As the audience filtered out of the London Palladium at The Best FIFA Awards in 2017, Harry Kane lingered at the back, staring at the stage. The scene before him was a scramble for selfies and autographs from adoring fans catching a close-up glimpse in person of the FIFPro World XI, which that year included Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Kane has aspired to be considered in the same breath as the game’s greats for years. English football sometimes has a habit of overhyping its own, but Kane invited those comparisons out of a relentless desire for self-improvement. In the 2020 “All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur” documentary, Kane told then-manager Jose Mourinho that “when you’re at a club like Tottenham, of course we’ve done well and personally I’ve done well — but I want to be Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi,” holding his hand out flat and high up to indicate a level he felt he was yet to reach.
This is his motivation for moving to Bayern Munich. It wasn’t the money — sources have told ESPN that Spurs were willing to offer him a package comparable to the £400,000-a-week wage he will earn in Germany — but the chance to win silverware and cement his status as one of the finest players of his generation.
His transfer to Bayern, formally completed on Saturday morning, brings to an end a long-running summer saga in which the deal lurched from improbable to probable with a dramatic twist right at the end. Here is a look at how and why one of the summer’s landmark deals came to pass.
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Kane’s approach to the 2023 summer transfer window was informed by his botched attempt to leave Tottenham two years earlier.
His decision to give an interview to Gary Neville’s “The Overlap” show in May 2021 fired the starting pistol for a summer of speculation over his future, given he placed on record his aim of a “good, honest conversation” with chairman Daniel Levy while expressing his desire to play “in the biggest games, the biggest moments.”
Manchester United and Chelsea registered an interest — the latter seemingly undeterred by the fierce London rivalry with Spurs — but sources have told ESPN that Kane’s clear preference was to join Manchester City that summer.
Levy had no intention of letting him go, valuing Kane’s transfer fee in excess of £150 million. Sources have told ESPN that City thought they could prise Kane away for less than £100m in the belief the Spurs chairman was under financial pressure to sell. That proved to be wide of the mark, however, and City chose instead to wait a year — winning the 2021-22 Premier League in the meantime — before signing Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund for a much lower fee of £51m.
Kane had no personal leverage that summer. He had three years remaining on a £200,000-a-week contract signed in 2018, a deal that sources suggest some rival agents in the game questioned the wisdom of at the time. Why was one of the game’s leading forwards signing a six-year contract before a World Cup, where he went on to win the Golden Boot? The length of that deal ultimately cost him a move to City, and so when Kane again considered his future in 2023, the approach was markedly different.
Tottenham made several attempts to convince Kane to sign a new contract over the past 12 months, but a chaotic season undermined every effort. Then-manager Antonio Conte grumbled ever-louder before turning on the club’s hierarchy and his own players to trigger his sacking at the end of March. His assistant, Cristian Stellini, was appointed as interim but was soon removed after a shambolic 6-1 defeat at Newcastle United. Inexperienced coach Ryan Mason held things together until the end of the season, which provided a reset and the chance to make a permanent appointment.
With Kane turning 30, Spurs missing out on any European football courtesy of an eighth-place finish was a significant blow in the context of retaining their talisman. Sources have told ESPN that Kane was desperate to succeed with Tottenham, the club he joined as an 11-year-old, coming through the ranks to become their all-time top goal scorer. But the clock has been ticking on his time to win silverware, and the lure of staying to break Alan Shearer’s Premier League record (261 goals, with Kane on 213) did not scratch the itch.
ESPN reported last month that Kane had informed Spurs he had no intention of signing a new contract with the club. This was not accompanied with a public declaration of intent to leave, as effectively happened in 2021 — nor would he fail to take a full part in Spurs’ preseason programme, as he also did two years ago when reporting back later than requested. Kane was respectful of new head coach Ange Postecoglou, who this week admitted his star striker gave him the impression upon starting work on July 1 that he would depart if a club made an acceptable offer. Staying was not ruled out, but Kane’s preference was clear.
