England depend on Kane supremacy with captain striving to break goalscoring record | Harry kane
As England players walk to the Estadi Nacional on Saturday night, frown at the plastic and rubber pitch and get ready for 90 minutes of heavily weighted professional sport, there will be an urge to break out the low-profile international week. bingo.
We know how these opportunities play out. Echoey, sleepy national anthems. A first reference from the television commentator to the daytime work of the opposition center forward as slaughterhouse superintendent. Gareth Southgate frowning on his sideline, giving roughly a sense of gravity to a competitive engagement with the 156th ranked team in the world (Andorra is three places below Afghanistan). And all in all, one of those weird collisions between attack and massive defense, when it feels like the whole opportunity is being sucked, reluctantly, into the hole behind one of the goals.
It would be incorrect to suggest that the road to Qatar has been entirely without bumps. England have started their last game against Poland after five consecutive wins with one goal conceded. In the event that a 1-1 draw in Warsaw was a reminder of the danger, the basic enjoyment of qualifying before the tournament’s expansion took away much of the dramatic tension.
England’s Group I campaign will end with an extremely nihilistic final game in San Marino, a side that have lost 48 of their last 50 games, except for draws 0-0 to Gibraltar and Liechtenstein. And yet, such is the varied palette of international football, there are still hints of tension here, even if these tend to revolve around details, selection policy and personal benchmarks.
Right now, the main human interest note revolves around the captain. Need a little relief? Thank the football gods for Harry Kane and his undeniably energetic pursuit of the England scoring record. Sometimes during these minnow chases there’s been something very comical about the urgency with which Kane will jump into the fray in the final quarter. He is unlikely to debut against Andorra, but he will have his chance at some point. He remains a predator and a man of numbers, intensely focused on this record. So where are we with this?
Kane has 41 goals in England. A dry zone was followed by a nine of 14 mini-run. It takes 11 more to tie Wayne Rooney’s all-time mark. Kane is at the same level as Michael Owen but got there in 25 games less while doing more for the team: captain, creation, play last minute tournament matches.
Overall, Kane scores one goal every 123 minutes for England, surpassed only by the late Jimmy Greaves among those ahead of him on the top scorer list.. A quarter of his goals have been in tournament football, four in knockout matches. And while there’s also a lot of churn in there, a lot of treadmill goals, it still is (check out Bobby Charlton’s 15 goals against Luxembourg, USA and Northern Ireland ). All in all, he’s a brilliant record, a six-year-old purple spot that puts him up there like it or not – and people are weirdly hard on Kane – as one of the greatest strikers. post-war England.
And now, to that ultimate destination, the reeling of the great white Wayne. Starting, in this case, with Andorra, Hungary and Albania at home, then San Marino away next month.
There are two clouds in all of this. First, Kane is no longer the player he once was. His mobility has clearly been reduced. In its heyday, it was a whirlwind of pressing and constant attack runs. Some will point out these repeated ankle sprains. But whatever the reason, he can’t move like that anymore.
Sometimes it can be painful to watch – L’Equipe called him ‘The Phantom Kane’ during the Euros group stages – with the feeling of another England center-forward going down the same path as Rooney, Owen and Alan Shearer before him, an explosion of brilliance followed by constant physical decline. The difference with Kane is that he found another way to play.
This is the key part of his habit of diving deep that many experts seem to miss. There’s a reason Kane doesn’t “watch out for the last man.” He knows he won’t be as effective there. But he had the tactical intelligence to invent another role, to find space by going the other way, without reducing his return from goal. It’s a seriously underrated achievement, a rare case of tactical progression for an English footballer at the “mature” stage of his career. Kane deserves credit for finding a way.
Especially when the second point is that there is still no great competition with England, and no obvious successor in this diminishing specialist center-forward role. The current squad’s next top scorer is Raheem Sterling with 18 in 70 games. Southgate is a huge fan of Ollie Watkins’ high-energy pressing game. Tammy Abraham is a reliable finisher. Marcus Rashford has 12 goals at 23, but is playing better in wide areas and lacking the dead-eye quality to become the next link in that unbroken chain, the dynamic Lineker-Shearer-Owen-Rooney-Kane.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin has the basic goods, but it seems likely that Kane will stand before him for a few years to come. Mason Greenwood is clearly a rare talent, but the relationship with Southgate and England is not yet settled. At 20, he has a cap. And so here we are, still firmly tied to Kane supremacy.
Andorra has been lightly dismissed as a glorified ski resort. Unfairly: it is also a tax haven and a hub for hiking. But even room temperature dates like these have their own meaning. Any real hope of success at the Qatar World Cup, which is just over a year away now, will rest on the general state of happiness of the stubborn, adaptable and record-hunter England captain.