If it’s up to him, the Harry Kane era at Tottenham Hotspur will end this summer. The 27-year-old, who led the Premier League in both goals and assists this season, has informed the club (for the second straight summer) that he would like to leave.
There is no obligation, of course, that the club must let him go. He is under contract for three more years, and Spurs will seek a very high transfer fee — potentially in the £150 million range — in order to be persuaded to sanction his departure. That could price out even Spurs’ richest rivals, striker-hungry Chelsea; sources told ESPN’s James Olley last week that the Blues might look to propose a player swap in any offer to tamp down potential costs.
Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy is notorious for driving a hard bargain and isn’t likely to settle for anything less than his asking price (or a player-swap equivalent), but his team finished seventh in the Premier League this season even with both Kane and winger Son Heung-Min combining for an incredible 40 goals and 24 assists. That suggests a major need for roster replenishment. Moving on from Kane offers an avenue for exactly that.
Player swaps have been reasonably rare in soccer’s history, especially compared to what we see in American sports. The lack of salary-capped leagues (and the need to attain specific cost balance) might play a role in its nonproliferation, as might the lack of draft picks to exchange, and the simple fact that there are so many damn soccer leagues and sources of talent in the world. There have been some big ones here and there — Inter’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Barcelona for Samuel Eto’o and cash, to name one — and it bears mentioning that swaps have worked out well for Spurs in the past: They sent Bobby Zamora and cash to West Ham for Jermain Defoe in 2005, and they sent Gylfi Sigurdsson to Swansea for Ben Davies and Michel Vorm in 2014.
Under the right circumstances, they could serve Spurs well moving forward too, and technically, Chelsea aren’t the only club that could attempt a trade.
What might Spurs receive if they looked for such a return from Chelsea and others? Actually, the first question is, what do Spurs specifically need?
The state of Spurs
Obviously, Need No. 1 in a potential Kane deal would be a replacement striker. Spurs desperately lacked proven backup options up front this season, as the only other centre-forward to score a league goal was on-loan Carlos Vinicius. Hell, they need another forward even if they keep Kane. But a look at both the roster and Spurs’ 2020-21 stats reveal a couple of more extreme needs.
Spurs were an odd team this season. Led most of the way by Jose Mourinho, they weren’t as possession-centric as most of the Premier League’s other top teams — among those in the top nine, only West Ham United had a lower possession rate. But through a mix of decent buildup play, occasionally breathtaking counterattacks and the magic of Kane and Son, they were third in the league in goals scored and second in expected goals (xG) per shot.
When issues arose for the team, however, it usually came from one of two areas: (1) defensive pressure and (2) shot quantity, as they were 12th in shots per possession. The former often impacted the latter, as Spurs only began 5.8 possessions per match in the attacking third, 18th in the league. They allowed 12.4 passes per defensive action (PPDA) and 5.0 passes per opponent possession — both averages ranked 10th — and opponents finished 41% of their possessions in the attacking third (14th). This meant that when Spurs did earn possession of the ball, it was frequently deep in their own end.
This didn’t have to be a problem in and of itself; if you’re not allowing high-quality shots, and you’re countering well, you can succeed in this reactive fashion. But Spurs suffered too many defensive glitches to pull this off: While only 24% of the shots that they allowed were taken under what Stats Perform defined as little to no shot pressure (first in the league), when opponents managed such a shot, it was an extremely high-quality look. Opponents averaged 0.18 xG per shot when under little to no pressure (14th). Spurs didn’t have the defensive structure and discipline to pull off the style their manager wanted.
Whether the next manager is more modern and possession-based — in the mold of Ajax’s Erik ten Hag, Brighton & Hove Albion’s Graham Potter or Ralf Rangnick, for instance — or patient and reactive like former Wolverhampton Wanderers manager Nuno Espirito Santo, need No. 2 in a potential Kane deal should be a reinforcement in central defense.
