LONDON — A club’s fanbase doesn’t usually side with their star striker when he asks to leave, but this is precisely the mess Tottenham have got themselves into now. Harry Kane had to wait just over 70 seconds into this 2-1 home defeat to Aston Villa to hear the 10,000 fans assembled inside this magnificent stadium chant “he’s one of our own” just two days after it emerged he wants to quit Spurs this summer.
Chairman Daniel Levy was left in peace for most of the first half, at least until those in attendance began to voice their opposition. “We want Levy Out,” started in the South Stand before all four sides joined in for a brief but clear verdict of public opinion on the whole affair. Tottenham were losing by that stage and, in essence, that is precisely the point. Results are the primary driver of perception at any club, and their 12th Premier League defeat of the season leaves them facing the possibility of finishing without any European football next term for only the second time in 16 years.
Villa had nothing to play for — they can’t finish higher than 11th — yet looked the more motivated side throughout, aside perhaps from the first ten minutes when Spurs took the lead. Steven Bergwijn won the ball high up the pitch from Marvelous Nakamba and forced his way into a shooting position, firing high into the net beyond goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.
Spurs improved a little after the break. Interim boss Ryan Mason waited too long to make changes, with Gareth Bale given just 18 minutes to spark a revival, and although he looked more likely than most, Villa never looked particularly uncomfortable.
In keeping with the entire week, the more significant events for Tottenham occurred outside of the 90 minutes.
A lap of appreciation was planned for full-time — the fans were told it would be included “as is tradition” — but only four players took part. Kane led it alone, and it didn’t require much artistic licence to interpret his body language as a farewell. Seeming to fight back tears as he walked the pitch and applauded the fans, the 27-year-old was 50 yards from his other three teammates, Bale, Heung-Min Son and Dele Alli — looking as isolated there as he had done in the game itself. No Spurs outfield player had fewer touches of the ball than Kane (36).
A smattering of fans remained in the ground long after the final whistle in anticipation of a proper chance to engage with the players. PA announcements followed instead, reminding them to “please follow social distancing guidelines when leaving” as an unsubtle suggestion nobody was re-emerging. Due to COVID-19 guidelines, most post-match duties have taken place on the touchline this season, but with fans in attendance, Mason and several other staff members were exposed to catcalls, demanding the players reappear en masse.
“There are so many emotions in football,” said Mason. “I love representing this football club. Yes, a lot has been going on, but our aim is to get results on the pitch and unfortunately, we didn’t do that.
“Harry means a lot. He’s a Tottenham player. I’ve answered so many questions on Harry Kane in the past 24 hours. I’m willing to speak about the game, but not individuals. We were fully focused on the match and I’m very disappointed.”
The fans continued unabated. “£60 [$85, the cost of the match ticket], you’re having a laugh,” they sang in among some more unsavoury language directed at Levy. Around 40 minutes after the final whistle, with only a few hundred left in the ground, the squad did return, led by Mason with Kane in tow, wearing his kit minus socks and flip flops.
A long goodbye is precisely the last thing Kane wants, having informed Spurs of his desire to have his future resolved before the start of Euro 2020 on June 11. That seems unlikely given Levy’s reluctance to sell, a £150m ($212m) asking price and a pandemic impacting the resources and spending power of even the biggest clubs.
Kane has not handed in a formal transfer request and may yet need to show sustained determination and resolve to push through a move if Levy digs his heels in as expected. At least he won’t have to search back far in his memory for a collective display to remind him why he seems more likely to win trophies elsewhere. If there is any lingering doubt, it seems, remarkably, the fans agree with him.