How Harry Kane became a scoring machine
Ahead of the start of the Premier League next month, a look at what makes Harry Kane so successful
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Harry Kane’s first career setback came when he was just nine years old. Having joined Arsenal’s academy when he was 8, Kane was released by the academy in just one year.
So he went off to Watford. After two seasons there, he switched to another London club. Imagine changing three clubs before you reach your teens.
But this time he joined English Premier League football team Tottenham Hotspur, and 99 goals (as a senior player) later, neither the club nor Kane regret the decision.
Nothing, however, has come without adversity for England’s most lethal forward. “I’d like to say he was the gold medallist in the group and that we’d all spot he was going to be the fantastic player—but I’d be lying. He probably wasn’t even on the podium,” former Spurs youth team coach Alex Inglethorpe told the BBC in May last year.
It was clear that while Kane had potential, it was hard to see him building a career on it. But football is hardly just about skill. Football is about character, about determination, about confidence and hard work, and most importantly, the sheer desire to succeed. Kane may not have shown a lot of skill during his early days—what he did show, though, was a mental strength well above his age.
“What came through more than anything else was his determination to succeed. He’s always wanted to make a mark—and from a very early age you could see how driven he was,” his PE (physical education) teacher, Mark Lindon, mentions in the same BBC feature.
This drive would be tested the most between 2011 and 2013, a spell when he was loaned to Leicester City, Norwich City, Millwall and Leyton Orient to prove his worth. During his four loan spells, he returned only 16 goals in 65 combined appearances.
Before being farmed out to the lower leagues, Kane was part of the senior squad on just two occasions in the 2009-10 season. Both times, he didn’t make it off the bench.
His debut in the senior team finally came against Heart of Midlothian in a Europa League match in 2011. He played the full 90 minutes but failed to score in a drab goalless draw. Given that the Spurs had won 5-0 against the same side a few days earlier, it could certainly be deemed a team failure.
Sadly, however, strikers are judged on goals, and Kane had not yet produced anything of note.
His Premier League debut was as unremarkable. It came in the 2012-13 season, as a substitute against Newcastle United in a 2-1 defeat. He just got 5 minutes on the pitch.
All this was happening while Kane was flitting in and out on loan. While Spurs fans knew of his existence as a future talent, Kane seemed to be slowly turning into one of those players who is talked about but never makes it.
Until the 2013-14 season, when he had his first full game in the Premier League—scoring a goal in a 5-0 thumping of Leicester City. He ended the season with three goals in 10 matches. The boy wonder was still just a boy.
The wonder would be seen next season—it was make or break for Kane and he managed to make it. In a stunning turn of fortunes, he ended the 2014-15 season with 31 goals in 51 matches. But Kane was quickly written off as a one-season wonder.
That was never going to happen though. Kane may not be naturally talented—in fact, if you see his style, he doesn't come across as gifted. This was someone whose first sport was mainly cricket when he was young. Someone who, at 6, put his hand up to play as goalkeeper during the annual trials at his youth club before realizing that he was suited to playing up front. Someone who, even now, moves awkwardly before reaching into his head, pulling out a lesson he taught himself and finishing with a flurry.
He was obsessed with correcting his weaknesses—the left foot and his heading skills. He realized his mistakes, worked on them, stayed behind for extra practice and somehow emerged victorious against his own limitations. It's almost as if Kane was meant to be a scientist but learnt to be an artist par excellence, just because he was passionate about the art of scoring goals.
The 23-year-old isn't one to mince words about ambition. He also doesn't pretend that he didn't notice the unfair “one-season wonder” tag.
“There was a lot of talk at the start of the season. It fuelled the fire in my belly to want to prove them wrong and I’ve gone and done that. It doesn’t stop here for me. It’s not a case of, ‘OK, I’m happy where I am.’ I want to go and get more goals, create my chances for the team and do my best for Tottenham Hotspur,” he said after his second consecutive (2015-16) season of scoring more than 25 goals. This was in April 2016, and Kane ended the season with a staggering 28 goals in 50 matches—25 of these came in the Premier League.
He was hardly done though. By the time the 2016-17 season was coming to an end, the choice for Premier League's Golden Boot winner was between Kane and Everton's Romelu Lukaku. Kane was trailing Lukaku by two goals with two games to go.
What happened next characterizes everything about Kane—mostly, of course, his desire to be a winner. Kane smashed four goals in the penultimate match of the season against Leicester to take a two-goal lead in the race against Lukaku.
After the match, he said: “I was looking to score a couple of goals, I was looking to take the Golden Boot into the last game, but now I’m in the driving seat. I'm not resting on my laurels, and I'll go to Hull looking to get four more hopefully.”
And you bet Kane didn't rest on his laurels. He went on and scored a hat-trick in the last game of the season, against Hull City. He ended with 35 goals in 38 matches, and won the Golden Boot despite missing two months of the season due to injury, as his team finished second in the Premiership.
A former senior teammate at Millwall, Alan Dunne, once said of Kane: “I said, ‘Harry, you go near that ball I’m gonna smash you . . ..’ He didn’t look at me. I couldn't get any reaction from him at all.” That’s Kane for you: ice-cold instinct and the relentless ability to demand more from himself. And today’s version isn’t very different from when he was a teenager at Millwall.
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In March 2015, Kane made his England debut and scored within 80 seconds of coming on as a substitute. On 10 and 13 June, the 23-year-old wore the captain’s armband for England in their World Cup qualifier against Scotland and the friendly against France. He scored in both games. With 99 club goals and eight international goals amassed by the age of 23, Kane is well on his way to becoming an English legend.
There is a picture of him with David Beckham at the former England captain’s academy. Kane is almost bald, not even 10 years old, and smiling cheekily at the camera. Just like Beckham, he is now the skipper of his nation and probably the best English striker as well.
Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.