The seconds ticked by like minutes, the minutes must have felt like hours. Harry Kane was holed up near Stansted Airport, waiting for the call that would change his life.
Even after a transfer fee had been agreed between Tottenham Hotspur and Bayern Munich, even after personal terms had been finalised, the deal still wasn’t done.
Why? Spurs and Bayern were settling details. This was on Friday afternoon when there was still jeopardy as to whether the move would go ahead, to the extent that Kane was prepared to return to training with Spurs on Saturday. In Germany, Bayern officials were getting tetchy too. By early afternoon, they thought a whole summer’s work was about to fail, feeling Tottenham were moving the goalposts late on.
It was indicative of a saga that lurched from being off, to on, then off again as big personalities and egos desperately battled to ‘win’ the deal. And that was just in the last week.
Such was the paranoia involved in an incredibly complex but also sensitive deal, Friday’s delay had some people at Bayern wondering if it was all a ruse to stop Kane playing in the German Super Cup against RB Leipzig on Saturday night. Winning his first career club trophy one day after leaving Spurs? A PR disaster not even worth contemplating.
In return, the league extended the registration deadline for new players by 24 hours to 3pm on Saturday so he could feature if Bayern felt he was ready.
Kane had initially been given the green light to fly to Munich in the morning before being phoned on his way to the airport by Bayern, who said to hold on because there was a problem with the club-to-club deal and it could be embarrassing if he landed in Munich if the deal didn’t go through.
It was a fitting last chapter to a tumultuous deal.
Today, The Athletic charts:
- The London talks between Thomas Tuchel and Kane that persuaded Bayern to bid
- Kane’s refusal to sign a new deal left Spurs determined to sell
- Why Manchester United and Real Madrid bids didn’t materialise
- The “they will buckle” comment that angered Daniel Levy
- The tour meeting where Kane made it clear he wanted to go
This is the story of how Spurs and England’s record goalscorer landed a nine-figure move to Bayern Munich.
The seeds for Kane’s departure go further back, but the summer of 2021 is such an important reference point.
It was then that Kane first made it clear he wanted to leave Spurs, saying as much in May of that year in an interview with Gary Neville.
The saga rumbled on for another few months and only ended towards the end of the summer transfer window when it became clear Manchester City weren’t going to push hard enough for Kane’s signature.
We don’t need to relitigate that whole situation, but there are a couple of salient points that emerge when reflecting on how Kane managed to do this summer what he couldn’t do then.
One is that, in a lengthy meeting on August 9, 2021, Spurs attempted to tie Kane down to a new contract soon after he had belatedly returned to pre-season training (Kane claimed he didn’t return late but that there had been a misunderstanding about when he’d be back).
Kane said no to the offer of a new contract, ensuring that while Spurs ultimately won the battle with the England captain in the short term, there was no long-term resolution.
The language Kane used in his tweet on August 25, 2021, revealing that he was staying, illustrated as much. He said he would remain at the club “this summer” — not even “this season” and certainly nothing beyond that.
It was incredible to see the reception from the Spurs fans on Sunday and to read some of the messages of support I’ve had in the last few weeks. 👏⚽
— Harry Kane (@HKane) August 25, 2021
Something else that feels even more significant now is Kane saying in his May 2021 interview with Neville: “Ultimately, it’s going to be down to me and how I feel and what’s going to be the best for me and my career.”
Two years ago, Kane came to realise this simply wasn’t true. He still had three years left on his contract and ultimately that meant the final decision was down to Levy.
This summer, it would have been a much more accurate description of the situation. With only one year left on his contract, Kane was in the strongest position of the three main parties involved in the deal.
Bayern feared missing out on their main summer target and then potentially losing him again next summer when Kane would be a free agent and have a wider choice of destinations. Tottenham faced the doomsday scenario of losing Kane on a free in a year’s time, potentially to one of their big rivals. But for Kane, there was no terrible option. The worst case was staying on at Spurs for one more year, but even that would carry with it the additional reward come the end of it of having more options and more lucrative ones. He was also enjoying working with new head coach Ange Postecoglou, who made a good impression in their few weeks working together.
