Kane’s ready to go global

Eng­land’s No.9 tells us he can’t wait for his first World Cup, so could he em­u­late Gary Lineker?

FourFourTwo - - CONTENTS - Words James Maw Pho­tog­ra­phy Jon Enoch

It would be no sur­prise if, when Harry Kane turned on his TV on the morn­ing of Mon­day March 12, he felt the slight­est twinge of deja vu. Sky Sports News went into full yel­low-ticker mode, with reg­u­lar som­bre up­dates on the state of the Spurs man’s an­kle, and much hy­poth­e­sis­ing over how long he was likely to be out of ac­tion. “Is he out for the sea­son? Will he miss the World Cup?” The pre­vi­ous day, the Tot­ten­ham tal­is­man had dam­aged his an­kle in a col­li­sion with Bournemouth keeper As­mir Be­govic. Hav­ing ini­tially tried to play on, the 24-year-old soon limped off down the tun­nel. His man­ager, Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino, wore a haunted ex­pres­sion. He’d seen his star striker in a sim­i­lar state be­fore. It was Kane’s third an­kle prob­lem in 18 months, with the pre­vi­ous two rul­ing him out for seven weeks in 2016, and five in 2017. The swelling around Kane’s stricken joint hadn’t even sub­sided be­fore Fleet Street’s finest med­i­cal minds were of­fer­ing their prog­no­sis. “Kane set for scan on an­kle in­jury which could rule him out of World Cup,” teased The Guardian. “World Cup worry for Harry Kane and why he needs Uri Geller,” pan­icked The Sun. They needn’t have wor­ried (or called on the Is­raeli spoon-ben­der). Kane was back in Tot­ten­ham’s match­day squad by the time of their next Pre­mier League match – a 3-1 win at Chelsea, their first vic­tory at Stam­ford Bridge in 28 years. What was the fuss all about? “I was never that wor­ried,” the un­flap­pable Kane tells FFT in his typ­i­cally laid-back man­ner, as we set­tle down to have a chat in a pho­tog­ra­phy stu­dio, tucked away be­hind a row of houses in a quiet cor­ner of north Lon­don. “When it hap­pened I knew it was a sim­i­lar in­jury to the ones I’ve had in the past, so I knew roughly how long it was go­ing to take. Fortunately this one was ac­tu­ally even faster. The swelling went down and it all felt good quite quickly. “I was al­ways quite calm – it was a bit strange to be in the mid­dle of that kind of me­dia storm,” says Kane, chuck­ling at the mem­ory of the fort­night he had a whole coun­try Googling re­cov­ery times for an­kle lig­a­ment prob­lems, just like the nationwide scram­ble to learn about metatarsals 16 years ear­lier. “I re­mem­ber all the fuss when David Beck­ham got in­jured shortly be­fore the 2002 World Cup, so it was a bit weird to be on the other side of it.” The Beck­ham furore to which Kane refers came in April 2002. The then-eng­land cap­tain (right) suf­fered a bro­ken bone in his left foot af­ter a full-blooded chal­lenge in a Cham­pi­ons League match with De­portivo La Coruna, throw­ing into jeop­ardy his hopes of play­ing in South Korea and Ja­pan that sum­mer. Hav­ing sin­gle-hand­edly dragged the Three Lions to the fi­nals with his heroic per­for­mance in the de­ci­sive qual­i­fier at home to Greece, Beck­ham was a na­tional hero. Eng­land head­ing to the World Cup with­out him was unimag­in­able. The trou­bled toe be­came a na­tional ob­ses­sion. One tabloid even ran a scale image of the Manch­ester United star’s frac­tured foot on its front page, en­cour­ag­ing read­ers to place their hands on it at pre­cisely noon and pray in uni­son for the mid­fielder’s speedy re­cov­ery. Kane’s an­kle was not splashed across the tabloids (“I’m all right with that,” he makes clear), but there was briefly sim­i­lar con­cern that Eng­land’s con­tem­po­rary tal­is­man could be de­nied a first World Cup ap­pear­ance. Fortunately, like Becks, Kane has re­cov­ered in time.

