25th April 2016. By Ryan Baldi.
Harry Kane burst into the wider footballing conscience during the latter months of 2014. His blend of physical prowess, devastating finishing ability and keen sense for finding space in the opposition's penalty area, marked him out as a real prospect within the English game. Kane's status as the Premier League's brightest new thing was rubber stamped by a brace in a 5-3 victory over Chelsea on New Year's Day 2015. Seemingly out of nowhere, Tottenham Hotspur had unearthed a gem of a striker.
Following Kane's breakout 2014-15 campaign -- in which he netted 26 goals in all competitions and registered four assists -- many onlookers were quick to write the young Spurs player off as a one season wonder. A player who'd previously shown little sign of such potential surely wouldn't be able to replicate this success over a sustained period; Kane's star had risen suddenly, burnt brightly, but would ultimately fizzle out before the new season. That was the view held by a multitude of casual fans and supposed experts alike.
That view would, of course, prove to be misguided. Kane has gone on to even greater heights this season as he sits atop the Premier League's leading scorer chart, having already surpassed his total for the previous campaign. Nominated for PFA Player of the Year as well as the Young Player of the Year award, Kane has also made his name known on the international circuit with four goals for England.
So how has the 22-year-old gone from being written off as a flash in the pan, to being the man earmarked to lead the line for England during this summer's European Championship in France?
Well, in truth, Kane did not just appear from thin air to start banging in goals at White Hart Lane. His story is not one of overnight success, but rather one of patience and perseverance. Patience on the part of Tottenham and the perseverance of Kane himself.
Despite his tender years, Kane is already somewhat of a journeyman. Rejected by Arsenal and picked up by Watford before signing with Spurs all within the period when most adolescent boys are chasing girls and having their first swig of cheap cider in the local park. And factor in four loan spells, in three divisions since signing professional forms with Tottenham, it becomes clear that the path Kane has trodden is a weaving one.
Part of the reason Kane remained under the radar for so long before his breakthrough is that he never really excelled in any of those loan spells. His first loan was to Leighton Orient in the 2010-11 season where in 18 League One appearances, Kane scored five times. A 2011-12 spell in the Championship with Millwall yielded seven goals from 22 games Solid, if unspectacular.
And that's pretty much how you would describe the developing Kane. By no means a bad player, perfectly serviceable. But Kane lacked the electric pace that makes so many young players stand out; he doesn't dribble past three defenders before smashing the ball in off the post; he's no step-over merchant. Kane's greatest strength comes in the form of his intelligence, not something that is immediately evident especially as a youngster trying to build experience within the rigours of lower division football but rather something that requires a discerning eye to spot.
And credit to Tottenham for spotting that in Kane. Many clubs would've selected the cash-out option with Kane and settled for a couple of million from a Championship or smaller Premier League club to take him off their hands, instead of taking the time to nurture the young striker.
In this age of immediacy, interest is high in teenage tricksters with impressive highlight compilation videos on YouTube. Clips of rabonas and elasticos performed in bright orange boots. Internet search engines do not crash under the weight of users looking up footage of young players holding the ball up well, or running off the ball to create space for a teammate.
So it's to Tottenham's credit that they recognised that, although he may be a slow burner, their faith would be well placed in Kane over the long-run. Alex Inglethorpe, now academy director at Liverpool, worked with Kane when he joined Tottenham. "When he first came into the under-18s as a 15-year-old, he stood out in the sense he looked a bit gangly." Inglethorpe told the Daily Telegraph in 2015. "He moved slightly awkwardly, he was a bit cumbersome. But look closer, he had a lot of ability, a great technique."
Two more loan spells followed: three Premier League appearances and no goals with Norwich City, then back to the Championship for 13 games and two goals for Leicester City. Both of which came during a 2012-13 season that saw the Chingford-born forward make his first league appearance for Spurs. Again, no great shakes in terms of impact from Kane, but that would soon change.
The following season saw Kane register his first goal at White Hart Lane in a League Cup tie against Hull City in October He also converted a penalty in the 8-7 shootout win. Still far from a regular first-teamer, Kane would have to wait until the closing stages of the campaign to get a run in the side. Following the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas, Tim Sherwood was put in temporary charge for the remainder of the 2013-14 season. Sherwood gave Kane his chance, and the then 20-year-old repaid his caretaker-manager's confidence by scoring in three consecutive games in April.
When Mauricio Pochettino assumed the White Hart Lane hot seat at the start of last season, Kane again found himself largely a back-up option. Restricted primarily to playing in the group stage of the Europa League. But Kane was undeterred. He had been imbued with confidence stemming from his goals the season before; he had a new assuredness about his game, in no doubt of his ability to perform at the highest level. Kane became prolific in the Europa League and registered his first professional hat-trick against Asteras Tripoli and even went into goals after Hugo Lloris was sent off and Tottenham had already made three substitutions.
Amid a groundswell of public outcry, Kane was rightfully entrusted with a leading role in Tottenham's Premier League campaign by October, and he hasn't been dislodged since.
Pochettino's side are pushing hard for the title this season; they are ahead of schedule by any metric in terms of pre-season expectations. The Argentinian manager has formulated a perfect storm of solidity, hard-work and youthful swagger. Kane is key to all of the above. His game has evolved immeasurably since his days on loan in League One and the Championship. Though still not especially quick, no expert dribbler, Kane unquestionable catches the eye. He has developed the ability to turn on a six-pence and find the corner of the net from seemingly impossible angles.
Spectacular strikes against Arsenal, Liverpool and Stoke City recently are evidence to just how special Kane has become. He has the footballing brain that was with him from the beginning, his technique has become more polished, his understanding of space and awareness of teammates is second to none.
Kane has a Premier League strike rate of just over 0.6 goals-per-game. If he can sustain that level of output, barring major injury, he could eclipse Alan Sharer's all-time record of 260 goals before his 32nd birthday. "It's a lot of goals and I'm still a long way off." Kane told Sky Sports when asked about the record. "But Shearer was an idol of mine growing up. I don't like looking too far ahead because you never know what can happen. But is it good to aim for? Definitely. They're the goals you dream of."
In the last two seasons, Tottenham's number 10 has made a habit of turning his dreams into reality. For Kane, Shearer's record may seem a long way off now, but it looks much closer now than it did when he was warming the bench for Leicester or feeding off scraps at Leyton Orient. Kane's remarkable rise is a testament to his hard work, and a lesson that patience can pay off.
Harry Kane: patience rewarded
25th April 2016. By Ryan Baldi.