The afternoon after the heavyweight boxing clash between David Haye and Tony Bellew in London on Saturday night, Harry Kane was on his way to settling another box-office showdown, this time in the Premier League.
The Tottenham striker, comfortably winning the battle of the goal scorers against Romelu Lukaku, had just put his side 2-0 in front against Everton with yet another decisive show of clever movement and clinical finishing. And an intriguing chant sprouted up at White Hart Lane: “Just a one-season wonder,” the natives yelled, tongues firmly in cheeks.
It was interesting because it was an acknowledgement that aside from those of a Tottenham persuasion, there are still so many who doubt Kane; those who feel the flame will burn out and Spurs’ star will regress to just another average journeyman striker. It’s increasingly difficult to understand why football fans are sceptical regarding one of the Premier League’s most outstanding talents of the past few years.
While the increasing reliance on statistics can be irksome, reducing this wonderfully random and romantic sport to a binary snoozefest with pseuds lining up to harp on about such things as Expected Goals (ExpG), at times the numbers are needed to turn doubters into believers.
For some who watch Kane bamboozle defenders and slam in wonder goals every week, it isn’t enough, so perhaps some cold, hard numbers can turn their heads.
Starting from 2014-15, Kane’s breakthrough season in which he scored 32 goals in 56 matches for club and country, no player has scored more Premier League goals. His 65 is enough to beat Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero (62), Chelsea’s Diego Costa (48), Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez (46) and his adversary from Sunday, Lukaku (also 46).
Quite rightly, the likes of Aguero, Costa and Sanchez are regarded as among the best in world football, with Lukaku steadily catching them up and at least considered to be one of the best strikers in the league. And yet the dissenters still line up to denigrate Kane. This “one season wonder” has been doing it for three seasons in a row now, comfortably the leading English marksman in that time with his 65 league goals — way ahead of Leicester’s Jamie Vardy in second place on 34.
The 23-year-old is the joint-leading scorer across all major leagues for strikers in his age group or lower, with Torino’s rising star Andrea Belotti, also 23, with Kane at the top on 19 so far this term.
You judge a man by the company he keeps, and Kane is rubbing shoulders with the giants in the game so far this year. His 14 goals in all competitions so far in 2017 make him the deadliest striker in European football behind Lionel Messi, surpassing Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette on 12 and two ahead of PSG’s Edinson Cavani, Roma’s Edin Dzeko and Barcelona’s Luis Suarez (11).
On this current trajectory, he can hope to surpass Arsenal legend Thierry Henry in terms of goals pergame: Kane’s 0.64 is inching closer to Henry’s 0.68, and Aguero’s 0.67, and is already better than Manchester United great Ruud van Nistelrooy’s 0.63. Van Nistelrooy is rightly regarded as one of the most clinical finishers England has ever seen. And yet still the “one season wonder” struggles to win over everyone.
This isn’t scientific by any means, but a quick glimpse at football fans on Twitter exemplifies how Kane so fiercely polarises opinion. For every person to argue in Kane’s favour — while acknowledging there’s a wave of opinion against him — there are as many, if not more, eager to claim he’s still not at the level required to command attention.
What’s their problem? Is it Kane’s inability (so far) to make a difference on the world stage? His performances for England were poor at Euro 2016, but when the country’s leading performer was Marcus Rashford, who played a grand total of 21 minutes, it’s rather unfair to single him out for criticism. Kane’s time on the world stage will come if he continues scoring at this extraordinary rate.
So is it Kane’s record in big games? Well, that’s nonsense too. As the man upon which so much rests at Tottenham, Kane is responsible for coming up trumps in big matches — and while everyone has their idea of what is big and what isn’t, a fair indicator would be his record in London derbies. He’s the most prolific striker in London derby history in the Premier League, a record of 18 goals in 23 games (0.78 per game) beating that man Henry (0.73) again.
Is it how Kane looks and talks? You don’t have to search far for some people to weirdly claim Kane doesn’t “look” or sound like a typical footballer. It’s such a preposterous thing to say that it doesn’t warrant commenting on for too long, but it’s as close as we can get to explaining why so many people continue to doubt this phenomenon of English football.
While not strictly confined to English football, the loudest jibes often drown out the more nuanced discussion, and there’s a desperate attitude to put down the talents and achievements of players, especially English ones, in this country. Even when Wayne Rooney resembled a footballer and tormented Europe, plenty of people laughed when, for a time (2009-10, his most prolific of his career) you could have made a case for the Manchester United striker being top of the list behind the stellar talents of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Kane is the leading contender to win the Golden Boot (as the Premier League’s top scorer) for a second time running this season. And, much like his heavyweight compatriot Haye last Saturday night, those who continue to doubt him don’t have much of a leg to stand on.