Goldman Sachs was infamously described by Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi as a “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”
Manchester United, appropriately enough run by a former investment banker, are the vampire squid of the Premier League, attempting to suck the life out of the competition through the force of its myriad commercial deals with global mega brands like Zong, Wahaha and Mister Potato.
The legacy of decades of Sir Alex Ferguson-inspired domination has been the belief that Manchester United have the duty to fillet the Premier League of its best players, and the financial muscle to do exactly this.
Since Wayne Rooney arrived in 2004/05, United have spent £296.5 million on British or British-based players. according to a rough and dirty calculation using Soccerbase values. The list combines young talents summoned to a bigger stage, such as Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Wilfried Zaha, and established Premier League performers such as Robin van Persie and Juan Mata, whose moves had the double advantage of strengthening Man Utd while theoretically weakening a rival.
(Spurs, hardly shrinking violets when it comes to the transfer market, have spent £200 million domestically in that period, although that figure is inflated by a few, shall we say, “circular” deals that have seen the likes of Robbie Keane, Jermain Defoe and Younes Kaboul go, and then come back soon after, for a handsome profit.)
Spurs have been on the receiving end of Manchester United’s preying instincts in the past, with Michael Carrick and Dimitar Berbatov heading north in search of glory and fortune. If reports are to be believed, Tottenham lured United into a bidding war with Real Madrid over Gareth Bale, but the player had his heart set on Spain.
Along with Everton, Manchester United see Spurs as a prime feeder club — an also-ran with a track record of identifying and developing talent in preparation for starring roles at the Theatre of Dreams. Lads, it’s Tottenham, and so forth. Before we get too high and mighty, this is just a basic fact of life in the Premier League food chain. Spurs snapping their fingers at West Brom over Saido Berahino and expecting them to fold on deadline day was no more edifying.
So why do I bring this up now, when it is going so goddam well for Spurs?
The problem is, with every goal Harry Kane bangs in, and every rival midfielder Dele Alli forces off at half-time through dizziness, the merciless red cephalopod will be more tempted to insert its funnel into Hotspur Way and suck out our lifeblood. We saw it in the summer with Kane, and we will see it again now he’s shaken the “one-season wonder” tag. This isn’t some doomsday scenario, desperately searching for a cloud in a clear blue sky. This is just the reality of being Spurs.
In Kane and Alli, Spurs have a couple of very shiny young things that fit what Manchester United need on and off the pitch. With Spurs unexpectedly feisty and having the temerity to challenge United for a Top Four position, possibly for years to come, United need to do something about it.
The cozy Top Four arrangement, whereby only chronic incompetence by one of United, Manchester City, Chelsea (tee-hee) and Arsenal sees them miss out on the Champions League, is wonderfully lucrative, even as poor English TV viewers pay out ever more for the privilege of occasionally watching their team’s Premier League matches. The Big Four can’t be letting a suddenly competent Spurs, or a Jurgen Klopp-inspired Liverpool, crash their party. The best way to do this? Strip them for parts.
From the Spurs perspective, Manchester United are the ones to fear. Mercifully, the whole Tottenham-Woolwich thing and the dreadful relationships between the boardrooms at Spurs and Chelsea remove much of the intra-city threat. Manchester CIty’s whole project remains a weirdly empty and pointless one, and while they managed to tempt Raheem Sterling, they’ve not yet seriously tried to recruit any good young’uns from Spurs. I hope it stays that way. But Manchester United — they’ve done it before, and they will try to do it again. For Liverpool, as Chelsea proved with Fernando Torres, Arsenal tried to prove with Luis Suarez and Manchester City proved with Raheem Sterling, the danger is from everywhere but Old Trafford.
Oddly, under Fergie, I always had a “lesser of four evils” feeling towards Manchester United. Yes, they won an awful lot, but they did so at the expense of Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool. Furthermore, they always used to win stylishly — I don’t think there has been a better Premier League team to watch than the one with Ronaldo, Rooney and Tevez up top — and normally with a healthy sprinkling of English players.
Now, they are just a monstrosity. They are the most boring team in the league, they no longer produce good young English players, and they fling money around in an embarrassing fashion, driving up the prices for everyone else and making English football a laughing stock in Europe. Their accumulation of corporate sponsors is shameless, and their ownership structure would be reprehensible if it wasn’t so hilariously ironic — the vampire squid of the Premier League is in turn owned by blood-sucking parasites in the Glazers who contribute nothing, and extract as much as they can fill their boots with. Worst of all though, you used to be able to rely on Man United to beat the Arsenal, and now they can’t even do that.