Another need arises when you look at the squad itself. Even with a rumoured roster culling — supposedly up to 10 players could leave as a cost-cutting measure — there are still some intriguing players in place. But there are also some holes.
Here are Tottenham’s major and intermediate contributors (that is, those who played at least 600 league minutes) this season, listed by their primary position and in order of minutes played:
Goalkeeper: Hugo Lloris (34 years old)
Defensive midfield: Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (25)
Central midfield: Moussa Sissoko (31), Harry Winks (25)
Forward: Harry Kane (27)
New additions such as Hojbjerg and Reguilon played well, and they are entering their prime years, and there’s plenty to like about other approaching-their-peak players such as Ndombele, Lo Celso and maybe Bergwijn (although he had a disappointing season). Winks was a wrecking ball in the season finale against Leicester City too. Still, if forward depth is a massive issue, midfield depth is equally problematic. Even if Winks plays an entire season like he did against Leicester, Sissoko is likely on his way out, and there aren’t many proven bodies there. Need No. 3 is a sturdy possession man in central midfield.
If there’s a fourth need, it comes on the wings. Bale is returning to Real Madrid after his season-long loan; he could return via permanent deal, but it’s in no way guaranteed. Lamela is almost certainly leaving, and both Son and Moura are approaching age 30. But we’ll consider this need secondary to the three others above.
To the trade machine!
Rumours suggest that Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United are the teams most likely to pursue Kane, but let’s expand that selection a bit. Let’s add Liverpool to the mix, along with two other clubs outside of England. Kane’s preference is supposedly to remain in the Premier League, but two other teams — Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain — have resources, players to offer and a deep need for a centre-forward.
For each of these clubs, I put together a package of approximately three players and money. The goal was to create approximately £150m in value in such a way that it both addresses Spurs’ needs and doesn’t affect the ability of Kane’s new team to field a trophy-worthy squad. I used Transfermarkt’s player valuations as a loose guide for determining who should be in the deal and how much money each club would still need to include; those valuations are obviously far from gospel, but they are useful as well-educated guesses.
Is Kane worth the packages below? That’s for the clubs to say, not me. But if you’re looking to match Levy’s valuation, this might be what you have to give.
Initial rumours suggested the out-of-favor Abraham and backup goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga could be the major cogs in a Chelsea offer, but that seems like wishful thinking unless Chelsea still plan to throw in £75m to £100m. Abraham is a no-brainer simply because of the position he plays, but while Lloris is aging, it would be a potential waste for Spurs to address a future goalkeeper issue in this deal.
It would be shocking if Levy didn’t hold out for more, in other words. But Chelsea still have players to offer. The club doesn’t necessarily have the deepest midfield itself and obviously wouldn’t be willing to give up Mason Mount, N’Golo Kante or probably even Jorginho, who has done well under new manager Thomas Tuchel. But they do have an excess of wings and/or wing-backs and could be convinced to part with either Ziyech or Hudson-Odoi, who combined for barely 1,000 league minutes after Tuchel’s hire. (Technically, Christian Pulisic could also be an option.) Zouma, meanwhile, had some bright moments this year but played in only nine of 17 league matches after Tuchel’s hire.
Chelsea could offer a high-calibre wing, a 26-year-old centre-back who could thrive in a new environment, and, in Abraham, a player who has scored 30 goals in all competitions the past two seasons. And they could do it while not really weakening their squad much. Sure, there might be a rivalry premium that Chelsea have to pay here — more money or a better player — but this would be a solid package for both sides.
The offer: Forward Gabriel Jesus, centre-back Aymeric Laporte, one young prospect (perhaps either forward Liam Delap, midfielder Adrian Bernabe or winger/wing-back Luke Bolton) and between £15m and £25m
If so inclined, City potentially could top Chelsea’s offer. In Jesus, they have a player quite a bit more proven than Abraham (but only a couple of years older) who would become obsolete with the addition of Kane. He has scored 50 league goals in 4½ seasons since coming to Manchester, he has added 16 more in the Champions League and he has raised his assists game of late, dealing out 11 of them in the past two league seasons.