“I’d say his penalty against Ar­gentina was my stand­out mem­ory of watch­ing Eng­land at World Cups,” says Kane. “My man­ager now wouldn’t be too happy about that one, but I re­mem­ber it so clearly.” Po­chet­tino, of course, was the de­fender ad­judged to have up­ended Michael Owen in the penalty area mo­ments be­fore. But that can’t dampen Kane’s mem­o­ries of Beck­ham’s mo­ment of sal­va­tion, four years on from his dis­missal against the same side in Saint-eti­enne and the vil­i­fi­ca­tion that fol­lowed.

“Given all he’d been through af­ter 1998, for him to step up like that and win us such a huge game was a great mo­ment,” says Kane. “He was a big role model for me.

“The 2002 World Cup is the first one I re­ally re­mem­ber well. We had a great team and I thought we had a chance of win­ning it. I’ve got vivid mem­o­ries of watch­ing the Brazil game – Eng­land go­ing 1-0 up, but then Ri­valdo get­ting the equaliser and Ronald­inho scor­ing the fa­mous free-kick to knock us out.

“I was only eight and the game was on early in the morn­ing, so we all watched it at school in the as­sem­bly hall. It was def­i­nitely a long, hard day at school af­ter that.”

Now it’s up to Kane to en­sure a na­tion of young­sters aren’t left sob­bing through sci­ence class. And he’s ready and rar­ing to put Eng­land back on the map by tak­ing his first World Cup by storm.

A SHOT AT RE­DEMP­TION AF­TER EURO 2016

Kane fa­mously had to bide his time be­fore he was able to make his mark in Tot­ten­ham’s first team, but it took him just 79 sec­onds, three touches and one header to make a splash at in­ter­na­tional level.

Hav­ing scored 29 goals in the first 43 matches of his break­through sea­son with Spurs – 2014-15 – ev­ery jour­nal­ist, pun­dit and fan was de­mand­ing Kane be given an Eng­land call-up, and pronto.

Sure enough, man­ager Roy Hodgson obliged, and the 21-year-old was handed his se­nior Eng­land de­but in a Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship qual­i­fier at home to Lithua­nia in March 2015. Thrown into the mix af­ter 72 min­utes, he im­me­di­ately headed home Ra­heem Ster­ling’s cross to put Eng­land 4-0 up. It was the undis­puted talk­ing point of a rou­tine win for the hosts.

“I’m just proud,” a thrilled Kane ad­mit­ted af­ter­wards. “It’s a dream come true. It’s a spe­cial night and def­i­nitely one I won’t for­get. It’s all a bit of a daze but I’m en­joy­ing ev­ery minute of it.”

Kane scored again on his third and fourth ap­pear­ances for Eng­land – against San Marino and, more im­pres­sively, in a de­ci­sive Euro 2016 qual­i­fier against Switzer­land – but then net­ted just twice in his next 13 in­ter­na­tion­als, a run that in­cluded the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship in France. It’s safe to say that tour­na­ment didn’t quite go as planned – for Kane or for Eng­land.

“It was strange – the camp was good, we all got on very well, but there were just mo­ments in games where things got a bit tough and we just couldn’t turn it around,” he says, re­flect­ing on a frus­trat­ing first ma­jor tour­na­ment with Eng­land’s se­nior team. “It’s hard to put a fin­ger on why it went wrong.”

Things had started well: the Three Lions per­formed im­pres­sively in a 1-1 draw with Rus­sia, be­fore com­ing from be­hind to beat Wales 2-1 in Lens. But a dour goal­less draw with Slo­vakia seemed to suck the life out of them, and days later came the in­fa­mous de­feat to Ice­land. Sud­denly, Eng­land were a laugh­ing stock again.

“I think we could have been more pos­i­tive – par­tic­u­larly in the fi­nal third, and not just in the Ice­land game,” ad­mits Kane. “We knew we didn’t play very well as a team and that we could do much bet­ter. This World Cup is the chance to cor­rect that. We have to learn from that and get bet­ter. We’ve been with Gareth South­gate for about 18 months now – he’s im­ple­mented his play­ing style on the group and we’ve all bought into it. Now we’ve got to go and do it out in Rus­sia.”