Bayern had been encouraged that Kane could be tempted into a move to Germany — no foregone conclusion given his fondness for Spurs and the general rarity of top Premier League players joining Bundesliga clubs — and so conversations with Tottenham began. They were further enthused by Tottenham’s reluctance to countenance Kane joining another English team. They didn’t want him to go at all, but the prospect was slightly more palatable if he left the country — out of sight, out of mind — and so neither Manchester United nor Chelsea entered the running, despite the latter hiring Mauricio Pochettino, the manager Kane produced his best football under, this summer. Transferring him in this window also meant they could control his next club, as opposed to allowing Kane to become a free agent next year with his pick of a plethora of top sides.
Sources have told ESPN that Thomas Tuchel met with Kane’s representatives at the family home toward the end of last season to sell the prospect of a move to Bayern. After all, it is difficult to overstate the magnitude of this deal in a historical context: Kane would be the first active England captain to move abroad since David Beckham left Manchester United for Real Madrid in 2003. Armed with the knowledge Kane was interested in the move, Bayern attempted to deal with the toughest aspect of the entire transfer: negotiating with Levy.
Bayern adopted an incremental approach. Their first bid totalled around €70m plus add-ons. It never had a chance of success on its own, but Bayern gradually upped their offer following meetings between Levy and Bayern CEO Jan-Christian Dreesen. They risked antagonising Levy in mid-July when honorary president Uli Hoeness publicly declared that if Kane “keeps to his word, then we’ll get him” — an assumption that sources suggest riled senior figures at Spurs.
Speculation persisted through Tottenham’s preseason tour of Perth, Bangkok and Singapore — in fact, sources have told ESPN that Spurs viewed Bayern’s strategy as unprofessional in making so much of the negotiations public knowledge, often almost immediately after any developments had occurred. Bayern are used to being the big club dictating the pace of talks in almost any deal they undertake, but Levy is a ferocious negotiator and the competing narratives around the deal led to some confusion as the situation reached its climax.
Spurs were unimpressed by Bayern setting a deadline of Aug. 4 to respond to an improved offer in excess of €100m. Internally, the club were already working to a different deadline of their own, one that Kane and Postecoglou had agreed when discussing the situation shortly after the new head coach took charge.
Both men wanted clarity by Tottenham’s opening Premier League game against Brentford on Aug. 13. Postecoglou was resigned to losing Kane from the moment he took charge and had to start the rebuild as soon as possible, while Kane was prepared to stay if Bayern could not agree to a deal with Spurs and did not want to become a disruptive factor when the competitive football began. And so, Levy ignored Bayern’s deadline, choosing instead to fly to the United States and wait until Aug. 7 before rejecting the latest bid.
Bayern reconvened their transfer committee and decided on making one final push, restructuring an agreement worth €100m up front with a further €20m in add-ons. With the club’s internal deadline coming sharply into view, Spurs finally accepted the terms on Aug. 10.
Yet the transfer was not even a formality beyond that. On the morning of Aug. 11, Kane was due to fly to Munich to undergo a medical and sign a four-year contract, the framework of which had been agreed in principle for some time. Kane was on his way to Stansted Airport when he was told Spurs were attempting to change certain elements of the agreement with Bayern. He turned back from the airport, seeking assurances the transfer was 100 percent finalised before getting on a plane.
The wait stretched into several hours, during which Tottenham denied they revoked permission for Kane to fly. Bayern were bemused by the delay, but the Bundesliga helpfully extended the registration deadline by 24 hours to allow Kane to be registered for the German Super Cup against RB Leipzig on Saturday, Aug. 12.
The exact nature of the rejig was unclear — one source suggested agent fees, another said there were tweaks to the composition of the add-on fees — but either way, Kane felt secure enough in the stability of the agreement to fly to Munich shortly before 4 p.m. local time. That journey began less than three hours after Postecoglou had addressed media at Tottenham’s training base for his obligatory prematch news conference, answering questions with admirable honesty and patience for 51 minutes — the vast majority of which were about Kane and the circumstances around his exit.
“He’ll definitely be back at Tottenham one day in one capacity or another,” Postecoglou said. “When you have a career like he has at one football club, you’re never not part of it.”
The prospect of Kane coming back to England one day, perhaps with sufficient time to surpass Shearer’s Premier League goal-scoring record, is not difficult to envisage. But if Kane is to return, he plans to do so as a modern-day great with the medals to prove it. It has been his ambition all along.