any Power 5 league club last season. In the 2020-21 season, combining international and club games, Kane featured in over 50 games.

A notorious slow starter, we could revisit this situation with Kane in February and by then he could be leading the league in goals or sitting quite near the top. But again, with Tottenham taking the risk on keeping Kane and the possibility of his heart just not entirely being there, Spurs face a tricky situation that is quite reminiscent of the situation they faced with Christian Eriksen two years ago.

Eriksen had quietly expressed a desire to leave Spurs since the 2019 Champions League final and entered the 2019-20 season on the last year of his contract. With Tottenham hoping to at least make some return on their investment, the club reluctantly decided to sell him in the January transfer window to infuse some funds into the club. However, prior to his sale, Tottenham’s lack of creativity in the midfield forced the club, under two different managers, to continue to use Eriksen when needed. His performances during this time were lackluster at best and poor at worst, leading to many fans actively desiring to see him sold, despite his obvious ability.

This really asks more questions than it answers. How can up-and-coming players buy into a manager’s plans and beliefs if a player who does not want to be there continues to be selected? What does it say about the club’s overall project if they still employ someone, let alone play someone, who does not want to be at the club anymore?

Unlike the Eriksen situation where they did have other midfielders to adapt and get caught up to speed (that summer they did bring in Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso), there is no other real alternative to Kane. The only other recognizable striker in the squad at the moment is 17-year-old Dane Scarlett.

The harsh truth is that Spurs have to continue to play Kane and hope he can find a form that he can sustain, as he did last season, that showcases his brilliance. And as mentioned before, the pressure all falls back on Nuno to get him up and running. If Spurs can shape up a bit more and play deeper into the Cup and European competitions as well as progress up the table in the process, it will surely match the ambition that Kane wants and demands from the club.

But at this point in time, it is still way too early to tell and there seem to be more questions asked than solutions found. Spurs were embarrassed in three straight London derbies, but they did put together a much more compelling performance against Aston Villa just prior to the international break. Unlike the last international break, Spurs are set up to be healthier and potentially get back their South American quartet ahead of the trip to Newcastle on Sunday.

For the decision to keep Kane to reap positive returns for Spurs, the squad will need to play much more consistently. To do so, Spurs will have to stay healthy or else their questions of depth will be exposed like it was when Spurs were knocked around at Selhurst Park against Crystal Palace. Additionally, Nuno has to find the right balance of defensive stature with ball-progression and attack.

In the next three or so weeks, Spurs will have four important Premier League matches, an interesting Cup tie on the road at Turf Moor against Burnley and two UEFA Conference League group games against Dutch side Vitesse. By then, we should know more the ambition of this team for this season. But if Kane can get firing, even reluctantly, it will considerably improve the team’s chances and make things a lot easier for Nuno in the process. And the club’s success in the process may finally meet the ambition that Kane wants. However, Kane has to play his part for both parties to achieve what the other desires.

Follow me on Twitter @RyanSRatty.