So aside from the strategic benefit of cutting off Spurs’ balls, why am I so worried that Kane and Alli, among all young global footballing superstars, seem so potentially appealing to Manchester United?
First, with Rooney seemingly in decline, United need a replacement attacking figurehead. Nevermind that United dropped £36 million and rising on Anthony Martial, who looks pretty handy. With his slicked back hair, pleasing media presence and deadly finishing — possibly in that order of importance for Brand United — Kane is an obvious contender as the next “iconic striker” at Old Trafford. (There really aren’t that many other choices, though Romelu Lukaku at Everton may just save our bacon.)
In midfield, United have a lot of pleasing passers who are capable of playing 90 minutes of keep-ball, which unfortunately for paying fans at Old Trafford they’ve taken to doing. At some stage, the Red Devils are going to need to start doing radical things like “creating chances” and “scoring goals” or Louis van Gaal is going to experience the wrong end of a pitchfork. It is admittedly early days, but Alli has already shown himself to be a dynamic two-way midfield player willing and able to break forward and score goals.
If Spurs are looking for favours from even favoured media outlets in playing down any rumours, they’ve got another thing coming. Take this week’s missive from Jason Burt of the Daily Telegraph:
He [Kane] was linked to Manchester United over the summer and, although no bid was made, Spurs again declared that he would not be sold. “He’s one of our own,” the Spurs supporters gleefully sing about Kane in a chant that both the player and the club embrace. Yet it is a strategy that might be tested to the full should the right level of club come calling with an offer that proves very difficult to turn down. Spurs still need to prove they are not a selling club.
It’s classic #journalese — artfully combining a strong official denial with some vague statements of the obvious to ensure the contentious issue in question remains very much alive and available for extensive future coverage.
Kane himself couldn’t have been any clearer that he sees his long-term future at Spurs, but that isn’t going to stop him being linked with a move away. The problem isn’t just the clickbait incentive of the media — it’s the track record of almost every other top footballer in recent decades.
How many have been able to resist the lure of big clubs and big wages? Steven Gerrard maybe, but he handed in a transfer request to seek a move to Chelsea six weeks AFTER Liverpool won the bloomin’ Champions League, and with a huge contract on the table. Before that, I’m really racking my brains and going back a long way. Matt Le Tissier? All due respect to Ledley King, Jamie Carragher and, erm, Tony Hibbert — Real Madrid or Man Utd weren’t exactly knocking the door down for them, for differing reasons.
Kane may be as dreamily perfect and loyal to the end as us fans want to believe. Maybe he watched the sight of Wayne Rooney driving sadly around Goodison Park, a king without a kingdom, and will seek to avoid the loss of being a legend and being loved, no matter the cost in trophies and money. But more likely, when push comes to shove, he can’t resist. He wouldn’t have survived the ruthless culls on his way up the Spurs ranks if it wasn’t for a single-minded determination and fierce ambition.
I’d add, I don’t really buy the “just say no, he has years left on his contract” argument of player retention. It ignores basic principles such as squad cohesion, player incentives and club stability. You play Football Manager and assume that once you click through half a season the player will just back down like the walking spreadsheet that he is. Humans are complicated, and humans together are complex. Are West Brom better for having kept an unhappy Saido Berahino? I’ve had the misfortune of watching them a couple of times this season, and I’m not sure. At best, it’s a delaying tactic.
Spurs have no interest in selling Kane, or any other of the young jewels. No bid is worth it from Spurs point of view, not with the future so bright and the new stadium coming. No bid is worth it from Daniel Levy’s perspective — his reputation in the eyes of the fans would never recover.
But United’s appetite for talent is voracious. They are lurking in the deep, tentacles at the ready, poised to strike. They are going to undermine Spurs, unsettle our players, and offer such huge amounts of money that a logical argument for agreeing to a sale may seep in and cloud the decision-making process like blood in clear water.
So Spurs better get ready. Phase one: How about finishing above United again? No ambitious player wants to take a step down.
Thanks for reading. If you are interested in more random musings on all things Spurs, please follow me on Twitter, My handle is @crg_yeah