The incredible rise of Harry Kane was one of the stories of the 2014-15 season. FourFourTwo's James Maw met the Tottenham striker to find out exactly how it all happened...
“It was Michael Duff, I think.”
The fact that Harry Kane isn’t entirely sure which Burnley defender left him with a black eye on the day of his FourFourTwo cover shoot tells you everything you need to know about his attitude. No matter what’s thrown at him – rejection, abuse, flailing arms – he just gets on with it.
“Sometimes in the heat of the battle you get a knock here, a kick there – that’s part of football,” he shrugs as he settles down in a quiet corner of a bustling studio in London’s hipster-friendly Haggerston. “If you come off the pitch with a few bruises after a hard-fought win, you really feel you earned it.”
‘Earning it’ is something Kane has had to do. Although his upward trajectory in the last year has been steeper than anybody could have imagined, this is no boy wonder story in the mould of Michael Owen or Wayne Rooney. At the age Kane scored his first Premier League goal on his ninth top-flight appearance (20 years and 253 days), Owen had scored 50 goals in 98 league matches, Rooney 42 in 132.
It’s not come easy for me. I’ve probably had to work harder than most to get where I am. I think other fans and other professionals appreciate that
Unlike Liverpool and Everton, Tottenham didn’t have a recent history of bringing through local youngsters into the first team. In the last 15 years, only Ledley King has come through Spurs’ academy and made 100 senior appearances for the club.
“It’s not come easy for me,” the 21-year-old Kane says with the kind of authority you don’t often associate with players so young. “I’ve probably had to work harder than most to get where I am. I think other fans and other professionals appreciate that.”
“My aim was just to try to get as many games as I could”
It is nearly four years since Kane made his senior debut for his local club, but it was only in 2014/15 that he was afforded the opportunity to play regular Premier League football.
Since then, he has won Tottenham matches against hated rivals Chelsea and Arsenal, become the first Spurs player since Gary Lineker to net 30 goals in a season, taken the captain’s armband and netted in the first 79 seconds of his England debut. Oh, and he’s played in goal.
But did he see anything like this coming back at the start of last season? “I never really set myself specific goals or targets,” he says. “My aim was just to try to get as many games as I could in the Premier League. There was excitement at the club with the new manager [Mauricio Pochettino] coming in.
"We saw that his philosophy at Southampton was to bring through young players. I’d had a good end to the previous season, so I was really looking forward to what was ahead.
“I didn’t sit and think: ‘This is the season I want to become first-choice striker’. If you do that, you put too much pressure on yourself. I knew I’d have to work hard just to get my chance, then see what I could do with it. Obviously what’s happened has been a dream.”
In the space of little over 12 months, Kane has gone from being a fringe player at a club struggling to adapt to life under a new manager, to one of the most talked-about players in Europe.
In January, Spanish daily Marca profiled Kane, speculating he could be the next Spurs star to walk the well-worn trail from White Hart Lane to Real Madrid; then in March, reports in Italy suggested Juventus were monitoring the progress of the Chingford goal-machine.
“That’s just football these days,” Kane says of his new-found status as a global headline-generating phenomenon. “It’s a bit strange to think about people in places like Spain and Italy talking about me, but the Premier League is such a worldwide league that it’s just what you expect. I try not to read what people are writing about me anyway.”
It’s a bit strange to think about people in places like Spain and Italy talking about me, but the Premier League is such a worldwide league that it’s just what you expect. I try not to read what people are writing about me anyway
Try as he might to ignore the hype, Kane’s world has changed dramatically since the start of last season. “The biggest difference has been getting recognised everywhere,” he says with apparent disbelief. “When I’m at the supermarket, if I’m out for a meal with my girlfriend, walking down the street – it happens pretty much every time I leave the house.”
And Harry isn’t the only Kane now turning heads as he goes about his daily business. His older brother, Charlie, tells FFT he has been collared by strangers who think he’s Tottenham’s new hero. “He loves it,” Harry chuckles, giving a little wink to his sibling sat across the table. “I don’t think we look alike, but a lot of people seem to.” “I’m the better-looking one,” Charlie volleys back, before turning his attention to his phone.
