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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
David Hytner in Munich

FC Hollywood make Kane the star in perfect script for Manchester United

Harry Kane celebrates scoring for Bayern Munich.
Harry Kane has scored four goals in four starts since his record move from Tottenham. Photograph: Sebastian Widmann/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection/Getty Images

It was a day of frayed nerves and emotion, Harry Kane forced to wait in and around Stansted Airport, to borrow from the football vernacular. His move to Bayern Munich seemingly was in jeopardy at the very last.

Told by Tottenham to stay away from the training ground – an edict of staggeringly bad optics – Kane knew there would be no face-to-face goodbyes with the people at his boyhood club, no chance to personally collect his belongings. But would there be a goodbye at all? As the Spurs chairman, Daniel Levy, tried to renegotiate the finer points of the deal with Bayern on Friday 11 August, Kane began to wonder and fret.

At which point it is worth considering the view at Manchester United, because this was what they had feared; the reason why they did not go all out for Kane, despite him being the player that the manager, Erik ten Hag, most wanted and in the position he was most desperate to fill.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s comment about Levy has practically gone down in folklore, how he was more painful to deal with than hip replacement surgery. Now the feeling at Old Trafford took in vindication. If Levy was prepared to blow everything up at this stage with Bayern, imagine what he would have done with them? There had always been scepticism at United over whether Levy would sell Kane to a domestic rival, even if they could meet the needed numbers. They were definitely better off out of this one; their safer, cleaner transfer window plan was wise.

How is the decision looking today? An unfair question, perhaps, posed with the benefit of hindsight. But one that felt unavoidable as Kane sat in the Allianz Arena media theatre and looked ahead to his Champions League debut for Bayern on Wednesday night. That it is against United was written in the stars.

Kane, of course, was eventually cleared for takeoff on that head-spinning day and would be unveiled as Bayern’s £100m record signing the following morning. He certainly has a script in mind against United and it involves him continuing his positive start in the Bayern No 9 shirt – four starts, four goals – and deepening the crisis at Old Trafford.

United’s position on Kane does bear scrutiny. And yet it also feels unsatisfactory. Both things can be true. They were wary of a protracted pursuit and one that ultimately could have been futile, seeing them miss out on other signings, forced to scramble at the end of the window, their summer in ruins. In a sense they were burned by the Frenkie de Jong chase of the previous summer when Ten Hag’s No 1 target stayed put at Barcelona.

The money was a part of it – not just the fee for Kane but the wages, United’s understanding being that his annual salary would need to be around £30m (or £577,000 a week). As an aside, United were blown out of the water by Bayern on personal terms for Kim Min-jae; the centre-half chose them when he left Napoli under his €50m release clause in July.

United did not feel that a move for Kane made economic sense and, also mindful of financial fair play, they decided early in the summer not to go for him. It was better, they reasoned, to get three good players in relatively quickly to fill the main problem areas – goalkeeper, No 8 and centre-forward – rather than having Kane plus one other. Hence the deals for André Onana, Mason Mount and Rasmus Højlund, with a bit left over for Sofyan Amrabat.

Yet given the choice between, say, Kane or Mount and Højlund, most United fans would not hesitate. They would go for the proven world-class performer, the difference-maker. It would be Kane every time and, if the club were unable to complete the deal, then at least they would have aimed big. Or, to put it another way, acted like a big club.

Bayern Munich probably expected more of an effort from Manchester United to sign Harry Kane in the summer.
Bayern Munich probably expected more of an effort from Manchester United to sign Harry Kane in the summer. Photograph: Christian Kaspar-Bartke/Getty Images

It felt at times in the early weeks of the summer that United’s primary concern was not to be embarrassed by Levy, and it was certainly instructive to hear the Bayern manager, Thomas Tuchel, talk here about the way his club had “relied heavily” on the move for Kane, their confidence that they were “doing the right thing”.

Tuchel said: “We took the skipper of England out of England, out of the Premier League. It’s a huge deal and a big transfer. Everybody wanted to have Harry. I’m not sure what was going on at other clubs but we’re more than happy that he finally took the decision and came to make us better.”

It was a quintessentially Bayern move to put Kane up at the pre-match press conference, a power play, a bit of the FC Hollywood razzle-dazzle. English clubs do not really do this. And so there was Kane, centre stage for 15 minutes, running us through his new life.

The German is not really happening at the moment, he said, and it would be a surprise if he learned the language because most people at Bayern speak such perfect English. One of Tuchel’s assistants, Anthony Barry, is English; he can be heard bellowing in his native tongue during training. Kane’s most mainland Europe moment came when he referred to United as “Manchester”.

Kane seems to get on well with Thomas Müller, although presumably not when his new teammate was beating him over nine holes of golf, and there was a general relish for the scale of the challenge, the overbearing level of expectation at the juggernaut of German football.

“When you have won the league title 11 years in a row, the expectation from the outside and maybe the whole club is that it has to be done,” Kane said. “I don’t want to be the player who doesn’t win it for the 12th season in a row.”

United remain confident that their signings will come good over a longer period of time; the situation for the club will improve when the injury picture clears, when belief is restored. More immediately, though, with Kane as the touchstone, it feels more likely that things will get worse.

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