There are staff at Manchester United who believe that signing Harry Kane will transform their team into title challengers. That’s what Erik ten Hag thinks too. That’s why, when assessing the striker options at the end of last season, Kane topped the United manager’s list.
But on Wednesday night, when United face Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena to start their Champions League group campaign, Kane will play for the serial German champions instead of Ten Hag’s side, providing an immediate reason for musing about why the most talked about transition never was. happened
United looked at a move for Kane at various stages over the past few years but, in May, the stars finally seemed to align. Kane is about to enter the final year of his contract with Tottenham Hotspur, and United have qualified for the Champions League while Spurs have missed out on Europe entirely.
United know that Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy has two options in the summer window: sell Kane, or at least sign him to a new contract. Losing Kane for free at the end of the 2023-24 season is not an option for the north London club.
Kane has made it clear he will refuse to extend his deal until the new season is well under way and he has had the chance to assess what life is like under new Spurs head coach Ange Postecoglou. That left a sale as the most likely outcome, and although Levy made it known he was opposed to allowing the England captain to join any of their domestic rivals, Ten Hag wanted United to test the waters.
However, in mid-June, United decided to take Rasmus Hojlund as their big signing up front rather than Kane.
For a start, director of football John Murtough has always felt it would be unwise to be drawn into protracted negotiations with Levy with no guarantee of reaching a compromise, hurt by Barcelona’s extended pursuit of Frenkie de Jong in 2022 which ended in failure. for United.
Murtough believes Levy will not sell Kane to another Premier League club and prefers to focus energy on more realistic targets. However, there are those close to United who feel that the only way they will truly know that is by asking the relevant people around the player and Spurs.
However there is a more fundamental issue.
In United’s model, neither the recruitment department nor the manager has the right to veto targets, and scouts have pushed back against the idea of signing Kane.
Ultimately, co-owner Joel Glazer and chief executive Richard Arnold decided that going with Kane was not a reasonable use of resources given his age. United were told Kane was looking for £30million ($37.1m) in annual wages, around £500,000 a week, and after adding an expected transfer fee of more than £100million, the club decided the cost was too high for 30-years.
Ten Hag may not agree with that calculation, given Kane’s proven pedigree, but he accepted the decision in the context of the budget once the realities of financial fair play were mapped onto him. But Ten Hag remained full of praise for Kane whenever asked about the player.
In August, as Kane’s move to Bayern for more than €100million (£86.4m, $110m) was confirmed, Ten Hag said: “He’s a great striker, obviously, a goal-maker; and apart from that he has all the conditions and skills you want to see in a striker. It’s a miss for the Premier League, really.
At that stage, United agreed a deal worth £72million with Atalanta for Hojlund. While the Dane’s transfer fee is closer to Kane than expected, his salary is lower, which has been a major factor. At 20 years old, he was just as old. Ten Hag spoke enthusiastically of Hojlund’s abilities.
Despite all the anticipation of Kane in April and May, there hasn’t been any real talk between the people at United and Tottenham, or the player’s representatives, led by his brother Charlie.
Instead, there is an approach from Saudi Arabia, with one club there indicating they are willing to offer a transfer fee scale that Tottenham will readily accept. But Kane’s camp rejected the talks because they didn’t want to be dishonest about his intentions. He wants to continue his career in Europe.
And three of the continent’s biggest clubs are interested.
Real Madrid have put together a £60million bid, and Paris Saint-Germain have also made an approach. But it was Bayern who had been in contact with Levy to negotiate for several weeks, leading to an announcement on August 12. An agreement was reached last night for a fee of more than €100million, although there was a late bump in the road when the Germans were asked to pay another £20m at 2.30am. Spurs insist there will be no further negotiations.
Bayern booked a plane for Kane to leave for Munich at 7am, but at 5.30am Bayern executives ordered him not to fly. Kane has told Spurs he is willing to train with them if it doesn’t go well.
In the end, the originally agreed price was maintained and Kane, barely able to sleep, flew to Germany later in the day.
Read more: Secret meetings and late tension – the inside story of how Harry Kane left Tottenham for Bayern
If that kind of 11th-hour gamesmanship predicts United, some close observers felt the club could still use Bayern as a stalking horse, sensing a rare opportunity to bring in a player of exceptional talent. Their argument is that when Tottenham agree a fee with Bayern, United must match it. If Levy refuses to sell, it could be a case of withholding trade for Kane.
But that prospect ended once United signed Hojlund, who was also on Bayern’s shortlist before they moved ahead with Kane.
There was an element of irony in United’s delight at getting their transfer job done earlier than usual. Kane made his debut for Bayern three weeks before Hojlund played for United due to the Dane’s arrival with a back issue.
Kane might not have chosen United anyway. He is open to a move to Manchester but has also questioned the state of the club and is not sure it is the right place for his next move, especially amid uncertainty over their ownership. Bayern, as genuine Champions League contenders, are a more attractive prospect. So is the opportunity to experience a new country.
“In the summer, I know there were some talks between some clubs in the background,” Kane said. “Bayern is a team I’m really interested in, excited by; there weren’t really too many other discussions when they came in.
“It was with Tottenham and Bayern. Manchester (United) is a good club, a big club, but I decided to come here and I’m really happy.
The reaction was seen throughout Germany.
The Bundesliga’s Twitter account posted about Kane’s availability for their fantasy football game and Bayern have so far sold 220,000 shirts bearing his name, with an annual target of one million.
“It’s a big thing, we took England’s skipper outside of England,” said Bayern manager Thomas Tuchel. “Anyone looking for a (No) 9 will be happy to have Harry in the team. He makes the team better and gives you what you want from a nine.
“I’m not sure what’s going on at other clubs, but we’re more than happy that he finally made the decision and came to improve us.”
For Kane, the Bayern move is more about respect than anything else: facing a new challenge and having the pressure of needing to win. He made a good start, scoring four goals and assisting once in his first four Bundesliga games.
“There’s a reason why Bayern Munich brought me to the club,” Kane said. “They are eager to get back to winning the Champions League. They feel I can help a lot and I feel I can help the team as well.
“Time will tell how the game (against United) goes. We have to focus on the group stage first and tomorrow’s start will be important. That’s why I’m here, I want to play in competitions at the highest level.”
Kane has not ruled out playing in England again. He believes he has seven or eight years left at the highest level in Europe, and breaking Alan Shearer’s Premier League scoring record (he leads 47, 213 to 260) by playing a few more seasons .
For now, though, he has the chance to show United what they can get if they give up.
(Top photo: Harry Langer/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)