It just might not be as violent as we thought. But maybe weirder.
At the beginning of the summer, there looked to be a major shake-up of leading forwards in the sport. Harry Kane had asked out of Spurs, Kylian Mbappe was rumored to want out of PSG, Lionel Messi didn’t have a contract, the constant speculation cloud that follows Erling Haaland everywhere was still very present, and Juventus were reportedly looking for anyone to take Christiano Ronaldo’s contract off their hands.
As the summer came and is now going, there wasn’t as much movement as we thought, and some new names arrived on the ride. Romelu Lukaku was supposedly untouchable in May and June, but then $135 million landed at Inter’s door from Chelsea. Messi did end up having to leave Barcelona for PSG, which wasn’t really expected, but that’s been about it. As much as the greatest player of all-time leaving the only team he’s ever known can be “about it.”
This morning saw some of the tectonic plates shift, if I’m allowed to mix moving metaphors. We’ll start in England, where Harry Kane has either decided to stay at Tottenham, or admitted defeat in his quest to get to Manchester City, depending on how you want to categorize it. Transfer rumors and truth get harder and harder to parse, but the prevailing wisdom is that City were willing to pay the exact same $139 million for Kane that they did for Jack Grealish, and maybe a little more. But Spurs were holding out for $200 million plus, and City wasn’t going to get there. They also were rumored to be offering any number of players in exchange to make up the difference. The only problem there is that Spurs didn’t want any of them, and players like Gabriel Jesus and Bernardo Silva made it clear that swapping trophy-collecting City for screaming-at-their-shoes Tottenham wasn’t on their agenda.
Is this the end? It’s never the end until the window shuts, and we can’t assume that City won’t come crashing through with a bigger offer right at the deadline that Spurs can’t refuse. But right now it looks like Kane will remain in white, and his wording of “this summer” makes it clear it’s not permanent. Does that mean he could leave in January? Does that mean next summer?
The latter is a huge risk for Kane. Come June 2022, Kane will be 29, which just takes value off of him on its own. Robert Lewandowski has shown that strikers can be world class devastating into their early 30s, but Lewandowski didn’t have the injury history that Kane does. Would another season wrecked by injury, always a safe bet with Kane, combined with being 29 scare off suitors?
The other factor working against Kane, especially if his heart is set on City, is that Erling Haaland comes on the market next year. That’s because he has a release clause that kicks in in June in his contract at “just” $91 million. It’s hard not to choke when seeing $91 million described as a bargain, but he would cost over twice that to pry loose now. Lukaku went for 50 percent more, and he’s significantly older. Kane may be the Haaland consolation prize for someone come next summer. Could that land him at Manchester United? Where else could he go? It might not be Real Madrid now, because....
Also coming to light today was the news that Real Madrid made a bid for Kylian Mbappe, which PSG immediately turned down but also seem resigned that Mbappe wants to leave. While Mbappe himself hasn’t said anything publicly, the buzz all summer is that he wants to move to bigger seas than Ligue 1 and the arrival of Messi hasn’t really changed that. Madrid has always been the expected landing spot, and it seems imminent now.
What’s curious is that Madrid could have him for free next summer. Mbappe has turned down three different contract extensions from PSG, making it clear that he sees his immediate future elsewhere, and looked happy to just run down the last year of his deal this season. Then he’d be a free agent. Madrid have never been described as patient, but how badly do they need this now with Barcelona such a mess and their only other competition crosstown rival Atletico? Madrid are thin up front, starting a completely over-30 frontline this season of Eden Hazard, Karim Benzema, and Gareth Bale so far this season. Vinicius Junior is just about the only viable alternative to those three, and he can wildly swing from looking like the future best player in the world to someone who doesn’t know how his legs work from week to week. Rodrygo is a big hope for the future as well, but he’s 20. They probably do need another forward, but do they have to spill out over $200 million for that? When Mbappe could will come for free in a year? Now you see how Spanish teams go broke.
As for PSG, normal logic would dictate that they would happily gobble up any cash they could get for a player who’s out the door in a year no matter what. But when you’re owned by an oil-rich country, this kind of logic doesn’t apply to you. PSG want their European Cup, and they’ll miss out on a transfer fee for Mbappe to keep him for one more season to get it if that’s what it takes. Mbappe is going to have to force his way out, which it seems like he’s doing.
Waiting on all this is Ronaldo in Turin, who has reportedly said he wants to leave and PSG might see him as a Mbappe replacement, and also tearing a hole in the space/time continuum by putting him and Messi on the same team. Or maybe City will see him as a Kane alternative, though how his statuesque movement these days fits into a Guardiola team would be an interesting study.
Six days until the deadline. It’s going to get bumpy.