Forget the sniggering and sniping from jealous opposition fans, Harry Kane’s sensational season at Spurs is worth an awful lot of credit. Having nudged his Premier League goalscoring tally up to 30 goals in 2017/18 he heads off to Russia in great form and sporting the captain’s armband.
While the betting on the World Cup with williamhill.com et al puts England at seventh favourites to succeed the summer, the prospects for Gareth Southgate surely rest in the shooting boots of Kane. So, what chance does he stand of taking a Gary Lineker-style starring role in Russia?
At White Hart Lane – and Wembley – we’ve become accustomed to relying on the likeable 24-year-old to deliver, whether it’s in the Champions League, North London derbies, top six clashes or tough slogs against relegation-threatened battlers. At international level, however, it’s fair to say that some fans aren’t quite as convinced. That probably rests on a largely-forgettable display in the ill-fated European Championships two years ago. Yet, there is hope that it will be different this time around – and that’s not just the optimism of a fan with the blinkers on.
For starters, Gareth Southgate is showing little sign of descending into the ‘Kane on corners’ madness that gripped Roy Hodgson. The team has shown signs of adopting a more solid structure and – in Alli, Trippier, Dier and Walker there are familiar faces to tee Kane up. He’s also probably less exhausted than he was in 2016 too, having fully recovered from injury in March.
Kane’s incredible recent record comes from his opportunistic eye for goal, something that shines through when you consider that he had more shots on target than anyone else in the Premier League last season. Some might feel that this isn’t suited to the realms of international football, where chances can be fewer and farther between. However, this England vintage are pretty comfortable on the ball and should dominate against Tunisia and Panama, perfect games for the skipper to get up and running. Clever running from the likes of Sterling and Alli could easily allow Kane to roam into shooting positions too.
Then there’s the issue of the captaincy. While it’s an issue that we obsess over a little too much in this country, there’s are always going to be those who fret that the burden will weigh too heavily on the player sporting the armband, and that their performances might dip as a result.
Those fears appear unfounded for two reasons. Firstly, Kane has taken to the captaincy with great relish so far. His England form has been excellent in recent games, with eight goals in his last seven caps and no sign of a dip in quality as a result of his new role. Secondly, the captaincy appears to actually have a positive impact on England goalscorers, despite what you might think. The i looked at the records of Wayne Rooney, Alan Shearer, Gary Lineker and Kevin Keegan. It found that the goal scoring ratios actually increased for Rooney (up 43 per cent), Keegan (39 per cent) and Shearer (25 per cent) in games in which they were captain. While Lineker’s ratio fell, the drop was only sleight (from 0.6 goals a game to 0.55) and he still netted an impressive 10 goals in 18 games as captain.
If that trend continues – and early evidence suggests it might – then we can expect Kane to revel in the role of captain at this tournament.
It remains to be seen just how far this England side can go. If they can avoid a slow start and make the most of winnable group games, there’s every chance that they could at least book a quarter final spot against Brazil or Germany. If he starts at least five games at the tournament, those 16/1 golden boot odds start to look tempting don’t they?
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