The two an­kle prob­lems he suf­fered last sea­son meant Kane was un­avail­able for South­gate’s open­ing six matches, but as soon as the striker was avail­able, the new Eng­land boss threw him straight into his start­ing XI. To play Scot­land at Ham­p­den Park. As cap­tain. It was a pretty big show of faith.

“We’ve got a great re­la­tion­ship,” Kane says of a man­ager with whom he had pre­vi­ously worked in Eng­land Un­der-21s. “That meant I had a good idea of how he worked and how he’d want the team to play. We do a lot of work on our shape, the way we play out from the back, get­ting the full-backs high and wide, and cre­at­ing lots of chances.”

South­gate’s ar­rival seemed to help Kane make a real in­ter­na­tional break­through in 2017. Hav­ing scored five goals in 17 Eng­land matches in 2015 and 2016, Kane rat­tled in a far more Spurs-like seven goals in his six matches last year. One dra­matic equaliser away to Scot­land, a brace in a friendly against France, two in Malta, one last-minute win­ner against Slove­nia that sealed Eng­land’s place in Rus­sia, and a penalty in Lithua­nia. This is a man in form for both club and coun­try, and he fully de­served his Eng­land Player of the Year award.

“I wouldn’t say there was any­thing par­tic­u­lar that changed – it was just a case of get­ting a good run in the team,” he ex­plains. “Scor­ing an im­por­tant goal away to Scot­land and then get­ting a brace against France a few days later was a mas­sive con­fi­dence boost. To get that con­sis­tency of scor­ing for Eng­land in suc­ces­sive matches, and get­ting a cou­ple of braces, has made a big dif­fer­ence.”

Firmly es­tab­lish­ing him­self on the in­ter­na­tional scene means a lot to the Lon­don lad. He’s as level-headed a player as Eng­land have pro­duced in decades. On the pitch, Kane ben­e­fits from be­ing al­most im­per­vi­ous to his sur­round­ings, and he plays the ex­act same way re­gard­less of op­po­si­tion, score­line or mag­ni­tude of the fix­ture. But that doesn’t mean he’s im­mune to crit­i­cism, and he re­ceived a fair bit af­ter fir­ing blanks at Euro 2016. How­ever, he won’t let those dif­fi­cult mo­ments get in the way of re­al­is­ing his po­ten­tial, his dream, per­haps even his des­tiny.

“I al­ways dreamed of play­ing for Eng­land,” he re­veals. “I’ve played foot­ball since I was about four or five years old, and even back then it was some­thing I imag­ined do­ing. It’s al­ways been some­thing that’s mo­ti­vated me – and I wasn’t al­ways there. When I was about 15 or 16 I wasn’t in the Eng­land setup. I got in at around 17 or 18 years old, but even then I was in and out of the squads. My ca­reer was pretty up-and-down at that stage. I was go­ing out on loan fur­ther down the leagues just to play some foot­ball.”

Now, af­ter an in­cred­i­ble four sea­sons with Spurs, he feels like his coun­try’s main man – and is as good a bet as any­one to be Eng­land’s next fully-fledged cap­tain, hav­ing worn the arm­band not only in that fiery draw in Glas­gow, but on two sub­se­quent oc­ca­sions.

“I AL­WAYS DREAMED OF PLAY­ING FOR ENG­LAND. EVEN AT FOUR OR FIVE YEARS OLD, IT WAS SOME­THING I IMAG­INED DO­ING. IT HAS AL­WAYS MO­TI­VATED ME”

South­gate is ev­i­dently in no rush to com­mit to nam­ing a full-time skip­per just yet. “The man­ager has said he will make that de­ci­sion in his own time, so we’ll have to see,” says Kane, calmly. “I do my job whether I’m wear­ing the arm­band or not, but it’s cer­tainly some­thing I’d be ex­tremely proud to do.”

Es­pe­cially, you would imag­ine, if it was at a World Cup. That would rep­re­sent an ex­tra­or­di­nary four-year rise...