Levy was naturally well aware that this would be the situation if Spurs couldn’t tie Kane down to a new contract. Consequently, getting Kane to sign fresh terms had been one of Tottenham’s priorities from the moment he put the City saga to bed with that tweet in August 2021.
It was hoped that the uplift in Kane and the team’s fortunes in the period after Antonio Conte took over in November 2021 might tempt him to sign a new deal. After all, Conte had worked hard with Kane to improve his fitness and the striker felt as though he’d never been in better physical condition. He finished the 2021-22 season strongly to help Spurs power to a fourth-placed finish and with it an unlikely place in the Champions League — the competition Kane was desperate to be back playing in. But, acutely aware of how hamstrung he’d been by signing a six-year deal back in 2018, he wouldn’t commit to a new contract.
Kane’s position has always been that he wants to compete for and win the game’s biggest prizes and, ideally, that would be at Tottenham. Should that not be possible, then he would want to leave.
With the exception of possibly that period last summer when Spurs appeared to be on the up under Conte, Tottenham have struggled to even nearly make this case since Kane made it clear he wanted to leave two years ago.
Shortly before Conte left in March of this year, Spurs began conversations with Kane’s camp once again about the possibility of a new deal. Kane had recently broken the Tottenham goalscoring record and it was hoped that, with the overall Premier League goalscoring record also in sight, he might want to commit his future to the club. At this point, Spurs were not even considering a sale and were determined to renew Kane’s contract — even if this meant continuing discussions into the start of the 2023-24 season.
But even if Tottenham weren’t considering a sale, there were clubs who were very much considering testing Levy’s resolve.
One such club was Manchester United, whose manager Erik ten Hag was, and is, a big admirer of Kane. The Athletic reported in April that Ten Hag was sold on Kane as his first choice for a new centre-forward, which was the club’s absolute priority position this summer.
It became apparent pretty quickly however that United would struggle to get a deal done. They had been bruised from past negotiations with Spurs and their sense was that Tottenham would not countenance selling to another English club. So there was little to no appetite for getting involved in a back-and-forth that could drag on until close to the end of the window and potentially derail their other summer transfer plans. They had seen this happen to neighbours City in 2021. United also wanted to avoid a repeat of the previous summer when they put a lot of effort into trying to sign Frenkie de Jong from Barcelona, only to fall short on a deal that was always out of reach.
Chelsea also held an interest in Kane but were aware that Spurs had zero intention of selling to them. Their only chance was if Kane ran his contract down and the decision was taken out of Tottenham’s hands. Even then, it is highly doubtful Kane would risk tarnishing his Spurs legacy by joining one of their most-loathed rivals.
Kane’s focus at this point was finishing the season in good form. Conte had been replaced by interim head coach Cristian Stellini in late March and there was still a Champions League spot potentially up for grabs.
On a personal level, Kane finished the season well, ending the campaign with 30 Premier League goals, a joint personal best. Yet the team stumbled to an eighth-place finish, their worst in 14 years. It meant no European football and no credibility to any argument Spurs would attempt to make about Tottenham being a place where Kane could compete for the game’s biggest prizes.
But with a sale to another English club deemed an impossibility, if Kane were to stand any chance of a move, there would have to be interest (plus a lot of cash and a lot of resolve) from a non-Premier League club.
There were three big European clubs who held a strong interest in Kane. One was Bayern Munich, whose manager Thomas Tuchel had always followed Tottenham closely — he was a target to replace Conte — and was desperate to sign Kane. He and the Bayern hierarchy were in agreement that Kane, essentially a No 9 and No 10 rolled into one, would be the perfect player for their system. Not only was he a guarantee of goals, but his clever movement would drag defenders out of position and add another layer to the team’s possession-based style. They believed Kane could be the man to help them win the Champions League again after a disappointing few years in the competition.