Kane will have grown accustomed to positive feedback in the last few months. There’s been whole-hearted commendation from legendary pros, including Alan Shearer, Gianluigi Buffon and Paul Scholes (“praise from guys like that can only give you confidence”), and celebrity endorsement from Alan Sugar, One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson and even Hollywood stars – as Harry’s agent, Marlon Fleischman, explains: “When we were at Wembley for the [Capital One] Cup final, Jude Law recognised the family and came over from the next box to say hello and tell us what a massive fan he is of Harry.” Then there’s the almost unfettered adulation from the White Hart Lane faithful. There has been no shortage of kind words.
“Fans recognise Kane as someone who looks, acts and talks like them”
Initial views of Kane weren’t all quite so gushing. “I didn’t really rate him, from what we’d seen of him,” says Martin Cloake, a member of the Spurs Supporters’ Trust, speaking here in his capacity as a fan since 1978. “I knew he was being talked of as a prospect, but I remember going to Brighton’s stadium a few years back to see him play for England Under-17s against Denmark and thinking, ‘This lad’s never going to make it’.”
He wasn’t alone. “At first, Harry Kane seemed like any number of strikers that had come through our youth team – average,” sighs Spurs fan Gary Flavell, host of the popular Fighting Cock podcast.
“He was Lee Barnard, Paul McVeigh, Cameron Lancaster. Nothing about his loan spells or his fleeting appearances in the Europa League gave any indication of what was to come. Most would be lying if they claim they foresaw his ability from the little we’d seen from him.”
His loan spell at Norwich didn’t draw rave reviews, either. “He wasn’t great,” says Canaries season ticket holder Matt Wallace of Kane’s time at Carrow Road. “He generally struggled to do anything with the ball, and never looked a goal threat in any way, shape or form.”
The story was similar during a stint at Leicester. “It’s safe to say he didn’t particularly enjoy his time with us,” adds Foxes fan Tom Maybury. “And the harsh truth is that we didn’t enjoy watching him much either. It just didn’t work out. In his defence, he was shifted out of position onto the left wing, but it didn’t help that his hold-up play and first touch were poor.”
He was Lee Barnard, Paul McVeigh, Cameron Lancaster. Nothing about his loan spells or his fleeting appearances in the Europa League gave any indication of what was to come. Most would be lying if they claim they foresaw his ability from the little we’d seen from him
As far as Spurs fans are concerned, Kane’s startling subsequent upsurge couldn’t have been better timed. With Gareth Bale in Madrid and the team failing to set pulses racing, the club was lurching into a malaise. Andre Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood had come and gone, Pochettino was initially struggling to impart his tactical wisdom on his new charges, and there was growing discord between the club and fans. The high turnover of players – not to mention managers – meant Tottenham were, as a team and as a club, searching for a clear personality and image.
“Over the last few seasons at Spurs it’s been difficult to identify with any player that strongly,” explains Cloake. “But Kane is recognised – particularly by younger fans – as someone who looks, acts and talks like them, and does what they would love to do.”
"He’s a complete striker, a good team-mate and a great guy"
It could be argued the affection for Kane now already outweighs that for Bale, Luka Modric, David Ginola, Jurgen Klinsmann or any other Spurs superstar of the past two decades.
Fans have worn Kane masks at Wembley (“strange, but flattering“), photoshopped pictures of Kane as Jesus (“I don’t know who made them, but they’re quite amusing”) and sung with unrestrained passion that he is ‘one of their own’ (“I’ve never sung it myself, but I’ve hummed it walking out of the stadium to my car”). It’s already a near-religious obsession.
“The strangest request I’ve had from a fan has been to sign body parts,” Kane says, adding, quickly enough to deny FFT the chance to make a smutty joke, that he specifically means hands and arms. “I don’t really understand it – surely it’ll just wash away? Hopefully they aren’t getting them tattooed on!” Well...
I haven’t actually seen any Harry Kane tattoos yet. I’d feel very privileged. It would be a bit strange, but if somebody wants to do it, they should go for it
“I haven’t actually seen any Harry Kane tattoos yet,” the 21-year-old adds before falling into fits of laughter when FFT asks how he’d react if he saw his face inked onto the chest of a deranged megafan. “I’d feel very privileged,” he smirks. “It would be a bit strange, but if somebody wants to do it, they should go for it.”
His team-mates love him, too. “He’s a complete striker, a good team-mate and a great guy,” says winger Nacer Chadli. “He’s strong on the ball, good in the air, a great finisher and dangerous from the edge of the box. He helps the other players, too; he helps defensively, plays good passes and can hold up the ball.
“Before I came to Tottenham I hadn’t heard of him,” the Belgian admits. “As soon as I started to train with him, I could see he had a lot of quality – he just had to show it in matches. Now everybody knows him.”