“I CAN’T WAIT TO GET AMONGST IT, TO FEEL THAT BUZZ”

This time four years ago, Kane was nowhere near the se­nior Eng­land setup. Af­ter be­ing handed his first Pre­mier League start by then-boss Tim Sher­wood in Tot­ten­ham’s 5-1 vic­tory over Sun­der­land on April 7, 2014, Kane re­sponded with his first top-flight goal. He scored another on his sec­ond start, away to West Brom, and made it three in three at home to Ful­ham the fol­low­ing week.

This lit­tle goal burst rep­re­sented a wel­come fil­lip for Spurs to fin­ish a dif­fi­cult sea­son in which big-money sign­ings such as Paulinho and Roberto Soldado failed to live up to their billing. Kane had proven he could score the odd goal at Pre­mier League level, but was never likely to jump ahead of Wayne Rooney, Daniel Stur­ridge, Danny Wel­beck or Rickie Lam­bert in the Eng­land queue – that quar­tet had all im­pressed through­out the sea­son.

“I watched the last World Cup on hol­i­day,” re­calls Kane. “I was out in Dubai with [for­mer Tot­ten­ham team-mate] Tom Car­roll and our girl­friends, so we watched a lot of matches while we were there. I’d had a pretty good end to the sea­son and got my first proper taste of Pre­mier League foot­ball. Ob­vi­ously I wasn’t ex­pect­ing to be in the Eng­land squad for that World Cup, but even back then, get­ting into this one was the aim.”

The striker, it seems, has al­ways had be­lief in his own abil­ity. That un­wa­ver­ing faith has helped him keep his com­po­sure long enough to smash scor­ing records, de­spite all the fuss about his lack of goals in Au­gust, and will also see him head to Rus­sia un­bur­dened by the dis­ap­point­ments of Euro 2016.

Quite the op­po­site – Kane is pos­i­tively chomp­ing at the bit. “I can’t wait to get amongst it, to feel that buzz,” he en­thuses with the brio of a kid ex­cit­edly open­ing a packet of World Cup stick­ers.

“I would have the sticker books and the wall charts too,” he says, a smile stretch­ing across his face. “I re­mem­ber col­lect­ing the Eng­land coins one year as well.

“If I wasn’t play­ing foot­ball, I’d be watch­ing. I loved watch­ing Eng­land, but I wanted to see ev­ery game in the tour­na­ment. I’d al­ways be look­ing out for strik­ers like Ron­aldo to see what they could do.”

Now it’s Kane’s chance to do the same. He and Eng­land will start their World Cup cam­paign with a match against Tu­nisia in Vol­gograd on June 18, be­fore head­ing to Nizhny Nov­gorod to face first-timers Panama on June 24. This ‘favourable’ draw presents its own pit­falls, with both na­tions some­thing of an un­known quan­tity.

“I haven’t seen much of them yet, but in the run-up to the World Cup we’ll start analysing their matches as a group to get a bet­ter idea of what they’re about,” says Kane. “Panama did well to knock out the USA in qual­i­fy­ing, and we know they’re a good, solid side. Ob­vi­ously we’ll en­sure we know as much as pos­si­ble about them by the time the matches come round.

“It can be tricky some­times when you don’t know as much about your op­po­nents as they do about you, but we don’t re­ally worry about it. I think we’re at a stage now where we feel that if we’re on top of our game, we can beat most teams.”

Eng­land’s fi­nal Group G fix­ture cer­tainly won’t be a voy­age into the un­known. They’ll face a Bel­gium side whose stars in­clude Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Manch­ester City’s Kevin De Bruyne, and Manch­ester United’s Romelu Lukaku. And a few play­ers Kane knows even bet­ter.

“At Tot­ten­ham we’ve got [Jan] Ver­tonghen, Toby [Alder­weireld] and [Mousa] Dem­bele, and there are quite a lot of other Bel­gian play­ers in the Pre­mier League as well,” adds Kane, rel­ish­ing the prospect of putting one over on sev­eral of his club-mates. “They’ve got a bril­liant team and it’s go­ing to be a very tough game. We’ll be aim­ing to win the first two matches and hope­fully be through by the time we play them, but if not, and we have to beat Bel­gium, we’ll be con­fi­dent in our abil­ity to do that.