Initial contact had been made last year by then sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic, but Bayern were scared off by both a huge outlay and their perception that Kane didn’t seem committed to the idea.
As the 2022-23 season drew to a close, there were exploratory meetings at Kane’s home in London between Tuchel and Kane’s representatives where the Bayern manager made his case. Tuchel and Kane got on well and remained in touch. Bayern were now left with the impression Kane was interested in joining.
It had previously been assumed that Kane would not want to leave the Premier League in case it jeopardised his chances of breaking Alan Shearer’s Premier League goalscoring record. But Kane was ready for a new challenge and he still believes he can one day return to England and break that record. After all, Kane only turned 30 at the end of July and should still have plenty of years left to score those extra 48 goals.
Convincing Kane was part of the challenge facing Bayern, but they were aware that the far bigger one would be convincing Spurs to sell and they knew they wouldn’t be the only club with an interest.
Come early June, Real Madrid were looking for a new striker after the departure of Karim Benzema to Al Ittihad in Saudi Arabia.
On June 1, Madrid’s president Florentino Perez, CEO Jose Angel Sanchez and manager Carlo Ancelotti had a meeting at the club’s Valdebebas training ground to discuss summer transfer plans. They knew Benzema was leaving and Ancelotti requested Kane as a replacement.
The club agreed that Kane would make sense to fill the void left by Benzema and told Ancelotti they would do everything possible. The Madrid hierarchy also made it clear to Ancelotti that it was going to be very difficult to sign Kane, especially given the fear at the Bernabeu of negotiating with Levy (11 years on, the memories of painfully getting the Luka Modric deal over the line still lingered). Some people inside the club said at the time they thought Levy would start asking for €150million (£129m; $164m), an amount they would not be able to afford.
But Real were given the distinct impression that Kane would be interested in joining them so tried to make a deal.
They didn’t think they would be able to afford a deal for Kane outright, so Real tried to come up with different solutions and offered a low amount to test the waters. It quickly became clear they wouldn’t be able to convince Tottenham to sell to them.
Paris Saint-Germain meanwhile were keen on bringing Kane to the French capital as a marquee signing for new manager Luis Enrique and a possible replacement for Kylian Mbappe. There were exploratory conversations with his camp but Kane was not keen on the move due to the current state of the club.
This reflected the fact Kane only wanted to leave Spurs if he felt it was the right opportunity. There had been no agitation to leave and relations were fine between the Kane side and Tottenham. In 2021, the Kane camp had stopped speaking to Levy but there was decent communication this time around.
Then in early June, Bayern’s interest intensified. Tuchel convinced the board that Kane should be their top priority and, after a second meeting with Kane in London in mid-June, the player signalled he could see himself playing in Munich.
Bayern had been given enough encouragement to make their first move and it came on Tuesday, June 27, as they put in a formal offer of €70million (£60m) plus add-ons, which Spurs swiftly rejected. Privately, estimates ranged from about £100million to £130million as to what would be needed to convince Tottenham to change their mind, but they didn’t go straight in with a high bid for fear of getting driven up even higher.
And that was the sticking point: a club-to-club agreement. As is commonplace for a deal of this magnitude, personal terms were more or less sorted by the time Bayern made the bid.
Bayern expected their opening gambit to be rejected but were already plotting their next move. A second bid would take them beyond what City had mustered two years ago when they never came in with another offer after their opening bid of £75million plus £25million in add-ons. It is striking to think that Spurs have extracted a higher fee now than what they were offered in 2021, even though Kane had three as opposed to one year left on his contract back then.
For many supporters, financial numbers like these mean little, but from a footballing perspective as well, turning down City meant two more years of Kane at Tottenham, a period in which he broke the club’s goalscoring record.
