For anyone who watched the England win over Lithuania in the European Championship Qualifiers last night or, indeed anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock in the world of football, you’ll have known a young man by the name of Harry Kane was sitting on the bench at kick off.
Harry Kane – a name a large number of us won’t have known far past August of last year. Of course, Harry has been working his way through the ranks in the Tottenham youth teams for a number of years and has, even by the age of 21, already become somewhat of a journeyman. Loan spells at Leyton Orient, Millwall, Norwich City and Leicester City since 2011 left no one amazed at the young man’s ability and there was nothing to suggest he would go on to contest for the title of Premier League top scorer in his first full season in the first team at Tottenham.
But here we are in March of that season. 19 goals in 26 league appearances, with a further 10 in other competitions landed the London-born lad a well-deserved call up to the senior England side for the first time in his career, with many calling for his inclusion from the start. Manager Roy Hodgson chose not to start the striker, of course. Seen by some as a move to stamp his authority and refuse to bow to media pressure, the former Swizterland, Inter Milan and Liverpool gaffer made his feelings on the matter clear in his pre-match press conference. “This is my decision – one I have to deal with,” he said pointedly, “and whatever decision I make there are people out there who would say I should have done it a different way.”. The way he did it, as it turned out, was to introduce Kane in the second half, with England having already effectively secured victory with 3 goals against a poor Lithuania side. In what Hodgson would later call a ‘fairytale’ start to his England career, Kane scored the fourth and final goal of the match within minutes of coming on to the pitch.
Despite the goal, which some have seen as evidence Kane should have started the match, I have to say I admire Hodgson for his approach to the whole situation. For me, the mere inclusion of Kane in a senior England squad for the first time in career was recognition enough of his blistering domestic form this season. Anything more would be a bonus.
I say that not, for a minute, thinking that Kane himself expected to start or felt he should. It’s the behaviour of the British or, more specifically, the English media that I’m getting at. Watching the pundits on the ITV coverage was like watching children being told they couldn’t have a dessert till they’d finished their tea. Former Arsenal players Lee Dixon and Ian Wright appeared almost angry at Kane starting on the bench, with former Monaco and Tottenham great Glenn Hoddle taking things a step further. Speaking in a tone I can really only describe as being of the utmost arrogance, he declared that he was convinced that Kane would make an appearance once England had “got a couple of goals”. And with that, any potential threat posed by Lithuania was discarded like the remnants of your Saturday night kebab as you walk up your driveway.
Now, there’s no doubt that Lithuania were unlikely to ever pose that great of a threat, but the attitude towards England’s and, more specifically, Kane’s abilities by their own media seems to scream of history repeating itself. A young striker with a blistering start to his career. Quality? Yes. Potential? Absolutely. But the potential to bring England their first major trophy since 1966? Now, that’s a stretch.
And so the cycle begins again. Michael Owen burst onto the scene, a combined 24 goals in 46 appearances in his first two seasons in the Liverpool first team, earning him a coveted spot at France ’98 with England. There, of course, he scored two goals – one against Romania and THAT unforgettable strike against Argentina. He went on to have an injury blighted but none-the-less prolific career, winning numerous honours including the Ballon D’Or in 2001. But did that success transfer to the international scene? If I tell you his most memorable contribution, besides the Argentina goal, was a hat-trick against Germany in a World Cup qualification match in 2001 then you’ll know the short answer is no.
We saw similar hype with Wayne Rooney. Opening his Everton account with a stunning strike as a then-16 year-old, he went on to perform well at Euro 2004 for the national team. Like Owen, he’s had a successful club career but has developed a reputation for being a bit of a bottler at the major international tournaments. Having scored an impressive 4 goals in Portugal in 2004, Rooney has managed only a solitary goal in the main tournament phase of an international competition since, scoring against Uruguay in a 2-1 defeat in the World Cup in Brazil in 2014.
Obviously, I hold no crystal ball. I hold no psychic ability that will allow me to predict how England’s latest hot young prospect will fare in comparison. But what I do know is that, as usual, the media appear to have hijacked the story of Harry Kane’s emergence and turned promising young talent into the hopes upon which the future of the national team are pinned. There’s no doubt that, with the right nurturing and training, Harry Kane can go on to be one of the best. But someone really needs to have a word with some of these TV producers, journos and presenters who have made him look like Messi in waiting. They are in danger of giving Kane standards to meet that not even a once-in-a-generation footballer could meet. And if they do that, then he’s sure to fail.