When asked in the build-up to the Boxing Day game against Southampton whether he was focused on Alan Shearer’s calendar-year record, Harry Kane did what he always does: smiled, shrugged and reiterated his humility.
“I’ve always said that and that will always be the case,” Kane said. “I’m the striker, so a lot of the time I get the praise and get spoken about, but it’s so important that the team does well.”
These are the usual platitudes from any high-performing footballer, but Kane picked an opportune time to point out the wonderful assistance of those who service him. There has been a rush towards the celebration of individualism over football’s last decade, aided by the confected battle between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. But this is a team sport.
The perfect reminder came with Kane’s first two goals on Tuesday, each followed by fanfare for a wonderful striker but scored from a total of four yards out as if Kane was performing a Dirk Kuyt tribute act. Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Heung-Min Son created the spells; Kane performed the magic.
It was a Tottenham performance of supreme quality. Alli has returned to form at a crucial time and was majestic in a roaming No. 10 position. Son has been involved in eight goals in his last six Premier League starts at Wembley and is the perfect option on the left when Tottenham play with two central defenders. Eriksen was the worst of the three and yet still registered an assist and created more chances than any other player on the pitch.
Behind them there were bright signs too. Eric Dier has struggled in central defence in recent outings, but looks rejuvenated after his move back into midfield, while Danny Rose produced his best performance since his unpleasant summer revelations about a move to Manchester United.
Toby Alderweireld’s injury is a fly in Spurs’ ointment, but it does avoid the decision over whether to stick with this shape. Tottenham have won five of their last six, scoring 19 times in the process.
Southampton’s own incompetence will also not be ignored by those present at Wembley. Mauricio Pellegrino was appointed to organise the defence, but his team are woefully inept at defending their own goal and have a goalkeeper who manages to make himself look smaller rather than larger. The absence of Virgil van Dijk – soon to be permanent – has weakened Pellegrino’s hand, but he has still played it very badly. The away support at Wembley could be heard taunting their manager about his future unemployment. On this evidence, it won’t be long.
Now back to individualism. In the same way that players are not teams in themselves, calendar year records are also not a thing. Football is measured in seasons, not months. Leeds United were not crowned the Premier League champions for 2001, or things may have turned out very differently indeed.
Yet we must end with Kane, because there is no doubt who will be the subject of Wednesday’s headlines. No attempt to praise the supporting actors alters the fact that 2017 has been a year of miracles for Kane. Six players have scored more than six hat-tricks in their Premier League career. Kane has scored six in 2017.
To have scored more goals than Lionel Messi over any period of time jars against our expectations, because it is to compare the ethereal with the real. Kane has blurred those lines. The very reason for the ‘one-year wonder’ misnomer was not ignorance or deliberate insult, but because Kane’s rise was so unexpected. At a time when players are scouted and touted from the age of eight upwards, the blend of consternation in the performance and lack of superstardom in the personality makes Kane most special.
But in the rush to adorn Kane with nonsensical trinkets, neither he nor Mauricio Pochettino will forget that there is a very good reason why Tottenham’s great striker has taken 45 more shots than any other Premier League player this season. Behind every great forward is a supporting cast of the selfless and the stimulating. They are the wind beneath Kane’s wings.