Having played in goal, Kane knows what keepers don’t like in a striker
Kane leans back, recalling his earliest memory of kicking a ball. “We used to go over to the park behind our house and play between two trees,” he says with a wistful smile.
“Charlie would stick me in goal and take shots at me for hours. I was quite good in goal as a kid. At Ridgeway Rovers [where Kane played between the ages of six and 11] I was originally tried out as a goalkeeper – not for long, but I loved throwing myself about.”
He was a decent keeper. But you could see even then that he also had what it took to be a striker. His heart wasn’t really in goalkeeping, probably. We’d get the goalkeepers in pairs taking it in turns to serve and keep goal. Harry loved serving, because it meant he had the chance to shoot and score
Although the young Kane never played a competitive match as a goalkeeper, he would still spend training time in nets during his now-notorious season-long spell with Arsenal as a seven-year-old. Tottenham’s homegrown hero was in their academy for less than 12 months, but naturally that was long enough for him to be pictured in the famous red shirt, as anybody who has glanced at a tabloid newspaper or logged onto Twitter in the last twelve months will testify.
“He was a decent keeper,” recalls Alex Welsh, who was an academy coach with the Gunners back in 2003. “But you could see even then that he also had what it took to be a striker. His heart wasn’t really in goalkeeping, probably. We’d get the goalkeepers in pairs taking it in turns to serve and keep goal. Harry loved serving, because it meant he had the chance to shoot and score.”
His lust for rippling nets didn’t do him any favours when he had to don the gloves in a competitive match back in October 2014. “It was unstoppable,” Kane jokes with a rueful expression, recalling the free-kick that squirmed under his body as he filled in for the dismissed Hugo Lloris in a Europa League win over Asteras Tripolis. “My mind was racing; I probably thought about it too much. If I’d been the defender on the line I would’ve just controlled it with one touch and hoofed it clear with another. I still think I’m a good keeper, but I don’t think I’ll be trusted again. I’ve had my dream shattered, there.”
Although Kane’s youthful dalliance with the gloves didn’t help him to keep out a tame free-kick at one end, it may have helped him bag the hat-trick at the other that saw him collect the matchball in that game. “A striker who has been a goalkeeper can see things from the goalie’s perspective,” Welsh explains.
“They know what the keeper likes and doesn’t like. He learned that a keeper doesn’t like a striker who can find space away from defenders; who knows where the ball will drop and is always there; who shoots while the keeper is off-balance.”
Dave Bricknell, former chairman and coach of Ridgeway Rovers, confirms Kane was a handy stopper, but explains that was never the youngster’s true calling: “He was a natural goalscorer, and for a kid of his age he could hit a ball really well. His age group was very strong, but Harry stood out.”
Obviously, since he’s starting banging in Premier League goals I’m more than happy to tell people I played with him. We went to different schools, so I also played against him in a local schools cup final. He didn’t score, so now I tell people I marked an England striker out of a game!
One of Harry’s old Ridgeway team-mates remembers him well. “Obviously, since he’s starting banging in Premier League goals I’m more than happy to tell people I played with him,” says Craig Rodhouse, who lined up alongside Kane at Ridgeway from the age of six. “We went to different schools, so I also played against him in a local schools cup final. He didn’t score, so now I tell people I marked an England striker out of a game!
“When we started out at Ridgeway, he played in midfield, and you could tell he was talented,” Rodhouse adds.
“He scored directly from a corner in our first ever match at the age of six, so he introduced himself pretty early on!”
If this all sounds like misty-eyed revisionism, Rodhouse isn’t just speaking from hazy recollections of his childhood.
“A couple of weeks ago, my dad fished out a pair of videos of our matches from that time,” he explains. “Even at that age, Harry understood the game. At six or seven he probably had the footballing brain of a 15-year-old.”
“Every time I went on loan, I was still thinking I’d come back and be a Spurs player”
That advanced football mind was something that made Kane stand out. In fact, it was one of the things that earned him his place at Tottenham’s academy.
“What he’s doing in the Premier League today is exactly what he was doing at the age of 10,” says Mark O’Toole, formerly a youth scout for Tottenham, now working for the national team of the Republic of Ireland. “He always had a great football brain.”
