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Some jokes just write themselves, or seem to. When Tottenham sold Harry Kane and it transpired that his Bayern Munich debut would come in the German Super Cup final, the punchline was obvious. Kane played 435 games for Spurs, scored a record 280 goals, and then left without winning a trophy. Yet on his first appearance for Bayern, Kane had the chance to immediately end his silverware drought while Tottenham’s grew forever longer. If waving goodbye to the greatest player of the club’s modern era wasn’t bad enough, this was a further punch in the stomach for those who remained in north London.
Of course, though, this particular joke didn’t go to script. Kane’s debut for Bayern came in a 3-0 defeat to RB Leipzig – his search for a trophy continuing until at least the end of this season – but more pertinently, Tottenham haven’t looked back since. Under Ange Postecoglou, and without Kane, Spurs have made their best start to a league season since 1960/61, the last time they won the title. There has been no hangover, no sense of loss, and beyond that, the most remarkable aspect about the first two months of the post-Kane era is how little Kane has been mentioned at all.
The break-up is still in its early days but, against all the odds, Tottenham are thriving. Bayern’s protracted pursuit of the England captain and Daniel Levy’s stubbornness during negotiations may have meant that Kane was only sold days before the start of the new Premier League season. It could have left Spurs in a lurch – but the timing of a split that had long felt coming has suddenly arrived at the perfect time for all parties.
Tottenham are top of the Premier League, but that’s not even the point. Spurs have been refreshed and it feels as if making the ultimate change of selling Kane has accelerated how Postecoglou has been able to transform the club within just two months. There has been no hangover or feeling that Tottenham have been left behind. Insead there has been the opposite: Tottenham, as a team that plays with confidence and spirit, are unrecognisable to the confused mess of last season that Kane left.
But if Spurs’s early-season success has been unexpected, there is little about Kane’s immediate impact at Bayern that comes as a surprise. The 30-year-old already has 12 Bundesliga goals in nine appearances, a further two in the Champions League, and has seven assists as well. Bayern may have some issues under Thomas Tuchel – they aren’t the perfectly oiled machine of recent years but a club with 10 consecutive Bundesliga titles to their name have been given a lift by the arrival of a genuine superstar. If that seems grandiose, just look at what Kane did at the weekend.
Bayern and Germany are falling in love with the England captain, in awe of the presence of a world-class striker. Kane’s transition has been eased by the fact he is a star among stars. Yet Kane’s goal from the halfway line and latest standout moment from Germany was delivered at an opportune time, for – rather strangely – there have started to be whispers of people thinking and then declaring out loud that Tottenham are better without Kane.
Now that is a good joke, though one that would have been easy enough to fall into after Tottenham went five points clear at the top of the Premier League table on Friday night. It is instead the ethos of Postecoglou’s approach helps to understand why Tottenham are not better without Kane, but just different. In an astonishingly quick timeframe, the Australian has implemented a mindset that focuses on the system rather than the individual. Yet by doing that, it has allowed the improvements of individuals within that system to cover for the loss of a club legend like Kane.
Selhurst Park was an interesting example. While Tottenham would almost certainly have won that match with Kane, the way Spurs were able to break through a stubborn Crystal Palace defence – by keeping the ball, staying patient in their plan and targeting the wide areas – was illustrative of the shift in mentality that has occurred since the summer.
To play like that requires individuals to place the system above themselves, which is not to suggest Kane was ever selfish or put himself above the team, rather the opposite. Whereas in situations such as Friday, when Spurs were shut out and frustrated in the first half at Selhurst Park, Tottenham might have previously deferred to Kane, relied on him to do something extraordinary or take a chance from nowhere.
There is a greater share of responsibility now, as emphasised by how James Maddison has literally stepped into Kane’s No 10 shirt. Tottenham have shown an ability to figure out tricky situations as a team. If pressing brought both goals against Fulham last week, creating overloads won Postecoglou’s side the match at Crystal Palace. It was by design, but Postecoglou has given his players the belief and confidence that they can find solutions for themselves. That, rather than Kane’s departure, is the difference from previous seasons where players were afraid of making mistakes under Antonio Conte or Jose Mourinho, for fear of being cast aside.
There are other factors, too. Tottenham are obviously better because of Postecoglou’s impact in the transfer market. Unlike previous managers at Spurs, he has not only signed the right players and used them correctly, but improved others already at the club. Tottenham are perhaps better this season because they are benefitting from missing out on European football altogether and having a lighter schedule. Whatever it is, Spurs fans are beginning to dream.
As for Kane, he is a striker who rarely gives anyone much of a reason to forget about him for long. The goals will continue to flow, a trophy or two may follow this season. It won’t be at Tottenham but as long as Kane is replaced with something this new and exciting, it’s hardly worth thinking about.