City also have an excess of central defenders after splurging on quite a few in recent years. Laporte was the big addition in January 2018 but lost much of 2019-20 to a knee injury and played in parts of only 16 league matches this season. Only 26, he still has time to become the centerpiece of a Premier League defense.
Man City have quite a few interesting players in the pipeline too, depending on who Spurs would value the most. Delap, 18, scored a lovely first-time finish against Bournemouth in the Carabao Cup back in September, although Bernabe, 19, could fit into the midfield rotation pretty quickly. Including one of them would be like including a future first- or second-round draft pick in an American trade, but would Levy find that appealing?
Ian Darke believes Harry Kane is openly flirting with Manchester City with his recent comments about Kevin De Bruyne.
United are all but guaranteed to take a big swing this offseason. Long-sought-after Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho could evidently be had for a transfer fee of £100m, and while it’s hard to imagine the Red Devils going after both him and Kane, a player swap could technically make it a possibility without hitting £250m in transfer spending.
Who would they give to Spurs, though? Like Chelsea, they don’t necessarily have the right players to trade away in midfield unless we include Van de Beek, last season’s biggest addition. The 24-year-old struggled, scoring once and creating just three chances in 513 Premier League minutes this year, after averaging nine and 44, respectively, in his final three seasons at Ajax. He still has potential, but he is a work in progress. So is the 23-year-old Tuanzebe, who looked pretty good on loan to Aston Villa two seasons ago but hasn’t matched much of that form to date at Old Trafford.
If his March knee injury didn’t alter the timing of this hypothetical deal to an unworkable degree, Martial is a no-brainer, a bridge to the future who scored 17 goals for United in 2019-20. And you could include James in place of either Van de Beek or Martial too. But unless this deal incorporates either Marcus Rashford or Mason Greenwood — possibly expendable with a Sancho deal, but almost certainly not — it’s hard to see this being a more attractive package than City’s unless a good amount of cash is involved. And a good amount of cash would sort of ruin the point of this exercise.
Liverpool haven’t really been linked to a potential Kane move, and it would violate the general “sign guys before they’ve peaked” approach that has served them well in recent years. But hey, this is all hypothetical anyway, and technically, anyone could benefit from adding the reigning Golden Boot winner. So let’s see what they would have to offer.
Thanks to this season’s incredible run of injuries in central defense, Liverpool ended up playing a lot of guys there and potentially rendering one of them redundant when everyone returns to full health. With Nathaniel Phillips‘ late-season brilliance, Gomez might become a candidate for said redundancy. Include Firmino as a like-for-like switch up front and Spurs would be acquiring two key players to Liverpool’s 2019-20 league title. Include the older Matip instead of Gomez and Spurs would be acquiring two of Liverpool’s starters from the 2019 Champions League final win over, well, Spurs.
Is that enough, though? The 24-year-old Gomez and 25-year-old Keita still have loads of upside, but Gomez is coming off of a serious injury, and Keita has been hit with all sorts of maladies since coming over from RB Leipzig. Plus, Firmino has even more mileage on his legs than Kane does. If improving immediately is Spurs’ primary goal, maybe this package fits the bill. But it might not set them up for the future as well as others do unless it includes 20-year-old midfielder Curtis Jones at the very least.
The offer: Forward Luka Jovic, midfielder Martin Odegaard, centre-back Eder Militao and between £20m and £30m (less if a permanent deal for Bale is included)
Kane has indeed expressed a preference to stay in England, and with three young children, the desire for continuity makes sense. But a deal with Real Madrid would make tons of sense for both Spurs and Los Blancos.
