Tactics? Pressure? Maybe Harry is just Kaned

Date published: Tuesday 6th September 2016 8:42

If Euro 2016 was Roy Hodgson’s leaving party as manager, then it is safe to say that the majority of the England squad were left with sore heads and blurred memories. All of those who attended – Marcus Rashford excluded – embarrassed themselves on the dancefloor, tripping over each other and stumbling to an early exit. Even those who did not even feature – namely John Stones and Ross Barkley – were tarred with the brush of failure.

Life is slowly returning to normal for those shamed England players. Wayne Rooney remains the focal point of the group, perhaps now more so than ever. Stones, Barkley and Raheem Sterling are among those who have rekindled their form on the club stage. Jack Wilshere and Joe Hart struggled in the aftermath, but have every chance of success after relocation. 

Yet for Harry Kane, there are only further questions. What is the problem? Is he mentally drained? Do the tactics not suit him? Is the pressure taking its toll? Is he, as we always feared, not actually real?

There must be some way of explaining the striker’s recent regression. Kane has started this season as he finished the last: decidedly badly. An insipid showing for England in the 1-0 victory over Slovakia was his fourth without scoring this season; including last campaign, it is now nine straight goalless games.

Kane himself is unfazed. “There was a lot of talk last year and I managed to prove a lot of people wrong,” he said on Monday. “People will talk this year as well. It’s part of football. It doesn’t bother me.”

He has the right to remain calm amid the panic. Kane’s first Premier League goal of last season came in his seventh game; he finished as top goalscorer. But something is different this time. Something crucial has changed. Harry is absolutely bloody Kaned.

“I’m not tired. I’m 100% fresh and I’m ready,” the 23-year-old insisted in June, but it is growing increasingly difficult to believe him. Since inspiring a late 2-1 victory over Aston Villa in November 2014, Kane has started each of the subsequent 69 Premier League games. He has been available for selection for 123 combined Tottenham, England and England U21s games since; he has missed just eight. No other England player has played more than 100 games in that time.

Kane has played 6,120 minutes of Premier League football out of a possible 6,210 since that November 2014 victory. The closest striker to reaching that total is Romelu Lukaku; he has played 697 fewer minutes. Jamie Vardy is next, and he has featured for 922 fewer minutes. They are startling statistics, the effects of which continue to materialise. He travelled 403.8km over the course of Tottenham’s 2015/16 Premier League campaign – the most of any England player. That averages out at 10.62km, but he registered just 9.55 in the draw with Liverpool last month.

The striker may insist he does not need a rest, but Mauricio Pochettino may intervene. Pochettino has been an excellent manager at Tottenham, but his handling of Kane’s game time bears scrutiny. Since November 2014, he has been substituted 13 times, but just once before the 75-minute mark. Lukaku has been substituted 12 times in that sequence, four of which have been before 75 minutes, and Vardy has been replaced 14 times, 11 of which came with 15 minutes or more of the game remaining. Both already played less often.

More alarming is that July was Kane’s first football-free month in over two years; he has played at least one match for club and country in 27 months out of the past 28. That includes a pre-season friendly for Tottenham in the United States, where Pochettino called upon his main striker to feature just 36 days after he played every minute of England U21’s unsuccessful 2015 European Championships.

Kane, much like Alexis Sanchez at Arsenal, is unlikely to accept that he is fatigued, however conclusive the evidence. It would be a sign of weakness, a suggestion that he does not want to play or lacks the hunger to fight on. For the sake of his form, either he or his manager may have to swallow their pride.

It is, after all, the reason Vincent Janssen arrived from AZ Alkmaar this summer. Tottenham open their Champions League campaign in Monaco next week. The workload isn’t set to ease any time soon.

Even the best players need a rest. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, free from international duty, was granted extra holiday by Jose Mourinho as opposed to extra training sessions. Kane did not have the same luxury this week due to his England role, but he must be afforded a rest in the coming weeks. If he isn’t now, then when?

Plenty of England’s Euro 2016 party poopers have already started on the road to recovery back at the comparative comfort of their clubs, but Harry Kane is still struggling to get out of bed. This is no hangover; last season’s top scorer just needs a couple of early nights.


Matt Stead

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