Harry Kane has been an icon for football and Tottenham Hotspur over the years. He’s become synonymous with scoring for fun and winning games for club and country. He’s acquired the reputation of being one of the most famed marksmen of the game. But when he talks about his future at Tottenham being uncertain, eyebrows are bound to be raised.
The background to Kane’s remarks would trouble Spurs fans. The club has been far from its best over the last few months, with the Champions League spot uncertain and the team in need of a major overhaul under Jose Mourinho. Kane’s injury issues have seen him be missing from one-half of the last two seasons and with the England captain now 26, time might be running out for him to lay hands on silverware.
And considering how Spurs’ situation has been over the last few months, they haven’t helped Kane whatsoever. Be it tactically or in terms of their failure to find a proper back-up for him, they’ve been letting Kane down in numerous regards.
The most obvious one comes from Kane’s shooting metric. During Spurs’ greener days under Mauricio Pochettino, Kane enjoyed the best days of his career. In 2017, he was the highest goalscorer of the year and the 2016-17 season had seen him contribute to 36 goals in 30 appearances for Spurs.
That season, Kane had taken 3.9 shots per 90 minutes and two of them would come from inside the penalty area. In the high-pressing system, he had a proper midfield structure behind him. Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama were the ball-winners and distributors and they allowed the team to attack in a fluid way.
The 2017-18 season was even better for Kane, in terms of goalscoring. He scored 30 goals and taking 5.4 shots per 90 minutes was a key aspect of that improvement. While Wanyama’s injury issues had kept him, Dembele formed the foundation of the midfield. Harry Winks had stepped up and while Vincent Jansen’s move had failed, Kane was somehow managing to score at an even better rate despite facing ankle issues.
2018 was the World Cup year and Kane was bound to feel the consequences of playing regularly over the last few seasons. A short-term option in Fernando Llorente was still there, while Dembele went to China in the winter. Wanyama’s injury issues continued and all of a sudden, Spurs weren’t as structured a unit anymore. There were gaps in midfield that teams could exploit and Dembele’s press-resistant nature led to them getting played through midfield a lot of times.
As a result, Spurs forwards had to come deeper to play. They didn’t have the foundation deeper in the pitch to play with freedom. That had a knock-on effect on Kane. He took only 2.8 shots per 90- the least of his career during that time. He took only 3.61 touches in the box per 90 minutes- less than ever. He had to come deeper and get involved in play instead of being the striker who could finish off opportunities at will.
He missed about half the season due to injuries, but somehow kept up a formidable goalscoring rate of 0.51 per 90 minutes. He managed to overperform on his XG by 0.88 and still scored crucial goals for Spurs as Heung Min Son often got a lot of the spotlight. But if not for Kane’s superb performance in Spurs’ 2-1 win over PSV in the group stages of the Champions League, they might not have gone too far.
This season was meant to be one of transition and changes. That didn’t quite happen and led to the departure of Pochettino in November. The way it has happened many times, Kane didn’t have a back-up in his position as Llorente was released. Tanguy Ndombele was signed but his fitness issues were a concern and he’s yet to establish himself as the regular.
Pochettino had been warning the club about a staleness settling into the team that was needed to be corrected. Despite some signings, that issue wasn’t addressed by Daniel Levy. Pochettino was handed a stale squad, with many wanting to leave as a result of incomplete business in the summer.
The first game of the season saw Spurs have a midfield structure for the first time in many months. Ndombele and Christian Eriksen starred. It is no coincidence that Kane’s brace won Spurs the game that day. But overall, the staleness settled in and Spurs’ midfield structured collapsed. This led to a reduction in service and an organisation at the back.
As a result, Kane has been playing much deeper than ever this season before his injury. He’s taken only 2.8 shots per 90 and under Mourinho, he was often used as a false nine to get rid of lack of muscle in midfield. While this was meant to lead to a reduction in output, but Kane has still managed to overperform his XG by a big 3.10.
Despite things not being right around him, he’s managed to grab hold of uncertain situations and carry the club on his shoulder. Without service, he’s still scored a good number of goals for how much he’s played. Ideally, a striker who comes deep will score fewer goals but Kane has managed to keep a very healthy rate of 0.81 per 90 to his name. It shows that he’s very much a world-class performer and despite drawbacks in the team, he’s taking it in his stride.
It can well be said that because of that, Kane has developed one of the most complete strikers in the world. And that has helped England and Gareth Southgate to use him in a Liverpool-like tactical setup.
But it is crucial to note that there’s every chance this overperformance will not last forever. Spurs should know that. The day Kane’s numbers drop due to their own ineptness in the transfer market, they could easily become a midtable team. If he can keep this overperformance up, it will be good for both parties.
But his recent comments show frustration in how the club has dealt in the transfer window. It has led to him playing in areas that might not suit a goalscorer like him. They need to have a midfield that is a foundational rock for attacking players. They need a proper back-up, who takes some of the load off Kane regularly and saves him from consistent injuries. If the 26-year-old ever leaves, Daniel Levy should look at himself in the mirror and know that it is all his fault.