LONDON -- If this was to be Harry Kane's last game in front of Spurs fans it read as a stark warning for Daniel Levy and those who will be tasked to charting Tottenham into a new era.
You could already see the outline of a post-Kane future after he had left the pitch. Fans fumed at Levy and at players who they felt no less distant from now they were back at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Having paid £60 for their golden tickets to the final home game of the season they were not even given a lap of honour by Ryan Mason's first-team squad as has become traditional in the Premier League. Instead chants of "we want our Tottenham back" echoed around the ground along with choice words for Levy as stewards hurried to empty this stadium that was supposed to be the great monument to Spurs entry into the elite.
Kane was supposed to be at its vanguard. It seems his patience has snapped.
Since news first emerged of Kane asking to leave Tottenham earlier this week there has been a school of thought -- not necessarily shared by every pundit, fan or player but hardly fringe either -- that Spurs should take the money. After all if they were to countenance the sale of their talismanic forward they could expect to receive the best part of $200 million, the sort of funds that might allow the club to rebuild a squad that will now go into the final game of the season, away to Leicester City, battling to qualify for the Europa Conference League.
Yet just for a moment imagine what this team would be like without Kane, scorer of 22 of their 64 goals and provider of a further 13. Whoever is next to him this team is built around the vice-captain and with good reason. After all, this is what happens in games where he is peripheral. Those cracks start widening out into fissures and they are lucky to escape with a 2-1 defeat to Aston Villa.
This could have been a rout. Ollie Watkins, scorer of the second after Sergio Reguilon's shanked clearance had drawn Villa level, was a tyro in front of Eric Dier. There were moments when Bertrand Traore, Anwar El Ghazi and even left-back Matt Targett could simply stride into the box. Under Jose Mourinho, Spurs made a habit of sitting back on leads they could not protect in the second half, on this occasion they were doing so within moments of Steven Bergwijn's opener. It took 48 minutes for anyone other than the Dutchman to even have a shot.
The somber clouds that had gathered above the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium ahead seemed a bit on the nose. No-one needed reminding that a storm is brewing in N17, one reflected in chairman Levy using his program notes to accept that the club had "lost sight of some key priorities and what's truly in our DNA". His point would only be reinforced if the club lost "one of their own".
As for the player, no-one's name was cheered more loudly by the 10,000 returning supporters, no-one else had a banner held up in the South Stand that proclaimed "Harry Kane Tottenham legend." That might have been the case regardless of the events of the past week -- many of these supporters have been out of the ground for over a year -- but there was undeniably a greater urgency to their adoration after it was revealed that Kane does indeed want out.
Naturally they fear what might happen if their talisman does indeed depart for pastures new. Heung-min Son has been close to signing a new contract for some time now but until he puts pen to paper to extend terms that expire in two years he is a possible flight risk alongside Kane.
Reluctantly selling one of them, let alone two, would swell Tottenham's coffers to bursting but their supporters need no reminder of how the Gareth Bale bonanza was invested. Spurs would expect far more for Kane than the world record sum Real Madrid paid for the Welshman but the price of quality players has inflated no less than the value of the very elite. On the evidence of tonight whoever follows Ryan Mason will need an awful lot of quality.
With Tanguy Ndombele and Giovanni Lo Celso on the bench the midfield was bereft of forward passing, setting the stage for the sort of tactical confusion that had Dele Alli dropping into his own half to collect the ball off Japhet Tanganga, whose presence with Matt Doherty and Serge Aurier on the bench emphasized how underwhelming the options are at right-back. To progress further Spurs will need defenders who aren't brushed off the ball as easily as Dier was for Watkins' goal to make it 2-1. At 34, there are no guarantees that Hugo Lloris, who according to Opta's goals prevented model has endured one of his worst seasons with Tottenham, will have many years left among the upper echelon of Premier League goalkeepers.
Steven Bergwijn offered a reminder that there is talent worth persevering with for longer than Jose Mourinho did but this was still his first goal in a Spurs shirt since June. He is not the only Tottenham forward to blow hot and cold, the same could be said for Lucas Moura whilst Erik Lamela has never quite looked like the jewel in the post-Bale crown. All that and then there would be the small matter of replacing Kane's goals and his playmaking, both of which have looked like full-time jobs on occasion this season.
Certainly there were spells today when Kane looked to have been worn down by the whole saga, he did not quite demand the ball in the same way he often does even though when it came his way early in the first half he set off on a strong, swift run that teed up Bergwijn. For all the mutiny late in the second half Spurs improved to a degree in the second, roared on by a South Stand that made 10,000 sound like a full house especially when they called for the introduction of Gareth Bale.
The one-time marquee forward could not dig them out of a hole just as the incumbent failed to. Not until the 75th minute did Kane get a shot on goal, well struck but too near to Emiliano Martinez at the near post. He only touched the ball in the penalty area four times and without him Spurs never looked like winning a game where Villa could have scored far more.
If this was to be Kane's farewell to Spurs supporters it was utterly unsatisfying. The player who so frequently makes a mark on games slipped away from the contest. He could not bring himself to leave the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on a sour note; he seemed determined to eke out every minute in front of them as he made his way across the pitch at full-time, moving at such a pace that it seemed he was determined to individually applaud each and every one of the 10,000.
Only Kane will know whether that was his goodbye but it certainly felt like how someone would act at the end of a profound relationship. On the basis of how his teammates performed on a rare off day for their star striker, the future certainly looks far gloomier without Kane than it could with him in the team.