O’Toole is the man Spurs fans can thank for taking Kane to White Hart Lane, having closely monitored the youngster. “I watched Harry – at Ridgeway Rovers and five-a-sides all over the place – over the course of about a year,” O’Toole explains. “After 12 months, I went to Tottenham and told them I had a boy I wanted to bring in for a trial. About six weeks later he was signed on.”
An 11-year-old Kane joined Spurs in 2004, after a two-month spell at Watford. Having seemingly been head and shoulders above most of his team-mates at Ridgeway, he found it more difficult to stand out once he arrived at the Lane.
While he always had ability, he wasn’t one of the exceptional or standout players of his age group. What was always evident about Harry was how hard a worker he was on and off the pitch. He was obsessive about the game, and that dedication can help to get you to a certain level – coupled with decent ability, of course
“I first saw Harry play in about 2005, early in my time in my development role at Tottenham,” current QPR manager Chris Ramsey tells FFT. “While he always had ability, he wasn’t one of the exceptional or standout players of his age group.
“What was always evident about Harry was how hard a worker he was on and off the pitch. He was obsessive about the game, and that dedication can help to get you to a certain level – coupled with decent ability, of course.
“It was about five years ago,” Ramsey continues, “that those of us in the development setup really started to think Harry had a chance of making the breakthrough. Naturally, you’d sometimes look at the first team and think ‘if so-and-so is getting games, then this kid deserves his chance’. We started to think that about Harry.”
The youngster was also starting to impress Tottenham’s senior pros, thanks in no small part to scoring 18 goals in 22 matches for the club’s under-18 side in 2009/10.
“We could see from an early stage that Harry was a great finisher,” former Spurs defender Michael Dawson tells FFT. “When the reserves won, we’d all be asking: ‘How many did Harry get this week?’ We knew he could step up – he just needed a chance in the first team.”
But for a long time, those chances were few and far between. Having been impressed by the striker’s performances during a spell on loan at Leyton Orient the previous season, Harry Redknapp gave Kane his Spurs debut in the second leg of a Europa League play-off against Hearts in August 2011. Kane saw a tame penalty easily saved by visiting keeper Jamie MacDonald, spurning the chance to make the best possible first impression.
We could see from an early stage that Harry was a great finisher. When the reserves won, we’d all be asking: ‘How many did Harry get this week?’ We knew he could step up – he just needed a chance in the first team
He eventually did net his first senior goal for the club when he bundled home in a 4-0 win away at Shamrock Rovers four months later, but within three weeks he had been sent out on loan for a second time, this time to Millwall.
He impressed again, scoring nine goals and winning the Lions’ Young Player of the Year award for 2011/12, before returning to North London with the aim of impressing new boss Andre Villas-Boas. Things looked up when the Portuguese announced he “believed in” Kane and would make the 19-year-old his third-choice striker. Yet, days later, the former Chelsea and Porto coach signed Emmanuel Adebayor and Clint Dempsey, farming Kane out on loan to top-flight companions Norwich.
"That time taught me how to cope with sitting on the bench"
This time, things didn’t go so well. “I broke my fifth metatarsal a few weeks into my loan spell, went back to Spurs for treatment and never really worked my way back into the first team,” Kane recalls. He made five appearances for the Canaries without scoring. His first big chance to prove himself at Premier League level had been and gone. And things weren’t about to get easier anytime soon.
Again Villas-Boas hailed Kane as his ‘third-choice’ striker, and again he soon sent him out on loan – this time to Leicester in the Championship. “I found it tough there, too,” Kane says of his time at the King Power Stadium. “I played a few games out of position when the team was struggling for form, then ended up on the bench not really getting many minutes.
“But those experiences made me who I am now. Apart from anything else, that time taught me how to cope with sitting on the bench when you think you should be playing. I would watch the game, thinking what I could be doing differently to the players on the pitch. Then, whenever I was called upon, I was always ready to make an impact, even if it was only for the last five or 10 minutes.”
That was probably just as well, as for a long time Kane’s only Premier League appearances were brief cameos from the bench. This caused ructions within the White Hart Lane hierarchy. “Harry played first-team matches for Harry Redknapp and Andre Villas-Boas, but he needed the support of the development department,” claims Chris Ramsey. “Tim [Sherwood] and Les [Ferdinand] pretty much had those managers in a headlock to get Harry and the other youngsters into the first team!”
Kane laughs upon being read that statement. “Chris likes to have a laugh and a joke, so I’m sure it wasn’t quite as bad as it sounds,” he says, smiling. “I always had a good relationship with Tim, Les and Chris. They’d always watch my matches to see how I was getting on, whichever club I was playing for. They’d tell me I had to keep doing what I was doing and I’d get to where I wanted to be.”
