MARTIN SAMUEL: Backed into a corner by Tottenham, Harry Kane's only option is to disrupt


Minutes after it was revealed Harry Kane did not report for training on Monday,  Tottenham announced the identity of their Europa Conference League play-off opponents. Pacos de Ferreira or Larne, of Northern Ireland. One wonders if the events might have been related.

Not so much that Kane awoke, realised what the day had in store, groaned, and pulled the covers back over his head, more that he is aware of a deadline, a season fast approaching and the need to escalate the matter of his future. 

It was always going to end this way. Kane backed into a corner, until he had no option but to disrupt, at which point he would sacrifice his relationship with the supporters, and the club would win its PR battle. Maybe then, they sell.

Harry Kane failed to turn up for training as he looks to force a Tottenham exit this summer

It is the modern way. The clubs want the money but they don’t want the blame, so they manipulate the narrative until absolved. After the no-show, almost inevitably, comes the transfer request. 

Kane thought he could get out of Tottenham with reputation and relationships intact, but it seems extremely unlikely now. It happened the same way to Wayne Rooney, at Everton. 

From ‘once a blue, always a blue’ to being reviled at the club he loved because he had to openly agitate for his move to Manchester United. Yet Rooney’s feeling for Everton is genuine. They are his club. He couldn’t, however, let that affiliation override his career path. And £30m was a lot for a teenager. 

So Everton made Rooney push, which alienated the fans, meaning they could sell without provoking a riot. If he has to take the money, that would be Daniel Levy’s dream scenario. To heap the blame on the player, not the club. 

What could poor Tottenham do? Kane was playing up, he was desperate to go to Manchester City. We’re the victims here, you know.

This impasse will pain Kane as much as it did Rooney. He is not naturally one of life’s disrupters. When Gareth Southgate took the England squad to a Royal Marine training camp before the 2018 World Cup, the England manager asked Major Scotty Mills and his team if any of the group had particularly stood out as a leader. 

The Major and his colleagues exchanged knowing smiles. They had all agreed that Kane was a natural, the one who, not only took charge, but sacrificed himself for others, a real team player. He won’t feel comfortable making trouble less than two weeks before the start of the season. He is exasperated.

There was something sweetly naïve about the way Kane thought his future could be resolved even prior to the start of the European Championships in June. This was always an August transfer, if that. 

Kane's fear would be that Manchester City and Pep Guardiola have abandoned their interest

Kane’s fear would be that Manchester City and Pep Guardiola have abandoned their interest

The summer deadline has been sensibly restored to August 31 at 11pm, so expect them to still be debating Kane’s future on Sky Sports News at 22.59pm and 58 seconds, at which point a chap in a pitch black car park will announce an appeal for an extension has been lodged with the Premier League and a light will go on in an office at the Tottenham training ground.

Unless City have abandoned their interest of course. This is Kane’s fear. That somewhere between Levy’s hard-ball and Pep Guardiola’s meticulous planning, his move will founder. He is trying his hardest to move it along, gently at first – Monday was mainly about covid tests for players that have not yet been involved in training – but perhaps with an escalation in the coming days. 

Kane clearly believes he has a gentleman’s agreement allowing him to move, but it is unlikely Levy sees it that way. There will be a number of conditions, not least governing price. It is hard to imagine any fee that would allow Tottenham to replace the Premier League’s leading goalscorer and goal creator next season, but it won’t be anything Manchester City have offered so far.

Of course, another gentleman’s agreement might already be in place. There was speculation last week that Kane would not play in Tottenham’s first match of the season, at home to Manchester City. 

Kane feels he has a 'gentleman's agreement' though Daniel Levy (right) won't see it that way

Kane feels he has a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ though Daniel Levy (right) won’t see it that way 

The official explanation is that those that went deep into the European Championship tournament require additional rest. And it may be true: City are believed to be doing the same with Raheem Sterling. 

Equally, it could be that from Tottenham’s perspective there is a deal to be done, but not one that puts Kane in north London in a sky blue shirt on the opening day of Tottenham’s season. Too soon, too soon. 