“Ob­vi­ously I know a lot about how Toby and Jan play, but they know my game too, so it cuts both ways. I’m a player who fo­cuses on my­self – if I play to the best of my abil­ity, it doesn’t mat­ter who I’m up against.”

The thought of fac­ing Bel­gium’s much-her­alded golden gen­er­a­tion would strike fear in the heart of any de­fence, but then so would fac­ing Kane, who has hit new goalscor­ing heights this term. He be­came the first player to score nine goals in his first nine Cham­pi­ons League games, and con­verted his 100th Pre­mier League goal quicker than Thierry Henry or Ser­gio Aguero.

And with Ra­heem Ster­ling en­joy­ing his best cam­paign yet in Man City’s ti­tle-win­ning side, Marcus Rash­ford and Jesse Lin­gard both blossoming at United, Jamie Vardy re­dis­cov­er­ing some­thing like his 2015-16 form at Le­ices­ter, and Kane’s old pal Dele Alli a con­sis­tent men­ace at Tot­ten­ham, Eng­land have an im­pres­sive arse­nal of at­tack­ing threats. So should the de­fences of the world be scared of South­gate’s men in Rus­sia?

“Yeah, if we can all take our Pre­mier League form into the World Cup, we should score plenty of goals,” in­sists Kane. “We’ve got some great play­ers and I’m sure any team we play won’t be ex­pect­ing an easy time.”

Kane’s form both do­mes­ti­cally and in Europe this sea­son has been deadly, with Liver­pool, Arse­nal, Ju­ven­tus and Borus­sia Dort­mund among his many vic­tims. He’s get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter, and he’s not rest­ing on his lau­rels.

“I’m al­ways look­ing for new ways to im­prove,” he says. “I look to guys like Cris­tiano Ron­aldo. To see him at his age do­ing what he’s do­ing, the goals he’s scor­ing, the records he’s break­ing – that’s what I want to achieve. Look at the con­di­tion he keeps him­self in – he’s a role model. I’ve worked hard on things like nu­tri­tion and re­cov­ery, to make sure I’m do­ing the best pos­si­ble things be­tween games so I’m as fresh as pos­si­ble for the next one.”

It’s ob­vi­ously work­ing. Kane’s goal tal­lies are im­prov­ing with ev­ery sea­son. “I’m very happy with my form – but there are a few games left and it’s im­por­tant to end the sea­son well. That’s what I did last sea­son, and then I took that form into those Eng­land matches last sum­mer. I’m aim­ing to do that again this year.”

It could even be that the striker’s brief in­jury lay-off will prove to have been a bless­ing in dis­guise for Eng­land. When Kane re­turned from a sim­i­lar knock in the spring of 2017, he im­me­di­ately hit the ground run­ning, blast­ing 14 goals in 11 games for club and coun­try – the pur­plest of pur­ple patches. And he is hop­ing to re­peat the trick this time around.

“It can def­i­nitely help,” says Kane. “When I got in­jured this time, that was the pos­i­tive I tried to take from it. That bit of rest can give the other mus­cles a chance to recharge. I went away for a few days to get some sun and a bit of a men­tal break, which you don’t of­ten get as a foot­baller in the mid­dle of the sea­son. Hope­fully it’ll keep me fresh for the rest of the sea­son and be­yond.

“Ev­ery new com­pe­ti­tion I play in, I’ve tried to score goals and es­tab­lish my­self at that level. I did that in the Cham­pi­ons League this sea­son, and now I want to do it in the World Cup, too.”

It’s quite the mis­sion state­ment, but given how the last four years have gone, you’d be mad to bet against him mak­ing yet another step up.

