You can call them stat-padders, flat-track bullies or any other demeaning name designed to dilute their achievement, but strikers can only score against what is put in front of them.
In this instance, Harry Kane came into the final two games of the season with 22 goals to his name. Tottenham faced opponents who perhaps earlier in the campaign would have put up a stronger fight, but with their position in the table a moot point, Spurs’ trips to Leicester and Hull were essentially dead rubbers. All that was at stake for the north London side was to finish with as high a points total as possible and ensure Kane ended the campaign as the Golden Boot winner for the second successive season.
Both came to fruition. Spurs knocked Leicester for six and then put seven past a relegated Hull on the final day of the campaign. Of the 13 goals scored, Kane bagged seven to take his campaign total to a ridiculous 29. In the last three seasons, he has netted 75 Premier League goals – not bad for a one-season wonder. This year alone, six hat-tricks have been scored in England’s top tier, four of which have been netted by Kane, with trebles against Stoke and West Brom alongside his four-goal salvo at Leicester and final-day hat-trick at Hull.
What’s all the more impressive about his 29-goal haul is that he missed eight games win an ankle injury and did not score his first league goal of the campaign until mid-September. A goal every 87.4 minutes was a stunning return. Of the 46 players to score 15 or more league goals in Europe’s top five leagues this season, only three – Lionel Messi, Edinson Cavani and Alexandre Lacazette – scored more frequently, meaning Kane scored his 29 goals at a better rate than the likes of Luis Suarez, Robert Lewandowski, Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Aguero. It was a world-class return. And he is still only 23.
Messi, Suarez, Cavani, Lewandowski, Ronaldo and Aguero are all considered to be world class, so surely there should be no question about Kane being in the same bracket, even after disappointing showings for England at Euro 2016 and in Europe for Spurs this season. Not one player excelled for the national team in France, while Tottenham’s disappointing Champions League and Europa League campaigns cannot solely be held against Kane.
In fact, it’s all the more reason to laud his goal return. The 23-year-old could have regressed in the wake of criticism, yet took it all in his stride to better his figures from the previous campaign. It’s even more impressive when you take into account the early stages of his career, when Kane struggled in loan spells at Norwich, Millwall and Leicester. Not many could have foreseen the striker’s career path take such an upward trajectory, yet he has continued to bat away the sceptics and beaten his Spurs totals season after season.
That’s not to mention the all-round aspects to his game. The best strikers are capable of playing as a lone forward or with a partner and it is that first role that has helped Kane reach new heights. Mauricio Pochettino favours a system than requires a solitary front-man, be it with a three-man or a four-man defence, and Kane has shown all the right traits to succeed in the role, whether he is playing on the shoulder of the last man or dropping deep to receive the ball and help in build-up play. He may have scored 29 goals but he has also contributed seven assists, and averages of 1.5 key passes and 1.3 successful dribbles per 90 prove he is more than a mere finisher.
The world-class tag may be used on a whim by some, but Kane has surely done enough to warrant being mentioned in the same breath as Aguero, Suarez and Lewandowski after another stunning season in England.
Ben McAleer – follow him on Twitter here