“It’s true that there were clubs interested in taking Harry on loan in the second half of 2013/14,” Ramsey reveals. “To be fair to the boy, at that time you’d have had to drag him out of the club to get him anywhere else; he knew his level and the players we had at the time and thought ‘I deserve to be picked’. That’s not arrogance – Harry is very down to earth – but he is also confident in his ability, and rightly so.”
"Sat on the bench I could hear the fans singing my name - it sent a shiver down my spine"
Despite having such a battle on his hands to cement a regular starting spot, Kane never felt a move was his only option. “There wasn’t really ever a moment I thought I’d have to leave,” he says with a shrug.
“Every time I went out on loan it was always with the mindset that I’d come back and be a Tottenham Hotspur player. When I came back from Leicester, I had almost a year working hard in training, trying to impress, before I got my chance with Tim [Sherwood]. I took it and I’ve not looked back.”
In the early weeks of 2014/15, there were few signs the story would be any different. Kane was once again starting league matches on the bench, despite impressing in cup games.
There wasn’t really ever a moment I thought I’d have to leave. Every time I went out on loan it was always with the mindset that I’d come back and be a Tottenham Hotspur player. When I came back from Leicester, I had almost a year working hard in training, trying to impress, before I got my chance with Tim [Sherwood]. I took it and I’ve not looked back
On the opening day, he came off the bench to set up Eric Dier’s last-minute winner at West Ham, delicately slotting his team-mate in on goal with the Hammers’ defence lagging. Despite that one moment constituting a more notable contribution to the match than anything Emmanuel Adebayor mustered in his 83 minutes on the field, it was the Togolese striker who started again when QPR visited White Hart Lane a week later.
Kane started all seven of Spurs’ Europa League and cup matches through to the end of last October, scoring eight goals, but not even that – or growing media and fan pressure – was enough to convince Pochettino that Kane should start at Villa Park on November 2.
Kane did what he had learned to do best – he waited. He watched as Adebayor and Roberto Soldado wasted chances and drifted out of the match. The away end made their preference clear. “He’s one of our own, he’s one of our own, Harry Kane, he’s one of our own.”
Pochettino was listening, and so was Kane: “I could hear it from the bench and it sent a shiver down my spine.” With 32 minutes remaining and Spurs trailing 1-0, Kane was thrown into battle. Villa were tiring, and Kane’s energy and enthusiasm caused them problems.
Chadli levelled with six minutes remaining, sweeping home Erik Lamela’s inswinging corner, before Carlos Sanchez fouled Andros Townsend on the edge of the Villa box in the first minute of injury time. Kane and £30m Argentina international Lamela stood over the free-kick. The local boy pulled rank on the big-money superstar, powering in the set-piece via a deflection off the top of the wall. Cue wild celebrations and a mass pile-on, which Kane confesses “really hurt until adrenaline took over”.
“The game at Villa Park was definitely a turning point,” he reflects. “Before that, I’d been showing what I could do in the Europa League and League Cup games, but coming on in the Premier League and scoring the winning goal in injury time was a statement: I was ready. I’ve started every league game since – touch wood [Kane taps the table in front of him] – so I certainly made the most of my chance!”
Like Bale, Kane put in the hard yards after training
The ‘knuckle ball’ technique Kane used to strike through the dead ball was reminiscent of a certain former team-mate. “Gareth Bale is a very good free-kick taker, and he practised that a lot,” Kane explains. “I used to see him doing it in training and thought I’d try it out. I looked up to him when he was at Spurs – being able to learn from someone like that in training is only going to help you.”
So has the Real Madrid man been on the blower in an attempt to coax Kane to the Bernabeu? “No, no, of course not,” Kane blushes, breaking out the straight bat. “I actually haven’t spoken to him in a while. We used to play golf together every now and then. It’d certainly be nice to see him again.”
Kane may not want to talk about it, but few players who have a streak as hot as his avoid admiring glances from the game’s superclubs. After all, although he shared only 14 minutes of competitive pitch time with Bale, there are plenty of comparisons to be drawn between the pair. Both are quiet young men who initially struggled to impress at Spurs, spending time on the fringes before suddenly making a startling impact. Even Kane’s approach to training appears similar to that of the Welshman, who reached his full potential by not only ‘bulking up’ but also by putting in the hard yards on the training pitch after hours.
