It was an ending of sorts when Harry Kane limped off at Southampton on New Year’s Day.
Not, it is transpiring, the end of his season, with the delay to the footballing fixture list affording a chance to get fit again, but perhaps the last time he will represent Tottenham in front of any kind of crowd.
In his mild-mannered way, Kane sounded a warning on Sunday. “I’ll always love Spurs but I've always said if I don't feel we're progressing as a team or going in the right direction, then I'm not someone to just stay there for the sake of it,” he said in an Instagram Live chat with Jamie Redknapp. “It’s not a definite I am going to stay there forever.”
It is indisputable Tottenham have regressed. Champions League finalists last season, they were knocked out with embarrassing ease by Leipzig in the last 16.
A team who were in the title race 14 months ago now have half as many points as Liverpool and two fewer than Sheffield United.
Tottenham’s incoherence is not merely a consequence of injuries, Kane’s included.
Their decline was initially masked by their European exploits. Now they bear the look of a team in transition, with a group of younger players, a collection of declining ones and a potential future in the Europa League.
It is a question if Kane is willing to wait and if he believes their future is brighter. “Of course I want to win trophies, and to do that sooner rather than later,” he said.
Kane turns 27 in July. He has played in a Champions League final but his only silverware has come in the form of individual honours: the two Premier League Golden Boots and, still more prestigious, its World Cup counterpart.
He can be a throwback in some respects but that does not necessarily make him the new George Cohen, the World Cup winner who retired without a medal to show for his club career.
Kane has 181 Tottenham goals and a place in their history, but he sounded willing to pass up the chance to overhaul Jimmy Greaves’ club record of 266.
Mauricio Pochettino used his progressiveness and persuasive powers to give Spurs an allure, to placate and to coax players to sign up for a project when they could be paid more elsewhere.
While Kane praised Tottenham’s current manager, his words amounted to a vote of no confidence in Jose Mourinho.
The striker was the subject of an early charm offensive, the recipient of many a Mourinho text. The Portuguese can buddy up to pivotal figures in a dressing room but a serial winner is unaccustomed to his players leaving his club to pursue glory elsewhere.
But extricating himself from Tottenham may be no simple task. As the flagship player for a club with a £1 billion (Dh4.5bn) stadium, he is a unique case.
How much of Spurs’ identity revolves around Kane? If chairman Daniel Levy decides he is integral, both from a footballing and a financial perspective, he could be a high-tech ground’s most deluxe fitting.
Even if he is available, some baulk at dealing with Levy; “more painful than my hip replacement”, in Sir Alex Ferguson’s words.
It is not merely the coronavirus effects on football’s finances that mean a £150 million or a £200 million fee feels unrealistic; both Kane’s age and his increasingly injury-prone nature should preclude that.
At the top end of the market, there are fewer feasible bidders. Talk of Real Madrid has faded in recent years. Manchester United’s interest dates back to Louis van Gaal’s days, but could they afford both Kane and Jadon Sancho?
If not and if they look for the long-term investment, it may feel that Kane’s time has passed.