Can Harry Kane’s pain spur England to success?
Given how sudden and phenomenal his rise has been, it is often easy to forget that Harry Kane only made his England debut in the final stages of the qualifiers to the 2016 European Championship. Perhaps this deception of time is due to the fact that the current Euro cycle lasted five years and not the usual four, or perhaps it is because of all that Kane –possibly the best striker in world football today – has achieved in that duration. Already he has captained England at a World Cup, dragging them to the semi-final of Russia ’18 (their best-ever finish in his lifetime, for he wasn’t born during Italia ’90). Already he has won the World Cup’s Golden Boot.
Kane’s feet have been just as fluent for his club, Tottenham Hotspur. In the season that just ended, he scored not only the most goals in the Premier League (23) but also had the most assists (19), winning it all for Spurs expect the one thing that he really wanted to win for Spurs or, for that matter, himself – a trophy. Which is a remarkable thing as far as the upcoming Euro is concerned: for possibly the first-ever time, the team pegged as one of the favourites to win the tournament will be helmed by a man who has never won a trophy, for club or country.
The last time England had the squad and the depth to go into a major as one of the favourites (real favourites and not just according to their countrymen, for whom they always are) was at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, where David Beckham was captain and he had by then been a part of Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League-winning teams. Before that the strongest England side was at the 1998 World Cup in France and heck, even captain Alan Shearer had a trophy to show in a Premier League title with Blackburn Rovers – the only one in a long career.
Arguably stronger than both 1998 and 2006 is this England squad for Euro ’21 – managed by Gareth Southgate and led by Kane. Will the 27-year-old be able to end his personal duck when and where it matters most, simultaneously ending England’s drought for a football major that has now lasted 54 years? While he was stood far away from a football field, Kane couldn’t see why not.
“Country comes first for me, which is probably unusual in modern-day football,” Kane said in a recent interview to Gary Neville on Sky’s Overlap. “People ask me if I would rather win the World Cup or the Premier League. I’ve always said that to win something with England. It will just be a moment I will truly never forget. I’m just excited to have the opportunity to do that again this year.”
This opportunity, senses Kane, is more real than ever due to the abundance of talent in not just the squad but for each position. Take, for example, the choices for right-back: Reece James, Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier. Kane and Southgate now have the amazing job of leaving two out of those three out for the first group game against Croatia.
But Kane is no chump; he knows that having a great squad is only one half of the bargain. “It’s not like you just turn up with a good team and you win the tournament,” he told a nodding Neville. “We still have to go out there and handle being under the lights… We’re probably favourites going in, which hasn’t always been the case in the last 10 years. It will come down to how we handle that.”
In the past, England have always succumbed to the ever-existing pressure that resides on the shoulders of the Three Lions. In Euro ’16, the expectations did them in as much as Iceland, the debutant nation at the majors kicking them out in the pre-quarters. “That (loss) gave me that hunger and desire going into Russia 2018,” Kane said on Overlap. “I said before the tournament began that I wanted to win the Golden Boot. Almost got laughed off in the press room – what with the likes of Ronaldo and Messi around.”
If pain is his primary motivation, then Kane has plenty to draw from between the two Euros. The loss to Croatia in the World Cup semis; the loss to Liverpool in the Champions League final; the loss to Manchester City in the League Cup final; not qualifying for next season’s Champions League. These are enough wounds for an entire team to tap into, but Kane is surrounded by serial winners -- who have won everything there is to win at the club level but nothing of worth in the England shirt. To do that, they now turn to a legend who has won nothing at all – except a whole lot of goals and even more respect.