Gareth Bale is a very good free-kick taker, and he practised that a lot. I used to see him doing it in training and thought I’d try it out. I looked up to him when he was at Spurs – being able to learn from someone like that in training is only going to help you
“I stay behind after training to work on my finishing and practise for match situations,” says Kane. “I think that’s why you’ve seen me score every different type of goal – inside the box, outside the box, headers, left foot, right foot – because I’ve worked hard to make that happen. I still don’t think of myself as a top player.
"There’s still room for me to improve and my mindset is to keep trying to do that. There are always more goals you can score and more wins the team can get. The moment you think you’ve reached the top, somebody else will come along and overtake you. I always want to try and be better.
“The main thing I want to work on now is the physical element. I want to get as fit and as fast and as powerful as I can.
"In pre-season, we worked a lot on my fitness, speed and strength, and it’s obviously helped me – a lot of people have come up to me and said how different I look to two years ago!”
That physical edge has certainly come in handy. It has allowed Kane to shine from the first minute to the last in traditionally draining and fractious fixtures.
“The Chelsea and Arsenal games were my best two performances of the season,” Kane chirps, proudly. “Chelsea was probably our best team performance as well. I’ve had a few good days, but to score twice against a team like Chelsea and beat them in the way we did [5-3] was very special.”
"Someone did show me the clip of him saying that he’d never heard of me"
Moments such as those will give any striker a boost, and Kane is certainly a young man comfortable in his own skin. FFT noted the confidence with which he strode into the room, which was incongruous with our perceptions of him as a shy lad still getting used to his new surroundings.
He knows he’s good, and that’s not bad. After all, confidence for a striker is everything. “I wouldn’t say I expect to score every time I go on the pitch, but I’m disappointed if I don’t,” he admits.
There’ll always be games where you don’t score and the key is how you respond to that the following week. That’s been something I’ve done well; if I’ve gone two or three games without scoring, I’ve been able to eventually get a goal and then get another little run going
“There’ll always be games where you don’t score and the key is how you respond to that the following week. That’s been something I’ve done well; if I’ve gone two or three games without scoring, I’ve been able to eventually get a goal and then get another little run going.”
Kane was on one of those little runs going into February’s North London derby – so much so that his brace in a 2-1 win felt almost inevitable. He’d become not only the Premier League’s hot topic, but also its hottest striker. The run-up to the game had been dominated by talk of a new Spurs hero with a past at the other end of the Seven Sisters Road. One curiously-dressed Arsenal fan on a bizarrely popular YouTube channel sought to kill the hype dead a week before the match by claiming he hadn’t even heard of Tottenham’s No.18.
“Someone did show me the clip of him saying that he’d never heard of me, actually – Whose name is Harry Kane?’ – and then his reaction after I scored the winner,” Kane grins. “That was a pretty sweet feeling!”
In 2015, Kane has scored against Arsenal, West Ham, Chelsea, Crystal Palace and QPR – all of the Premier League’s other London clubs. “I’m not too sure why – I just like a local derby. Scoring against your local rivals is the best feeling. That’s why those games have been the highlight of my season in a Spurs shirt.”
FFT, with the scent of ballot boxes in its nostrils, floats the idea that, having conquered all four corners of the capital, the youngster may one day consider running for Mayor of London: “I don’t think the Arsenal, Chelsea or West Ham fans would be too happy about voting for me,” comes the deadpan reply.
For Harry, England and Greg Dyke
Kane Fever reached pandemic levels in the run-up to April’s international between England and Lithuania. “I knew there was a lot of talk about me getting the call-up, but I wouldn’t say I expected it,” Kane says in typically understated fashion, recalling his first involvement with England’s senior team.
“I was with Pochettino at the time the FA phoned, which made it that little more special. I didn’t really jump about or go mad; we just had a quick hug and he told me he was proud of me and that I deserved it. I wanted to meet up with the squad and make an impact, and that’s exactly what I managed to do.”
Eventually, at least. With Kane stripped and ready for action, he just needed the game to be stopped so he could be subbed on. The ball didn’t go out of play for a further five minutes. All Kane could do was watch. It must have felt like a lifetime. “It made me a bit more anxious than I normally would’ve been,” the striker laughs. “But things happen for a reason – if I’d got on straight away, maybe I wouldn’t have scored so quickly. But at the time I was just hoping someone would just smash the ball out!
