Harry Kane’s long-term future at Tottenham Hotspur will provide a constant subplot to their season’s conclusion – results and performances like this defeat by Manchester United will only add spice to the storyline.
Instead, this was a chance missed as Spurs lost 3-1 after a display that summed up the stodge and lack of ambition that has characterised so much of their season under manager Jose Mourinho.
Is it time for Kane to leave Spurs?
It should be stressed 27-year-old Kane has made no noises to suggest he is seeking the exit, but common sense dictates a second season playing outside the Champions League is hardly likely to hold huge appeal to this world-class striker in his peak years, especially as someone who has yet to win any silverware.
Spurs could still finish in the top four. They could still win the Carabao Cup. The story of their season could still have a satisfactory ending.
Could. Could. Could.
If this is to become reality, Spurs will have to show an awful lot more than they did against United and make their talisman, marksman and the man who makes so much happen feel better about what the coming years may hold.
Spurs rely heavily on Kane – and indeed Son Heung-min – but they do not play in a way that suits the England captain. It is a sign of his brilliance that he has been so successful in a team that is too often cloaked in conservatism and caution, as it was here when they seemed to retreat on to the back foot despite holding a half-time lead against Manchester United.
Make no mistake, failure to reach the Champions League would be a shattering financial blow to Spurs and chairman Daniel Levy, and a desperate personal setback for Kane, who will rightly feel his talents deserve a place in Europe’s elite competition.
Kane will have looked on with a touch of envy as Manchester United – even an enigmatic and sometimes inconsistent Manchester United – looked far more down to the road to success and development than Spurs.
Spurs’ current status, struggling to avoid a second successive season outside the Champions League, was not what Kane signed up for in 2018 when he agreed a six-year contract to take him through to 2024.
Spurs were then going forward under the hugely popular manager Mauricio Pochettino and there was a taste of potential riches to come when they reached the Champions League final in 2019, albeit they lost to Liverpool.
If Spurs finish outside the top four and end up with their noses pressed up against the window in the Champions League context, Kane might even find some sympathy from his own supporters if he felt it was the right time to try something else.
Kane is 28 in July. Are Spurs and Mourinho currently fulfilling his expectations and ambitions? You would be very hard pushed to say they are.
Spurs might say Kane is not for sale. It is not, however, as simple as that.
At this stage Kane, who is the club’s second all-time top goalscorer and has 162 Premier League goals, can be considered not for sale at any price.
He has three years left on his contract and chairman Levy will be in no mood to sell a player regarded as the symbol of Spurs.
Levy is highly likely to block any potential interest from Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United, and would one of the European superpowers really want to shell out about £150m in the current Covid-19 climate for a player who is almost 28?
The big European clubs may also have alternatives, albeit hugely expensive ones, in Paris St-Germain’s Kylian Mbappe and Erling Braut Haaland at Borussia Dortmund.
The idea of selling Kane would rightly be regarded as an admission of defeat by Spurs fans. They had visions of stellar names being drawn to their new stadium to play with Kane, not the possibility of him leaving to join them.
It is a complicated story with much to consider but there is no question individuals as driven and single-minded as Kane will want success, will want to be playing at the highest level. Natural loyalty, which he undoubtedly has to Spurs, will only stretch so far.