Unless by that time it is the only option left available to him and Tottenham have their money guaranteed; in which case: job done.

Jadon Sancho’s confidence is a good omen  

That Jadon Sancho’s unveiling at Manchester United was delayed because the player was angling to be given the number seven shirt is a good omen.

Seeking connection with the lineage of George Best, Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham suggests confidence, even if the club wisely decided to keep the ego of the current number seven, Edinson Cavani, intact.

Jadon Sancho had been angling to be given the No 7 shirt at Manchester United after arriving

Jadon Sancho had been angling to be given the No 7 shirt at Manchester United after arriving

Grobler a legendary tactician but not a culture war victim

If all Jurgen Grobler did was threaten, shout and bawl, his athletes would not have won gold medals at every Olympics from 1972 until his retirement last year. Yet nothing is safe from the woke and culture wars these days, not even rowing.

Grobler’s departure has been cast as a battle between a soft, modern generation who could not bear his criticism, and an unreconstructed disciplinarian coach, whose methods were unfashionably out of step with our modern age.

No doubt it’s more complicated than that. Grobler was a genius, not just as a coach, but as a manager of talent and a builder of teams. Prior to the Games in 2004, Britain’s coxless four won silver at the world championships but this set Grobler’s antennae twitching. 

Jurgen Grobler was forced out of Team GB after younger rowers had aired their grievances

Jurgen Grobler was forced out of Team GB after younger rowers had aired their grievances

He removed two rowers – Rick Dunn and Toby Garbutt – and introduced Matthew Pinsent and James Cracknell, who had been competing successfully as a men’s pair. 

They had won double gold at the world championships in 2001, broke the world record a year later, before finishing a disappointing fourth at the world championships in 2003. 

Grobler could have dismissed it as an aberration. Instead he took the opportunity to shake up his selections. The coxless fours won gold in Athens. On the podium, with the medal around his neck, Steve Williams – the only surviving member of the original quartet – still talked of rowing again with his friends Rick and ‘Tobes’.

So that was Grobler’s secret: his innate judgement of how to get the best from a group. He knew Williams would be upset, but not so upset that it would affect his professional response. 

The team performed disappointingly in their first Olympics since the German's departure

The team performed disappointingly in their first Olympics since the German’s departure

He knew there was more to be extracted from Pinsent and Cracknell, and that Dunn and Garbutt were just short. And it was gut instinct that told him this. Maybe if Grobler no longer fitted it was because, like Sir Alex Ferguson, or any number of managers whose careers span several generations, he trusted what he saw, or felt, as much as what any computer told him.

And that has little to do with snowflakes, or tough love, or any of the buzzwords used to divide generations. Grobler believed it was his duty to influence the outcome, directly. 

He was a man of action, of big decisions, who used decades of experience in the assessment and marshalling of athletes to affect change. It’s called coaching. If it was called shouting, anyone could do it.

Pity the chorus haranguing these superstars’ mental struggles  

Remember what the effects of long covid were supposed to be? Kindness, empathy, a little more peace, love and understanding. A global pandemic was going to reacquaint us with our shared humanity. Amidst the tragedy, the world would become a better place.

Looked below the line recently? Glanced at social media? Didn’t really happen, did it? Long covid turned out to be a debilitating illness like chronic fatigue syndrome or, as it used to be known, ME. 

Except everyone believes long covid exists, whereas for decades ME sufferers have had to endure the taunts and sneers of those who think it’s all in the mind, and call it yuppie flu. 

Sport stars like Simone Biles (above) have been harangued over their mental health struggles

Sport stars like Simone Biles (above) have been harangued over their mental health struggles

That ghastly chorus has now moved on to harangue anyone who feels unable to cope mentally, and speaks about it. As for empathy, that has certainly been in short supply around Simone Biles, or any athlete who feels the need to seek calm by stepping out of the arena. 

Biles let her team-mates down by not trying to compete; while Dina Asher-Smith let her team-mates down by trying to compete, even injured, taking the place of a reserve. 

