“He’s got to get himself involved more – he’s not doing enough as it is.”
“You have to ask at what point do you drop him.”
Yes, indeed. At what point do you drop Harry Kane, the leading assister and goalscorer in the Premier League last season? It would have to take an awfully long drought for Gareth Southgate to even consider relegating his captain to the bench, right?
Thankfully, that is the England manager’s view, but that hasn’t stopped some in the media and plenty in the pubs – socially distanced, of course – from suggesting maybe it wasn’t going to be Kane’s tournament at Euro 2020.
Pragmatic if a little dour group stage displays against Croatia, Scotland and the Czech Republic were good enough to win the Three Lions their group – they scored just two goals but didn’t concede any, which is much better than scoring four and conceding three. Just ask France.
But there’s no doubting that seeing Kane in this role – less involved than at club level for Tottenham – has been tough at times, especially in the group stage.
Whereas there are few reliable creative alternatives to the England captain at Spurs, Southgate chose to lean on the likes of Mason Mount, Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling earlier in Euro 2020, each with varying levels of output. But with generally better playmakers around him and without a Son Heung-min to play balls in behind for, Kane has reverted back to the role England needed him to fulfil – the clinical striker.
That means his involvement in the team’s build-up play has dropped and more creative responsibility has been handed out elsewhere – you can see that by the amount of touches he’s had at Euro 2020 so far.
While he averaged 44.6 touches per game for Tottenham during the 2020/21 Premier League season, he’s had just 30.6 for England at the Euros. In the Germany and Ukraine games, he touched the ball 29 and 33 times respectively.
His shooting numbers are also down. One of the hallmarks of Kane’s game in north London is how he’ll take potshots from just about anywhere, especially early on in matches.
That’s reflected by the 3.9 shots he got away with Spurs in the league, as opposed to the two he’s managed on average at the Euros so far. He’s relied on as the player to make things happen for Tottenham, whereas England have a whole host of attacking stars who can relieve him of that burden – none more so thus far than Sterling, who is England’s joint leading goalscorer alongside with Kane with three goals. The strike partnership the pair have formed has been important to England’s generally positive record over the past few years, even if most can’t help but bring up that situation in the 2018 World Cup semi final whenever the two are mentioned in the same sentence. You know the one.
The understanding was certainly on full display against Ukraine, when Sterling cut inside while under pressure and played the perfect ball through to Kane to finish in composed fashion.
And when England needed a third to wrap that game up, Kane duly obliged, tucking home Luke Shaw’s cross.
With a maximum of two games left, England likely won’t end Euro 2020 as the tournament’s top scorers, They’ve got eight so far, five behind Spain and four behind Italy, who have already reached Sunday’s final.
But that needn’t matter. Being the top scorers at a tournament doesn’t necessarily correlate with winning the thing.
In 2016, Portugal grinded their way to the trophy scoring nine goals, equal with Belgium and behind Wales and France. 2004 saw Greece shut teams out in the knockout stages, not conceding any having let in four during the group stage.
That, in a nutshell, is how tournament football can work. It’s not always the swashbuckling sides with attacking flair coming out of their ears that are stood on the podium with the trophy aloft as fireworks obliterate the night sky. It’s not always the top goalscorer who has the largest grin after the final. Sometimes, it’s Pepe and Jose Fonte.
Kane is playing the perfect role for England right now. It’s helping to keep him fresh and is bringing the best out of those around him. With goals against Germany and Ukraine, he is peaking at exactly the right time ahead of the semi final against Denmark on Wednesday night.
If England do make it out of that fixture against the Danes to set up a final with Italy, Kane will have played a large role. Just maybe not the role he’s so readily associated with.