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...

Australian Four Four Two - - CONTENTS -

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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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

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