Review of the Year
We meet the stars that shone, like Kane, Neymar, Mata and Martens and analyse the highs, lows and heartbreaks of 2017 at home and abroad – including the multiple crises engulfing the besieged FFA as this year ends...
Poor build, skinny and lacks great physical stature and strength, lacks mobility, system-type player who can get exposed when he’s forced to ad-lib and gets knocked down too easily,” was the report of one scout. The subject of that stinging assessment wasn’t Harry Kane, but Tom Brady: the greatest quarterback in American football history and the Spurs striker’s idol, and the source of inspiration that has powered the Tottenham talisman to prominence. Kane was not earmarked for greatness either, of course. In fact, at one stage he wasn’t expected to ever make the Tottenham first team. “It was certainly touch and go when he was around 14 whether he’d even be kept on,” the club’s former head of player development, Chris Ramsey, tells FourFourTwo. “He struggled with his pace a lot in the early days. He always had the talent, but he was a little kid and traditionally the smaller players have struggled to make the breakthrough.” Slow, slight and unfancied, Kane was just another half-decent young footballer fighting to prove that technique and a big heart can trump speed and power. There’s a 16-year age gap between the Chingford-born forward and his hero Brady. They play different sports, hail from different nations and have never met but, interestingly for Spurs fans, their stories echo one another. Brady has reached sporting nirvana with the New England Patriots, while Kane is chasing it. Hard. Because Harry wants to be just like Tom.
BATTLING AGAINST THE DISSENTERS
Harry’s brother-in-law-to-be believed he was just introducing his sister’s beau to America’s game when he invited him to come and watch a different kind of football. Little did he know he was stirring something within. As Kane explained: “Whenever I used to go round to my fiancée’s house, he’d always have American football on, so one day he explained the rules to me and I’ve ended up watching it every weekend ever since.” He saw Brady in action, and the quarterback stole his heart. When a johnny-come-lately fan pins his colours on one of the most successful NFL franchises ever, it’s easy to call him a glory hunter, but Kane’s fandom went way beyond the trophy cabinet – it was personal. He was inspired by Brady’s remarkable feats against the odds. The Patriots’ ball-slinger was marked down time and again in the embryonic stage of his football career for not possessing the superhuman athleticism so coveted by NFL coaches. Five Super Bowl rings and countless records later, Brady has emphatically silenced all of the doubters. The Californian’s accomplishments led to the ESPN documentary The Brady 6, which profiles the six quarterbacks chosen ahead of Brady in the 2000 NFL Draft, and analyses why Tom was taken 199th overall. Kane has watched the documentary multiple times. He can’t get enough of it, and in Brady he sees a kindred spirit, a source of inspiration. “I’ve probably watched it five to 10 times,” he said. “It’s an inspirational documentary about what he had to go through in his career, and is kind of similar to what I had as well.” Harry has been battling the dissenters from an early age. Arsenal welcomed a free-scoring eight-year-old Kane from Ridgeway Rovers into their academy, but let him go two years later. Watford took him on a six-week trial, and after he’d scored a hat-trick against Tottenham for the Hornets, the Lilywhites decided to take him on aged 11. Under the tutelage of Alex Inglethorpe, the Tottenham academy director now at Liverpool, Kane dedicated himself to self-improvement. In an era when the academy churned out the likes of Andros Townsend, Steven Caulker, Ryan Mason and Tom Carroll, Kane was far from the top of the class. “When the players reach the under-14s you have to make a decision whether to give them a two-year contract or release them – it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that he was going to be kept on,” admits Ramsey, now QPR’s technical director having managed the Rs in 2015. “We chose to keep him because, while he was a late developer physically, emotionally he was quite well-developed. He was technically gifted, had a fantastic work ethic and was always prepared to listen, learn and take instruction. “Most importantly he had a belief in himself which eclipsed his ability at that time. He knew that people doubted him, but he didn’t for one second think he wasn’t good enough.” The academy coaching team of Inglethorpe, John McDermott, Tim Sherwood, Les Ferdinand and Ramsey set about developing both Kane the footballer and Kane the athlete. By his 16th birthday in July 2009, he’d signed scholarship terms with his local club.
