“Don’t worry about the last 10 million,” was how Karl-Heinz Rummenigge described his advice to his Bayern Munich chief executive embarking for London on the final leg of the negotiations to sign Harry Kane in August, which can be a dangerous approach when dealing with Daniel Levy.
Yet the message will have been clear: this is not a player worth losing over the margins. There are very few of that kind and fewer still who are 29 when the fee in question is paid. Bayern chairman Rummenigge was talking from a position of strength of course, in an interview at the end of last month in the Westdeutsche Allgemeine newspaper. By then Kane had already scored more Bundesliga goals than the league’s top scorer did in the entirety of last season.
In terms of allaying fears about the size of the fee and the contract, the England captain did so in record time. He returns to England – and Old Trafford – on Tuesday evening as a gold-plated €100 million footballer with no question about his place in the European elite.
He has scored against the big and the small in Germany so far: Borussia Dortmund and Darmstadt; RB Leipzig and Heidenheim; Bayer Leverkusen and Bochum. In the Champions League there have been four goals in games against Galatasaray and, of course, United.
None though against Eintracht Frankfurt in Saturday’s extraordinary 5-1 defeat that ended Bayern’s unbeaten start to the season. That might have offered some hope to Erik ten Hag were he not wrestling with an equally humiliating home league defeat himself.
Kane has scored an avalanche of 22 goals for his new club, and four for his country, in what is on course to become his most prolific season yet.
What of his new life? Saturday’s result will have been a reminder that any defeat at Bayern is regarded as something of a crisis, not least one that big. The Bundesliga title – which Bayern have won in 15 of the last 20 seasons – and the domestic cup are an expectation. Yet in Munich itself, the players can walk the streets relatively untroubled by those seeking the usual interactions with famous footballers. When it comes to their achievements on the pitch, Bayern players have to be extraordinary to stand comparison with what came before.
Alexander Salzweger, one of the organisers of Bayern’s biggest fan organisations, Club Nr. 12, is politely measured in his assessment of Kane’s impact. “We have 124 years of history and you have to do something special to be remembered here,” he says. “But after 18 games we have to say, ‘OK, he is doing the job’.”
For the Bayern fans, the key aspect of the summer was to address the goal deficit left by Robert Lewandowski one year earlier. At 34, Thomas Muller (16 seasons, 237 goals) has done well to hold on so long. Kane’s arrival has meant he rarely starts and the discussion is now around what Muller’s Bayern exit, after a 25-year association, might look like. Lewandowski (eight seasons, 344 goals) was a towering figure in Bayern history but he is not the only one.
Salzweger says that Kane’s record will inevitably be compared to that of Lewandowski, and also to Gerd Muller, the club’s late all-time leading goalscorer with 563 in 15 seasons. Muller was an out-and-out poacher. Salzweger says the more suitable comparisons with Kane are the Brazilian Giovane Elber (seven seasons, 139 goals) and Mario Mandzukic (two seasons, 48 goals). On Mandzukic, he says the similarities with Kane are strong. “He didn’t try to be the star, he just did his job on the pitch and off it he was very calm.”
Rummenigge, (10 seasons, 217 goals) explained in that same interview that the signing of Kane was primarily about goals, but not goals alone. It was Kane’s experience that was also sought – his unflappable nature and the capacity to take anything in his stride. “We need this player,” were Rummenigge’s final words to Jan-Christian Dreesen. “He will be a key player in our entire structure – on the pitch but also off it.”
The Kane family are now understood to have found a house in the outlying Munich suburb of Grunwald, a place so expensive that even the players of Bayern II, the second team, cannot afford to live there. It is an enclave of Bavaria’s rich and its very rich, including footballers, celebrities and the occasional BMW executive. The local amateur club TSV Grunwald have, at different times, listed Lothar Matthaus and Arjen Robben as coaches of the junior teams their children have played in.
The Bayern players do attend Oktoberfest in the city centre, for the club’s commercial obligations that annually produce the legendary pictures of new foreign signings in lederhosen, as well as for pleasure. “If you wanted to find the players at Oktoberfest,” Salzweger says, “you would have to know where to go and when.” Like thousands of Bayern fans he is a member of a large well-run supporters organisation that takes its social obligations very seriously. Selfies with players are much lower down the list of priorities.
Crucially for Kane, a man of simple tastes beyond scoring truckloads of goals, golf courses abound in the Bavarian countryside. Very few Bayern players chose to live in the centre of the city. Salzweger recalls Pep Guardiola was a city centre resident, as well as Bastian Schweinsteiger. Of the current team only Leon Goretzka. “The locals will just treat them like anyone else,” Salzweger says. “The people asking them for pictures or saying, ‘Oh my god it’s a footballer!’ – I can guarantee you they are tourists.”
Even after Saturday’s defeat Kane goes into the United game with all the pressure on the opposition. Bayern have qualified as group winners and United need to win. Whether that gets them a Champions League or Europa League knockout place depends on the outcome of the other group game. Thomas Tuchel could even choose to rest his No 9.
Either way, Kane’s presence will stir memories at Old Trafford of how, in years past, players of his quality eventually found themselves at United.
Many of the great generation of England stars of the 2000s who moved on from boyhood clubs did so – Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick and Owen Hargreaves, previously of Bayern. That had changed long before this summer, although Kane’s path emphasised the difference.
Partly shaped by the wishes of Levy and partly because of the restrictions their previous spending had imposed, United were never serious contenders. Just as they never were for Jude Bellingham.
Kane’s choice of Bayern means only a Champions League title will place him in the pantheon of the club’s greatest, no matter how many he scores. All the suggestions from those who know this quiet, private man is that he loves his life there with his wife Kate and their four children.
They lived privately in Hampstead, north London, during his most recent year at Tottenham Hotspur, and are likely to do the same in Grunwald. Their neighbours will probably barely know they are there – although on the pitch, Kane’s presence is, once again, proving to be defining.