The rowers are snowflakes – as are Ben Stokes, Tyrone Mings, Adam Peaty, maybe even Lewis Hamilton, now he is talking about still feeling the effects of coronavirus, contracted in December.

Biles was said to have 'let her team-mates down' by not competing while Dina Asher-Smith supposedly did the same by competing despite being injured

Biles was said to have ‘let her team-mates down’ by not competing while Dina Asher-Smith supposedly did the same by competing despite being injured

Yet elite athletes are some of the most determined, remarkable people on the planet. They make sacrifices and push limits that are beyond the imaginations of most of their detractors. 

The reward, then, is to be pursued by a vicious army of anonymous snipers and grandstanding critics, with their cod psychology credentials, opining on pressure and choices they will never face. 

Imagine doubting the resolve of Biles, given the life she has lived, or of three-time Olympic gold medallist Peaty, or of Hamilton, who may end this season as the greatest Formula 1 driver in history. Imagine thinking Stokes owes more than he has given? It is the height of arrogant entitlement. Maybe that’s a covid side-effect, too.

World Rugby should tackle ranting Rassie 

World Rugby have not got the best record standing up for referees. At the 2019 World Cup, Jaco Peyper posed for an ill-considered photograph with some Welsh fans, elbow raised, parodying the blow landed by France lock Sebastian Vahaamahina on Aaron Wainwright, for which he was sent off – and that was the end of his World Cup. 

In 2015, they hung Craig Joubert out to dry after he made a mistake awarding Australia a late penalty to win their quarter-final with Scotland.

So it really shouldn’t surprise that the governing body were nowhere to be seen when Rassie Erasmus posted his hour-long video taking apart the handling of the first Test against the British and Irish Lions, and pointing out 26 refereeing errors by Nic Berry. 

This clearly unnerved the official in charge of the second Test, Ben O’Keeffe, and may yet poison the third. Are World Rugby concerned? Who knows? 

Most of their major players were in Japan casting an eye over the Sevens rather than protecting the spirit of the game, and one of its greatest legacies. All that keeps the notion of respect intact in rugby is culture and tradition. Without protecting those who allow the game to function, it will go the way of football – and all hope is lost.

Rassie Erasmus posted an hour-long video after South Africa's first Test defeat to the Lions

Rassie Erasmus posted an hour-long video after South Africa’s first Test defeat to the Lions

Inter Miami win at last 

Inter Miami won at the weekend for the first time since May 16 and Phil Neville must be highly relieved. 

Franchise football does not have relegation worries and no league with an eye on the marketing dollar is going to nix a project with David Beckham at its helm. 

Yet what of Neville, in his first managerial role in men’s football? If he doesn’t make it work here, where does he go? He has even more skin in this game than his friend the owner.

Don’t be fooled, gender issues are here to stay 

Just because Laurel Hubbard isn’t an elite level weightlifter does not make her participation in the Olympic women’s event any less problematic. Hubbard, who transitioned as a woman in 2012, did not advance in the final after three unsuccessful lifts, so the controversy around her goes away. 

Yet the struggle to balance inclusivity and fairness in women’s sport remains. That Richard Budgett, the IOC’s medical and science director, declared the threat overstated because no openly transgender woman has yet reached the top level suggests a head buried very deeply in sand. 

Hubbard is 43. In women’s weightlifting, at that age she is a huge outlier and would be considered a genuinely remarkable athlete, had she not gone through male puberty with all the lasting physical advantages that bestows. It is a matter of time, then, before the podium is challenged. Until when, the IOC will place their fingers in their ears, singing tra-la-la.

Laurel Hubbard failed to make an impression during her weightlifting event on Monday

Laurel Hubbard failed to make an impression during her weightlifting event on Monday

Nigel Huddleston without mask in Tokyo 

Apparently, politicians cannot catch the strain of coronavirus prevalent in Japan. 

That is the only explanation for Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston, out and about unmasked in Tokyo, within hours of landing last Friday. Meanwhile, with the Olympics in full swing, records continue to fall. 

A high of over 3,000 cases in the city last week, is now a high of over 4,000, days later. Faster, higher, stronger, indeed.

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