Bayer, Bayern, and Kane, Oh My!

Does Bayer Leverkusen’s emphatic title win prove that Harry Kane is the cursed one?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Yes, Bayern Munich relinquished their first title since the 2011/12 Bundesliga season to zero-to-hero European masters Bayer 04 Leverkusen, but this story is not about them. Prior to the 2023-24 season, English forward and Tottenham Hotspur legend Harry Kane announced that he would be departing his boyhood club Tottenham Hotspur for Munich. Though Spurs fans were devastated to lose the lauded partnership between Kane and Korean left winger Son Heung-min, they knew it was for the best. It felt criminal that Kane had not won a trophy in his nine years at Tottenham; for one reason or another, his team was simply not capable of bringing a title to North London. While Spurs fans were disappointed, they found comfort in knowing that sending Kane to Bayern, a team that seemingly wins trophies for fun.

So, both Tottenham and Bayern Munich began their seasons; Tottenham with yet another new manager, and Bayern with some of the strongest players in Europe. Spurs would hold the longest unbeaten streak in the Premier League, scoring before their opponents in every game. The new squad under manager Ange Postecoglou played an aggressive style of possession-oriented football characterized by a super high defensive line. Bayern began their season the way they typically did—a series of early wins marred only by a pair of draws to Bayer Leverkusen and RB Leipzig. The fortunes of both clubs appeared to be going well until the very beginning of November.

In just the second round of the DFB-Pokal, Bayern suffered an embarrassing loss to 1. FC Saarbrücken. Kane did not start this match, simply because manager Thomas Tuchel believed he needed rest for the clash against perennial rivals Dortmund. Though Bayern went up one early, Saarbrücken equalized right before halftime and scored the winner in the 90+6 minute. It was one of the biggest upsets in German football history. While Bayern would slap around teams in the Bundesliga for seven, even eight goals from time to time, they fell in the Pokal to a team that no one outside the small German state of Saarbrücken has ever heard of.

The exit from the Pokal was obviously embarrassing, but Bayern were still performing well in the league. In their derby match against Dortmund, Bayern silenced the Yellow Wall with a four-goal shutout victory, with three goals scored by Kane. Such a victory usually would see Bayern to the top of the table, but this season was slightly different. After this match, first place was held by Leverkusen, a club that was undefeated but still earning their name. No matter. With performances like their game against Dortmund, Bayern would have no trouble claiming their nearly obligatory title.

Though the loss in the Pokal was certainly a premature end to Bayern’s first trophy challenge of the season, they still had two to play for—the Champions League and the Bundesliga. However, in the Bundesliga, there are a handful of giants that typically toy with the lower teams of Germany’s top division—namely Bayern, Dortmund, and this year, Leverkusen and RB Leipzig. This means that when you head north to the Deutsche Bank Park against Eintracht Frankfurt, a top-six team, you have to win. Or at least draw. On that fateful evening, Kane and Bayern chose to fall 5-1. Despite their dominance of possession, edge in shots taken and shots on target, Kane and Bayern could not answer with goals. After drawing against fellow high-climbers VfB Stuttgart, Leverkusen leapfrogged Bayern yet again into the top spot.

And then, the strangest thing happened. Bayer Leverkusen decided that they would not lose a game this season, winning match after match and proving to be the only unbeaten side in Europe’s top leagues. Bayern did well during this time too, winning six of their next seven matches in the Bundesliga and remaining neck-and-neck with Leverkusen. The one outlier was a close, low-scoring loss to Weder Bremen in which Kane and Bayern’s forwards failed to score against one of the Bundesliga’s weaker defenses. 

The two would meet on February 10, with Leverkusen ahead by five points. If they defeated Bayern at home, they’d widen the points canyon at the top. If Bayern won or drew, they’d inch closer to tying first place. But as the match progressed in Leverkusen’s BayArena, it became clear that Bayern had lost their touch. Leverkusen netted three unanswered goals, and Bayern’s strongest shooting boots lay silent—including Kane’s. “In the final third, we weren’t good in one vs. one battles, we weren't good in duels, the final delivery wasn't there today,” Kane said in a post-match interview with Sky Sports. 

By March, Kane scored his 31st league goal, shattering the record for goals scored by a debut Bundesliga player with over 10 match days to go. However, Leverkusen saw nothing but success, and Bayern dropped three more matches against opponents they probably shouldn’t have lost to. The title was awarded to Bayer Leverkusen at the BayArena on April 14, 2024, with five games to spare.

And so, the legend of “The Harry Kane Curse” grows, even though he was the heart of their attack. While at Spurs, Kane played remarkably and had a couple of shots to win a trophy, any trophy, with one of England’s largest clubs. Yet the closest Spurs ever got were second place in the Champions League to Liverpool in 2019. True, across all of Bayern’s Bundesliga defeats, Kane had only two goals. But at the end of the day, Bayern lacked a clinical system and preparedness against their biggest rivals. Their losses against Dortmund and Leverkusen were because those clubs outperformed Bayern’s squad, despite their talent. Bayern had enough squad depth to compete against their Bundesliga rivals, even if they were slightly on the back foot. Losing the title with five match days to play does not reflect the small disadvantage they had against their rivals, even when compounding all these factors.

There is still hope: the Champions League. After drawing their semi-final first leg at the Allianz against Real Madrid—thanks in part to a converted penalty by Kane—the odds do not fall in their favor. But the odds have never been in favor of Bayern, with many predicting that they would lose to Arsenal in the quarterfinals.

So what does this spell for Kane and Bayern fans, many of whom were banking on this year to be Kane’s year? With the departure of Tuchel, Bayern will have to rebuild their system from scratch, and Kane’s four-year contract will keep him there with the rebuild. He will be the centerpiece of a new Bayern, accompanied by a team with the potential to play excellent football. Next year, the deck will be stacked against him again, since his new team will probably be again battered by Leverkusen as they attempt a rebuild. Bayern have to reach into their deep pockets to rebuild effectively and efficiently. If not for their fans, their city, or their history, they must do so for Harry Kane, the man who has now been robbed of a trophy too many times to count.