Having previously been accepting of a situation where negotiations with Kane carried on beyond this summer, the sense among industry insiders was that Spurs’ position was shifting: they now accepted they either had to convince Kane to sign a new deal or face up to the fact that selling him for big money was their only other vaguely satisfactory option. As it became a more realistic prospect, the idea of Kane leaving as a free agent and potentially to a domestic rival in 2024 was something Tottenham couldn’t allow. Even if it meant Levy, his standing at an all-time low among sections of the fanbase, risking becoming even more unpopular by selling Kane this window.
Tottenham’s first choice naturally was to tie Kane to a big new deal, so they offered him another one in early July, which would double Kane’s weekly wage to around £400,000.
Kane was on holiday at this point, but nothing had really changed from his perspective. His position was still that he wouldn’t be signing a new deal this window.
Meanwhile, Bayern were due to host their transfer committee meeting on July 11 and before then tested the water again. On Sunday, July 9, they contacted Tottenham and inquired about whether upping their original bid by €10million to €80million plus add-ons would shift the dial.
Tottenham were unmoved and though relations generally have been good between the clubs throughout the negotiations this summer, some at Spurs were dismayed by the story being leaked in the German press.
Spurs had a big week coming up. On Monday, July 10, new head coach Ange Postecoglou was giving his introductory press conference and, more significantly, Kane was due back for pre-season training and talks on Wednesday, July 12. Would he fail to return to pre-season training as he had done in 2021?
Kane did return to training a couple of days later and had a good meeting with Postecoglou. But his position was becoming more entrenched: he would not be signing a new contract this window.
Unless the situation changed, Levy was essentially only left with the option of selling Kane. The next day, Thursday, July 13, he met with Bayern Munich CEO Jan-Christian Dreesen for breakfast in a London hotel. No offer was made for Kane at the meeting and no price was quoted following Bayern’s initial bid for the England striker the previous month.
Bayern did not want to show their hand and instantly give the impression they were willing to pay the £120million that it was thought would convince Levy to sell.
Instead, Dreesen and Levy discussed more generally how a deal might work. Could Bayern, for instance, speak to one of its many big commercial partners and get some financial support to push the deal over the line?
It was a good-natured meeting, reflecting the positive relationship between the two clubs. Levy was said to be extremely cordial throughout the process, though Bayern wondered whether there was going to be a late sting in the tail.
Suddenly, things felt a bit more urgent. Tottenham were flying to Australia the next day, Friday, July 14, for their pre-season tour and were increasingly convinced that a resolution had to be found before they started their season away at Brentford on Sunday, August 13. This was partly because Kane had made it clear he did not want to move once the season had started.
Spurs then had effectively less than a month to complete the sale.
Were Bayern the only option though? In an ideal world for Tottenham, another club would push hard for Kane and start a bidding war.
For a variety of reasons, though, another club didn’t really enter or reenter the frame.
Barcelona were very interested and made their case, but only if Kane was willing to wait a year and join them as a free agent. Madrid were led to believe Kane would be interested in joining them, even as recently as late July. But after that initial push to try to sign him, Perez declined to pursue a deal because of Kane’s age, fee and the prospect of drawn-out negotiations. This was met with disappointment by some at the club, but it was the position Perez had warned Ancelotti he thought the club would have to take when they met on June 1.
Manchester United were clear that they, too, were not going to get lured into a battle they didn’t think they could win and turned to Atalanta’s Rasmus Hojlund instead. Even if United had pushed hard, it was felt that Kane’s preference would still be Bayern, partly as there was no guarantee Ten Hag’s side were ready to compete for the game’s biggest honours. United were also of the impression that Kane was after a prohibitive £30million-a-year salary (that’s £576,000 a week), though whether they were right is unclear.
PSG were the most viable rival to Bayern and their greater spending power made them an appealing option for Tottenham, but Kane’s unwillingness to join at the present time made it a non-starter.
Not that Bayern were helping themselves with some of their public proclamations. While Spurs were in the air travelling to Australia on Saturday, July 15, Bayern’s honorary president, Uli Hoeness, told reporters: “Kane wants to play internationally and, luckily for us, Tottenham will not be active internationally next year. He has clearly signalled in all conversations that his decision stands — and if he keeps to his word, then we’ll get him. Because then Tottenham will have to buckle because it’s not possible for such a club to do without 80, 90million, or how much it may be.”