“WHATEVER I LACKED IN SKILLS, I TRIED TO MAKE UP FOR WITH MY WORK ETHIC”
Brady experienced similar struggles during his formative years at Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, California. Despite being big – 6ft 4in at 18 – Brady felt small among his peers. “The thing I remember most is how many of the team-mates I played alongside were just plain better than I was – faster, stronger, with superior natural physical abilities,” the 40-year-old says in his new book, The TB12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance. “I felt I was being left behind. However, what I lacked in skills, I tried to make up for with my work ethic.” Brady never developed into a blue-chip recruit, so his father compiled his own highlights tape and sent it to colleges. The University of Michigan were the only team who sent a recruiter, Bill Harris, to watch him, and he offered the young Brady a scholarship. This unshakeable determination strikes a chord with Kane, who was sent on loan to Leyton Orient, Millwall, Norwich City and Leicester City between 2011 and 2013. The England goal-getter experienced varying degrees of success in the muck and nettles of the Football League. He struggled to break into the starting XI at Carrow Road and the King Power Stadium, raising question marks about his ability. But as one of his former team-mates recalls, his spell in the lower echelons helped to toughen him up. “Harry Kane was a young boy when he came,” says Terrell Forbes, who played with a 17-year-old Kane for Orient six years ago. “I was a senior pro with more than 400 matches under my belt – he wasn’t going to get any change out of me, but when he got smashed he dealt with it.” And even back then he was setting an example on and off the field. “In terms of ability, I certainly didn’t think he would be a star, but there were moments where he’d do something and you’d go, ‘Woah!’ We were once playing a small-sided game in training and he scored with an incredible overhead kick. Everybody was talking about it.”
“HE HAD A BELIEF IN HIMSELF WHICH ECLIPSED HIS ABILITY. HE KNEW PEOPLE DOUBTED HIM, BUT HE DIDN’T FOR ONE SECOND THINK HE WASN’T GOOD ENOUGH”
By the time Brady got to college in 1995, his recruiter Harris had moved on, along with the head coach and quarterback coach, so he had to prove himself all over again. He kept getting stuck behind newer, flashier recruits and began to lose hope – until college sports psychologist Greg Harden offered him a piece of advice that still resonates today. “Do the best you can with the [opportunities] they give you, and if you do anything less then shame on you,” said Brady. “His words further jump-started my own competitiveness. They empowered me, actually – now I had a plan.” By 1999, Brady was the starting quarterback and led the Wolverines to victory in the Orange Bowl over Alabama.
“HE’S OBSESSED WITH BECOMING THE BEST POSSIBLE VERSION OF HIMSELF ”
Fast-forward 14 years and Kane had returned to White Hart Lane after his loan spells, earning a bachelor’s degree in grit from the school of hard knocks and ready to test himself against the Premier League’s elite. Tottenham were a club in transition. In 2013 the club sacked Andre Villas-Boas after a 5-0 hammering against Liverpool, the club’s worst home defeat in 16 years. Sherwood was given the opportunity to prove his worth by chairman Daniel Levy and he, in turn, handed the young striker his first top-flight start. The Spurs faithful might belt out choruses of “He’s one of our own” now, but they were not universally delighted to see him take the place of Roberto Soldado, the Lilywhites’ $45 million record signing from Villarreal. “When Harry first broke into the team he was usually replacing Soldado and the fans weren’t having it,” recalls Ramsey. “They were singing Soldado’s name every time he made a mistake, so for him to initially overcome that and then continue to excel is testament to his strength of character.” It wasn’t until Mauricio Pochettino arrived in the summer of 2014 that Kane really began to flourish, getting a decent run and trusted with the responsibility of leading the line. Since the Argentine’s arrival in north London, Kane has scored 108 goals in 155 matches for Spurs, winning two consecutive Premier League Golden Boots and bagging 12 in his opening 23 England appearances. An astonishing 2017 for club and country – 44 goals in 39 appearances by mid-November – fully justified the forward’s shortlisting for the Ballon d’Or. Former Spurs team-mate Ryan Mason feels Kane’s ascent owes much to self-analysis and work ethic. “If you had seen him when he was about 19 or 20, you would have looked at him and gone, ‘He’s a bit heavy, he’s not really got that turn of pace over five yards’ – and Harry realised that,” the Hull City midfielder revealed on Sky Sports’ The Debate. “He has studied his game. I look at him now and, from a physical point of view, I don’t really think there’s a weakness there any more. And that is off the back of him putting in the hours in the gym and the training pitch, eating all the right foods, not drinking alcohol and just being obsessed with trying to make himself the best possible version of himself.” If Kane had to be patient, Brady had to show the stoicism of a wildlife photographer before finally getting his NFL shot. “Very skinny and narrow,” his scouting report read. “Can get pushed down too easily. Lacks the ability to avoid the rush and lacks a really strong arm. Can’t drive the ball down the field and does not throw a really tight spiral.” Brady was passed over by every team in the league at the Draft until his name was called in the sixth round, taken by the Patriots with the 199th pick. As the fourth-string quarterback he would work on speed and footwork drills with strength coach Mike Woicik, 6am every Friday, to close the gap. On September 23, 2001 – in Brady’s second season – starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe suffered a catastrophic chest injury. Brady grasped his chance, guiding the Pats to Super Bowl glory. Sixteen years later, Brady’s a five-time Super Bowl ring-holder and still going strong into his forties.
