When he was first propelled in to the first team shorty after his 18th birthday, Harry Kane became the victim of gross misadvertisement and mismanagement. Sold to the fans as little more than a tall target man in the traditional English mould of a centre-forward, he was deployed as a lone forward, and his performances suffered. Prolific in the youth teams, but lacking when the chance to make the step-up came, most can be forgiven for assuming that all we’d produced was a white Jon Obika.
However, since then, Kane has pushed himself and progressed to a level where, only three-years later, he no longer looks out of place in the first team. Now used in his preferred position in the attacking band behind the striker, fans are finally getting the chance to see the player that was rightly eulogised by many with one eye on Tottenham’s youth infrastructure. His rise has been sharp, welcome, and somewhat unexpected, but when coupled with his new contract at the club and burgeoning cult status, it wouldn’t be out of the question to suggest that this is just the start of things to come for Kane at Tottenham.
Naturally, as with any product of the youth team who has shown promise when selected, calls have increased for his role in the first team to be made more prominent. That desperation to catapult talent in to the spotlight at the soonest possible oppertunity, while born out of nothing more malicious than good intent, usually results in stunting the progression of younger players. The rise in fortune soon becomes an equally quick fall, and when good form deserts them, football’s fickle nature takes full hold. It should be a priority where Kane is involved to avoid that career trajectory as effectively as possible.
It goes without saying that Kane has some undeniable qualities to his game. His ability to score goals, both from range and inside the box, is a more than handy attribute for an attacking player. He holds the ball up well, and knows how to utilise his size without being thuggish, which aids his ability to bring others in to play around him and create space for advancing runners. Away from the field, his attitude, professionalism and appetite to improve and push himself is what will make the difference in his overall progression. Good players don’t blossom in to great players without having the drive to work towards becoming one.
That said, Kane is far from being the complete package - yet. In the position he often takes up, hovering around the #10 position behind a striker, picking up loose balls on the edge of the box and making late runs in to it, he needs to appreciate that there’s more to the role than just goalscoring. His final ball, especially when he’s trying to split a defence, often leaves a little to be desired. The one immediate example of him doing this well, to play in Eric Dier against West Ham, is one of few examples that spring to mind. Those ahead of him, namely Eriksen, Lamela and Chadli, have shown the ability to do that with much more regularity.
Also, the games in which he has excelled in, mainly down to oppertunity and selection, has been against poorer quality sides. A frequent criticism of Tottenham’s previous number eighteen, Jermain Defoe, is that he became little more than a flat-track bully in his later days at the club. Scoring in the early rounds of the Europa League and lower table Premier League sides are one thing, and making the difference in the bigger games is something more altogether. These negatives are far from definitive, of course, and given the right attention in training and opportunities on the pitch, are things that can easily worked on and improved.
For an example of how accelerating a players progression and increasing both the pressure and burden on him to perform before he’s ready can be damaging, Tottenham fans don’t have to look far. The same narrative, that of a young English player finding a streak of form, creating headlines and becoming a household name before hitting a rough patch and failing to match the expectation his earlier performances had built is an eerily similar story to that of Andros Townsend’s, who went from being Gareth Bale’s heir apparent to an underlined name on the transfer list in under a season.
Part fuelled by the media’s need to create hyperbolic success stories centred around the English national team and fans innate ability to overrate and aggressively over-exaggerate the talents of one they’re desperate to see succeed, the hype surrounding players still yet to find their feet overtakes the realistic limits of their progression as a player. Andros Townsend - or the countless others that have fallen foul before him, and the ones that will inevitably follow - are neither as bad as their biggest detractors claim they are, nor as good as their biggest fans wish they were. The truth, as it does in most cases, rests somewhere firmly in the middle of both.
Another good comparison to make with Kane is the current circus starting to build up surrounding West Brom striker Saido Berahino, a player exactly one week younger than Kane, and someone he links up regularly with for the England U21s. A good start to the season has seen Berahino’s notoriety grow profoundly, and the premature calls for him to be involved with the senior England side have already began coming. In truth, West Brom did their best to mould his progression in the most sustainable, risk free way possible, but their hand has been someone forced by the lack of alternatives in the transfer market. Berahino, like Kane, was handed an improved long-term deal, but his constant exposure in the first team and good form has seen him linked with multi-million pound moves away from the club he has been at for over a decade.
Berahino is a senior call-up away from the media bandwagon surrounding him clicking in to full gear. While his story is undeniably a remarkable one, having coming to the country alone aged only ten, seeking asylum from a war-torn Burundi and finding himself enrolled at the West Bromwich Albion Centre Of Excellence not long after, again, the good press will only last for as long as his form does, and nobody will be as patient with him as his parent club had shown the willingness to be. Regardless of talent, regardless of potential and regardless on the effect it may have on someones career, football remains a sport that will chew up and spit out those who do not reach the levels expected of them in the short time it allows them. Even when they do, as is the case with Raheem Sterling, football will merely reach for a different stick to beat them with.
Where then, that said, does that leave Harry Kane in the immediate future? In my opinion, his progression would be best safeguarded by allowing him to have a full season occupying the role in the squad he currently has: being the third striker behind Adebayor and Soldado, a regular starter in the cup competitions and against poorer sides, whilst remaining an occasional substitute in the higher profile matches. With four competitions still being contested by Tottenham and Adebayor on course to miss a large portion of the New Year at the African Cup Of Nations should Togo qualify, Kane won’t be struggling for game time. The danger of pushing him to take part in anything further, as already illustrated, leaves him a prime candidate to be caught up in the ever attentive hype machine.
Should he come through this season and the U21 European Championships in the summer in comparable form to the way he’s playing now, if not better, the discussion can then be had as to where his position in the squad lies. Luckily, in Pochettino, he has a manager unafraid of placing faith in youth, and with a track record of getting the best out of them on a consistent basis. Smart money says that one of - if not both of - the aforementioned pair of Soldado and Adebayor will be shown the White Hart Lane doors this summer, so being patient and putting in the hard work on the training field might not be the worst thing in the world after all.
Age and circumstance are both on Kane’s side, and if patience is the only difference between one season of great form and a sustained career at the top of his game, he could do much worse than being seen to try and keep his feet on the ground. The final word though, goes to Jan Vertonghen, who had this to say about his teammate:
“Harry is an unbelievable player and now the fans are starting to see it, but me I can see it every day in training. I’m a defender, he’s a striker, I’ve trained against him so many times and he’s a very, very difficult striker to defend against. For me, with his attitude, he can be one of the best centre-forwards in the world one day. He has a spirit you can compare to Cristiano Ronaldo and he works every day. He’s a top professional, I love working with him and I hope one day he can make his debut maybe in the England squad, because I think he’s one of the best already”.
Glowing words, certainly, but the ‘one day’ he speaks about might be that bit better if he’s allowed the time to progress fully in preparation for it. The best things, as they tend to say, come to those who wait.