Hoeness’ impulsive intervention — he had said he wouldn’t comment on Kane at the beginning of his impromptu interview in Bayern’s Lake Tegernsee training camp — was seen as very unhelpful and unnecessary by other board members.
It also didn’t go down well at Spurs. The “they will buckle” comment angered Levy, but it also showed him that Bayern were prepared to spend big. A source close to the deal, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their position, felt the Tottenham boss leveraged the situation very well, extracting maximum value from Bayern’s predicament. They needed a striker and Levy knew there wasn’t really anyone comparable on the market.
On Saturday, July 22, Postecoglou was presented with a Bayern shirt with ‘Kane 9’ on the back by a Bild journalist. Postecoglou and Tottenham were seriously unimpressed with the stunt and the journalist was banned from the remaining games and press conferences of their pre-season tour. This was technically a Bild rather than a Bayern issue, but some at Tottenham felt the two entities were interchangeable and, off the back of Hoeness’ comments, there was some irritation at how the pursuit of Kane was being conducted.
It didn’t help that the transfer saga was overshadowing Spurs’ pre-season tour. A few days earlier, the first six questions of Postecoglou’s homecoming press conference in Perth had been about Kane.
It was around this time that Kane offered a firm commitment to move to Munich. His wife, Kate, travelled to the city to look at houses and health clinics. Momentum was gaining but Bayern knew that getting Levy to sit down and talk might prove difficult.
By the time of the shirt prank, Spurs had left Australia and were in Bangkok, Thailand, for a friendly against Leicester City.
It was in Bangkok that Kane sat down with Levy and other members of the Spurs hierarchy to discuss his future. Kane made it clear that he wouldn’t be signing a new contract and would like to join Bayern. It was not about money — if that was the motivation, he’d have moved to Saudi Arabia.
Levy and the other senior Spurs staff members present understood Kane’s position. Kane had made it clear on a number of occasions that a deal had to be done by the start of the season, otherwise he would be staying at the club.
Back in Germany, Bayern’s CEO Dreesen and technical director Marco Neppe stayed behind as the club flew off to Singapore for their pre-season tour. They wanted to be in Europe for face-to-face talks with Levy upon his and Spurs’ return from their tour that finished in Singapore with a game against Lion City Sailors on Wednesday, July 26.
That game included the pretty bleak sight of Kane leading out the Spurs team in front of a not-even-half-full stadium. The game, though, had been completely overshadowed by news that Joe Lewis, Tottenham’s former owner who had signed over his shares to his family trust the previous year, had been indicted for multiple inside trading charges. Levy suddenly had the Lewis imbroglio to contend with as well as the ongoing Kane saga.
Levy was scheduled to meet with Dreesen in London on Friday, July 28, but had to travel to the U.S. instead.
The meeting was pushed back, but there was optimism at Bayern. Kane’s expectation was that if there was an agreement the following week, he would say his goodbyes and potentially be in a position to get some minutes for Bayern in their friendly against Monaco on Monday, August 7.
On Monday, July 31, Dreesen and Neppe flew to London for the meeting with Levy. By the end of the discussions, the two clubs remained around £25million apart in their valuation of Kane. But after the meeting, Bayern’s executives were on the phone with Levy late into the night, which they interpreted as an indication of his desire to get the deal done. Bayern executives went away and thought about how they could find a solution to the gap in the clubs’ valuation.
On the Kane side, however, there was wariness that there would be a repeat of 2021 when the buying club, in that case City, had felt confident only for a deal not to materialise. And Kane knew the clock was ticking; the season’s start was approaching and he didn’t want to destabilise the preparations of Postecoglou, who he liked and respected.
Tottenham, meanwhile, were succession planning (as they’d been doing for the previous year in case Kane left) and laying the groundwork for a couple of attacking players to come in. It wasn’t the case that they were lining up one big-money striker to come in as a replacement for Kane.