“BECOMING THE GREA TEST OF ALL TIME – THA T’S WHA T I W ANT”
And this is where all the comparisons between Kane and Brady’s stories end. For now, at least. The American legend has been there, done that, got the five T-shirts. Kane, on the other hand, is at the beginning of his journey – hungrily chasing major titles with Tottenham to add to his ever-growing reputation as a world-class striker. In the meantime, his admiration for Brady grows, especially after his most recent Super Bowl win in February. The Patriots were losing 28-3 to the Atlanta Falcons until Brady put in an MVP performance, bringing the team back to triumph 34-28 – the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history – and cementing his legend as ‘The Comeback Kid’. Kane never had a doubt, though. “My friend was close to going home at half-time and said, ‘There’s no point watching the rest,’” recalls Spurs’ No.10. “I convinced him to stay, saying it’s going to be one of the best comebacks ever. There was no way I was ever going to chance missing a Tom Brady comeback like that. I had belief in his belief.” Kane feeds off this faith in his favourite No.12, fuelling his own hunger for success. “Brady had a vision of what he wanted to do and achieved it, probably becoming the greatest of all time. That’s what I want to go and achieve. As long as you believe in yourself, like he says, otherwise who else is going to believe in you? I was very determined about what I wanted to achieve, as was he.” Back-to-back Golden Boots and the PFA Young Player of the Year prize aren’t enough for Kane. He wants more. England’s star man has set his sights on matching the freakish goalscoring exploits of the world’s best – Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – and even breaking Alan Shearer’s Premier League milestone of 260. Pochettino’s fitness regime has helped Kane get in peak condition and the striker has employed his own chef in his pursuit of greatness... and fear of losing his job. “There’s always room for improvement,” said the striker. “You’re never going to be perfect in football and you’re never going to get to the stage where you say: ‘Enough’s enough, I don’t need to train hard any more’. “You can give someone one game, the chance to show the manager that maybe we don’t need Harry Kane or we don’t need Tom Brady. It’s the same approach I try to take. Every day’s another session to prove to the manager that I should be playing.” Sounds familiar. “I always want to feel like I’m the best quarterback for this team – I want to earn it every single day,” said Brady. In their respective disciplines, one applies the finishing touch and the other supplies the ammunition, but the importance of their roles within the team carry similar weight. They’re the go-to guys who are expected to execute under pressure; the players who lead the team to improbable glory when heartbreak seems inevitable. Brady first proved himself as a match-winner 15 years ago, when he won his first Super Bowl aged 24 under the guidance of Patriots coach Bill Belichick. The pair are now the longest-serving and most successful coach-quarterback combination in NFL history. Could the Kane-Pochettino partnership end up having the same effect on the Premier League? Spurs fans can only dream, but Kane, wired with a Brady-esque winning mentality, will keep working towards it.
Above right Goal machine: Kane nets in Tottenham’s 4-1 thrashing of Liverpool at Wembley Right Kindred spirit: Patriots deity Brady; Winning combo: Harry was trusted to lead the line by Spurs manager Pochettino