Madrid’s allergy to playing youngsters — 11 players logged more than 1,800 minutes for manager Zinedine Zidane in La Liga this season, but only one was under 25 and seven were 29 or older — has created a blurry future for quite a few young prospects. Zidane is likely on his way out after a trophyless season, and maybe his replacement is more open to exploring the trajectory of players such as Odegaard. Or maybe next season’s Blancos are in full win-now mode with the addition of Kane and/or PSG’s Kylian Mbappe.
The inclusion of Jovic and Odegaard in a deal would be intriguing. Jovic, 23, combined 25 goals with 34 chances created in 3,200 minutes for Eintracht Frankfurt in 2017-18 and 2018-19 but barely saw the pitch with Real Madrid and was loaned back to Frankfurt for 18 matches this season. Odegaard, meanwhile, is 22 and has spent most of the past four seasons on loan. He flashed major playmaking potential for Arsenal this spring but also showed enough inconsistency to make his future in Madrid uncertain. Both could thrive in new environments, as could Militao, 23, who has been a part-timer for two years in a crowded defense.
ESPN FC’s Craig Burley talks reported interest in Harry Kane from both of the Manchester Clubs.
Throw in Bale and/or a youngster such as forward Hugo Duro or midfielder Sergio Arribas and you’re helping both Spurs stock up on useful players and Real Madrid make room for their next round of Galacticos. If Kane wants to live in Spain, anyway.
This is what a crisis looks like for France‘s dominant club. PSG finished second in Ligue 1 this season, and they haven’t been able to sign Mbappe — one of the two best young players in the world — to a new contract. (His current one expires in a year.) He could end up at Real Madrid either this offseason or next and PSG will be looking for a new anchor up front with Neymar.
Kane would be the most attractive option on the table not named Erling Haaland, but it might take a decent amount of cash to pull off a move, because for all the money they’ve spent, PSG haven’t put together a particularly deep squad.
Icardi would be an obvious part of a package to send to London; his output was disappointing in this injury-plagued season, but he still averaged 23 goals per year in all competitions for Internazionale and PSG in the six seasons prior. It’s unclear, however, who else might represent the best options. The 28-year-old Rafinha, added from Barcelona in October, was a mere part-timer in Paris this year. Kehrer and Diallo are both solid and approaching their peaks. But Pembele could surpass both of them; at 18, is he ready for a full Premier League season? An Icardi-plus-£100m arrangement might be more likely, although it might make sense to snatch up Pembele just in case he turns out to be an absolute star.
Steve Nicol says interest in Erling Haaland could cost Harry Kane his ideal move this summer.
Which one would you choose?
Pretend for a moment that these six packages are all on the table. Which one is the most attractive? Here’s how I would rank them:
Best deals for Spurs
1. Manchester City
2. Real Madrid
4. Manchester United
City have the most potential to add both proven players and long-term upside, while Real Madrid can nearly match the upside without quite contributing the same levels of proven play (or Britishness). Chelsea could raise the ante with a particularly attractive midfielder too.
Meanwhile, of the potential Kane destinations, here’s who would benefit the most from the hypotheticals above:
Best deals for Kane suitors
2. Real Madrid
4. Manchester City
5. Manchester United
Real Madrid would get rid of a couple of “what to do with this guy?” headaches, add a brilliant goal scorer and finally come up with a way to score goals that isn’t simply “hope Karim Benzema does something amazing.” (They also would create a new headache with Kane and Benzema playing the same position, of course.) But it’s impossible to overstate how much finishing has held Chelsea back this season.
The Blues scored only 58 goals from chances worth 71.6 xG this year and very nearly missed out on Champions League play because of it. (They only made it because Spurs beat Leicester City on the final matchday, in fact.) While some of that disparity was undoubtedly poor fortune that could progress toward the mean next year, it’s doubtful that all of it was. Chelsea would benefit the most from being led by one of the best nose-for-the-goal players in the world. The club could make a pretty fantastic offer, in terms of both player swaps and money, if Levy could stomach the thought of Kane moving to a bitter rival.