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?
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