“It was the most emotional moment of the whole year. To represent your national side is what any young player dreams of doing; to do that and score as well made it an incredible night for me and my family.”
If Kane needed help coping with the sudden increase in pressure that comes with being England’s new star striker, he was in the right dressing room. Wayne Rooney may now be England’s captain and most experienced player, but he was once the wide-eyed, wet-eared pup of the group.
It was the most emotional moment of the whole year. To represent your national side is what any young player dreams of doing; to do that and score as well made it an incredible night for me and my family
“He’s a top professional and a really down-to-earth guy,” Kane beams with the enthusiasm you’d expect from a young man now able to call a boyhood idol a colleague. “You can tell he just loves football. He’s a great captain and he looks after the lads when they need help.
"I think he was excited to see me as much as I was to see him. He welcomed me into the squad; he knows what it’s like to be the young striker coming through, so it was good to have him there, giving me tips. The main thing he said was to not let things away from football distract me.”
As chummy as they may be now, Kane is already gunning for Rooney’s spot atop England’s all-time scorers chart. “Yeah, why not? If you’re playing well and playing regularly for your country, you want to be scoring goals. But there’s a long way to go. I don’t like to think about things like that. Hopefully one day I’ll be a little closer, and then we can talk about it!
“Any top striker wants to play for their country and lead the line. We’ve got a lot of competition for that place in England, and that’s a good thing. It’s motivation.”
But if the opening moments of Kane’s debut brought joy, the first few minutes of his second appearance – a friendly against Italy – brought nothing but pain. With the ball barely off the centre spot, Juventus defender and notorious swine Giorgio Chiellini went through the back of the England rookie like a freight train.
“I don’t think he meant it,” Kane says, before momentarily pausing to reconsider his defence of the rugged Pisa-born centre-back. “Well, OK, maybe he did, but I think it’s a sign of respect in a way – it showed me that he was ready for a good test. We had a good tussle, then shook hands afterwards. To be in that situation against one of the best defenders in the world can only help me develop.”
The birth of a poster boy
If I can be an inspiration to young kids coming through, or help them get their chance, that’s great for the game and the country. But that’s down to other clubs – it’s certainly not any more pressure on me. At Tottenham, [the young players] have shown we’re good players and we deserve to be out there playing
Having gone from Tottenham’s bench to England’s forward line, Kane’s journey to the top was suddenly a story in itself. Greg Dyke highlighted Kane’s earlier struggles in order to strengthen his claim that the maximum number of non-homegrown players in a club’s first team squad should be reduced from 17 to 13.
“Harry is an interesting case,” the FA chairman said. “Suddenly an English kid, who it was touch and go with as to whether he’d get in [Tottenham’s] first team, is the top scorer in English football. How many more Harry Kanes are out there who just can’t get a game?”
Kane was suddenly a pawn in a political game – not that he was too bothered. “If I can be an inspiration to young kids coming through, or help them get their chance, that’s great for the game and the country,” Kane shrugs. “But that’s down to other clubs – it’s certainly not any more pressure on me. At Tottenham, [the young players] have shown we’re good players and we deserve to be out there playing.
“Obviously the manager’s been great and given us the opportunity to play, and we’ve paid him back with the way we’ve performed. It shows that you don’t always have to buy players to get what you want; sometimes other players just need to get a chance.”
The big question is: how can Tottenham’s local hero, England’s new hope and the FA’s new poster boy avoid fading away in 2016? “I can’t ever stop trying to improve,” he says, sternly. “I’ve had a great season, but there are always bigger and better things out there. We want to push for the Champions League, and we want to win a trophy. It’s been a great year for me, but you’ve got to look to go one step further.
“Defenders are getting a bit tighter on me now, and maybe there’s a defensive midfielder screening in front of me too. You could see there was quite a big difference in Chelsea’s game plan between our league game at White Hart Lane and the League Cup final. Did they do that specifically with me in mind? Maybe.” At that thought, Kane raises an eyebrow and breaks into a knowing smirk.
Whether it’s opposition managers like Jose Mourinho, England coach Roy Hodgson, FA Chairman Greg Dyke, fans of Tottenham, the people of England, the world’s media or terrified opposition centre-backs, all eyes are on Harry Kane. He can probably expect a few more knocks and bruises over the next 12 months – a small price to pay for now being the most in-demand player in the country.
Portraits: Shamil Tanna
This feature originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of FourFourTwo magazine. Subscribe!