Big-name replacements had been discussed, but there weren’t many viable options within their budget — and the lack of any European football meant marquee options like Victor Osimhen were unattainable.
Spurs did look at Evan Ferguson as a potential Kane replacement, but he recently signed a new contract that runs until 2028 and Brighton & Hove Albion have absolutely no intention of selling. Hojlund was also discussed prior to United making their move.
After looking at reports for the past year and contingency planning for Kane’s departure, the plan now is to try to share the load of the loss of his goals rather than bring in one player to replace them. They have signed 19-year-old Argentine striker Alejo Veliz from Rosario Central as a backup option to Richarlison.
Not rushing to bring in a first-choice striker now might also open the door to a move for Ivan Toney in January. This is an option being considered for when he returns and is back up to full speed after his gambling ban.
They also want to sign another wide player, such as Nottingham Forest’s Brennan Johnson, to improve their depth in the forward positions and provide cover on the wings — especially since without Kane, Son Heung-min will play more games in the centre-forward position.
With the additions already of Veliz and defender Micky van de Ven for a deal approaching £43million, sources suggest the Kane money has already been invested.
That said, it has only been in the past 10 days that all parties began believing a deal would get done. There was an increased sense at Spurs that it might actually help Postecoglou, as expectations would be lower and there would be an understanding there would have to be a period of post-Kane transition.
Bayern turned the dial up a notch as negotiations headed towards what would be the final week. A video call due for last Thursday (August 3) was cancelled and, conscious of Kane’s wish to conclude a deal before the start of the season, Bayern set a soft deadline via email of their third bid being accepted by the weekend, thought to be a strong preference rather than a demand.
Neither of these things went down well with Levy or Spurs, who thought it showed them a lack of respect, but they were being backed into a corner.
As Levy flew to America, Kane played at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in a Spurs shirt for one last time, signing off with four goals against Shakhtar Donetsk and what now will be viewed as a poignant farewell to all four sides of the ground at full time. Spurs’ sales for the game were initially expected to be around 20,000, but more than 50,000 turned up, some perhaps in expectation of seeing Kane for the final time.
Bayern’s third bid was rejected, but with valuations drawing closer, they were undeterred and almost immediately prepared to make a fourth the following Thursday (August 10).
Kane wanted clarity as the season was fast approaching and his wife, Kate, was heavily pregnant and not able to fly to Munich for much longer.
After protracted negotiations, his camp felt the move was losing momentum and if Spurs were to accept an offer after the first match of the season and Kane ended up going, it would be because he was forced out, not because he wanted to leave at that juncture.
There was also the consideration that Kane was enjoying training and playing under Postecoglou and alongside his good friend James Maddison, who he had recommended Spurs sign. If the move didn’t go through, Kane was now believed to be open to the possibility of signing a new contract further down the line if things were going well with the new head coach.
Kane’s camp cited Mohamed Salah as an example of a top player signing a new contract in the final year of their existing deal, but from Levy and Spurs’ point of view, the possibility of losing out on such a huge transfer fee was too great and they felt almost forced to take the fourth offer.
A bid worth more than €100million was accepted and the ball was now in Kane’s court.
Bayern went to work on finalising personal terms, undeterred by reports that Kane was wavering. Slow progress on Thursday caused a degree of concern at Sabener Strasse, but negotiations were at last concluded later that evening when Bayern agreed to all of the Kane camp’s demands.
Even after agreements in full, there were, incredibly, still twists in the tale, with Friday’s unforeseen delays and Kane forced to wait near Stansted before finally receiving approval to fly to Munich.
Given the characters involved and Kane’s status, it’s no surprise this was a transfer deal of endurance and patience, right to the very end.
(Other contributors: David Ornstein, Raphael Honigstein, Tim Spiers, Laurie Whitwell, Mario Cortegana)
(Top photo: Getty Images; design: Sam Richardson)
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