“I WANT TO MAKE PEO­PLE PROUD”

Kane will head to the 2018 World Cup as a name on ev­ery­one’s lips. He’ll be on bill­boards, star in tele­vi­sion ads and have his Panini sticker traded in school play­grounds across the world. From Madrid to Mos­cow, Rio to Reyk­javik, fans will be look­ing to catch a glimpse of one of the game’s great No.9s do­ing his thing on the big­gest stage. As ever, ex­pec­ta­tions are huge; un­sur­pris­ingly, it’s not faz­ing Ching­ford’s finest in the slight­est. He rel­ishes it.

“It’s ex­cit­ing,” shrugs the 24-year-old, non­cha­lantly. “Some might see all that and think of the pres­sure, but I just see it as a pos­i­tive. Peo­ple talk­ing about you in that way means you must be do­ing some­thing right, so I’d rather peo­ple were talk­ing about me than not.

“It’s not for me to say whether the op­po­si­tion is scared of me or not, but if I’m feel­ing 100 per cent fresh and ready, I’m con­fi­dent I can score goals against any­one.”

That brings us on to the small mat­ter of the World Cup Golden Boot. Af­ter twice win­ning the Pre­mier League’s scor­ing award, and bat­tling Liver­pool’s Mo­hamed Salah for a third in a row this sea­son, does Kane fancy his chances of em­u­lat­ing Gary Lineker in 1986 and fin­ish­ing the tour­na­ment as top scorer? “Yeah, why not?” he en­thuses. “We’ve got a great at­tack­ing team. Hope­fully we can score a lot of goals and hope­fully I’ll get a few my­self. Ob­vi­ously the fo­cus is on the team, but as a striker, you’ll al­ways have your eye on win­ning the Golden Boot.”

The com­pe­ti­tion, nat­u­rally, will be fierce. “Lionel Messi, Cris­tiano Ron­aldo, Ney­mar, Gon­zalo Higuain, Robert Le­wandowski – there are loads of great strik­ers head­ing to the tour­na­ment, but I have to just fo­cus on my­self and Eng­land.

“The main tar­get for us as a team is to play in a style that means, even if we lose, the fans will be able to see we went there and tried to win. I think it’s im­por­tant to get that con­nec­tion back be­tween the sup­port­ers and the Eng­land team so, win or lose, they’re there with us be­cause of what we’re try­ing to do and how hard we’re work­ing. I want to make peo­ple proud of Eng­land again.”

Restor­ing pride in a na­tional team that has faced plenty of crit­i­cism in the past decade is a no­ble aim, but that doesn’t mean Kane isn’t dream­ing of go­ing the dis­tance, and mak­ing him­self a hero to Three Lions fans in the same way he is at Spurs. This is his chance to make him­self a na­tional hero, and he knows it. “It’s hard to think about the World Cup and not imag­ine what it’d be like to win it,” he says. “It would bring the na­tion a lot of joy. It would be in­cred­i­ble. I have a great con­nec­tion with Spurs fans, but to have it with the whole coun­try would be a spe­cial feel­ing.” And, should things go as well as he dreams – arise, Sir Harry…? “If we win it, who knows?” Kane chuck­les, clearly not prone to get­ting ahead of him­self.

If that’s how this sum­mer pans out, it would prob­a­bly be fair enough if the pa­pers made a fuss.

“IT’S HARD TO THINK ABOUT THE WORLD CUP AND NOT IMAG­INE WHAT IT’D BE LIKE TO WIN IT. IT WOULD BRING THE NA­TION A LOT OF JOY”

Top Ri­valdo equalises for Brazil in their 2002 World Cup vic­tory over Eng­land – a game Kane watched in his school hall Above Kane marked his se­nior de­but by scor­ing in­side 79 sec­onds at Wem­b­ley

Anti-clock­wise from left Harry is ready to roar for the Three Lions in Rus­sia; in ac­tion for the U19s in 2011; a lethal part­ner­ship with Dele Alli at Spurs has pro­pelled Kane to the top; he donned the arm­band for the first time against Scot­land and spared his coun­try’s blushes late on

Above right “If you score this many goals, you can def­i­nitely be my cap­tain” Be­low A dou­ble against France helped Harry take his 2017 Eng­land tally to seven in six ap­pear­ances

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