It’s often been the punchline of many a joke thrown at Tottenham Hotspur and their fans; we are the ‘Harry Kane team’, as Pep Guardiola infamously expressed in a press conference back in October 2017.
‘No-one else at Spurs would get anywhere near our team’, the City, United, Liverpool, and Chelsea fans used to say.
Kane was at the peak of his goalscoring powers at that time, so often the driving force behind Spurs and their ambitions to not only play regular Champions League football, but also challenge for the Premier League title.
In the years following that Guardiola jibe, Tottenham’s dependency on Kane has only increased – he is now not only the team’s talismanic striker, he is also creator-in-chief following the departure of Christian Eriksen to Inter Milan in January 2020. It’s been a lot to shoulder for the England captain and, to his credit, he has continued to deliver.
But there is now a seemingly fatal flaw to Harry Kane that transcends his own elite ability, an Achilles heel to his game that he often struggles to function well without – Son Heung-Min.
This is why, in my opinion, Son has overtaken Kane as Tottenham’s most important player.
How have I come to that conclusion, I hear you ask. Well, let me explain.
After joining Spurs for £22m in 2015, Son had a difficult first season with the club. Despite reservations about whether he could make it in the Premier League, he chose to fight on and prove himself – and in the five seasons that have followed, he has scored over 100 goals in all competitions.
His fighting spirit and never-say-die attitude has elevated him to a level as one of the best forwards in the world, scoring crucial goals at key moments for Tottenham both in the Premier League and during their unlikely run to the Champions League final.
More recently, Son continues to demonstrate his commitment to the club in paying back the faith shown in him during that difficult first season.
“It was already a big honour to play here for six years, the club have showed me massive, massive respect and obviously I’m very happy to be here,” he commented after signing a new four-year deal with Tottenham in July.
He has also repeated his desire to win something with Spurs; something that Kane himself has (until recently) continued to refer to as a source of motivation.
Son’s future looks set in North London for the long term though, whereas the exit door for Kane still remains ajar next summer after the ‘gentleman’s agreement’ that never was.
Kane may have been the star of the show in previous seasons, but with his future at Tottenham still very much up in the air, his previously unarguable importance to the team has taken a knock as the club start to consider what life could be like after he leaves. Stay or leave, the fans’ admiration for him has been dented somewhat over the summer.
On the pitch, the telepathy between Son and Kane is clear for all to see. Kane picks the ball up, plays *that* pass to Son around the defensive backline and he’s through on goal. It’s a goalscoring method that worked so fluidly last season with opposing teams still struggling to prevent it despite its inevitability.
It can’t be ignored that Tottenham’s reliance on their now two star men is damning – since the start of last season, own goals are Spurs’ top scorer in the Premier League outside of Kane, Son and the previously on loan Gareth Bale.
Before the recent win at Wolves, it had been nearly two years since Spurs won a Premier League game without a goal from Kane, Son or an own goal. The other attacking players in the squad seem unable to step up to the plate.
But remove Kane from this equation and Son still finds a way to score goals. Remove Son from the same equation, and Kane often looks helplessly unable to influence the game.
The shambolic performance from Spurs without Son at Selhurst Park left Kane isolated and without service, but even when he dropped deep to get involved in the play, he seemed off the pace and it was one of his most disappointing showings in recent memory.
I’m sure there are many examples where Kane has played well without Son, even scored or created goals – but as a general rule it’s Son that steps up in the heat of the moment and drives the team on with vital goals if Kane is out of the side; something the England captain has struggled to replicate when the situation is reversed.
Why is it this way round?
Well, Son’s movement off the ball is second to none and that is what makes him the perfect foil to Kane’s brilliant passing range. It’s his movement that remains even when Kane is not on the pitch, which is perhaps why Son is still able to influence games and deliver positive performances with others providing the ammunition.
Kane without Son is a different story, however.
Despite still dropping deep and getting his head up to play those kinds of passes, Lucas Moura and Steven Bergwijn just don’t offer the same decisive and direct runs behind opposition defences, leaving Kane with no forward passing options and ultimately he is pushed back.
This forces him to try and affect play further up the pitch, often becoming isolated and unable to have the same influence on the game.
His influence as an out-and-out predatory striker seems lower than ever before and this continues to funnel the team into a single style of play, despite the fact he managed to win the Golden Boot last season.
Now don’t get me wrong – Harry Kane is still a world-class player and Tottenham were delighted to keep hold of him in the summer despite Manchester City’s advances.
There is however a debate to be had on whether he is fully committed at Spurs after a controversial summer, but this is a player that will score goals and create chances in almost every game.
His importance to Spurs over the last few years shouldn’t be ignored, but times change and football as a whole moves quickly. Tottenham have stood still when the world around them has moved forward, but that’s another article entirely…
Son’s importance to Tottenham now outweighs that of Kane because of his ability to maintain his all-around performance levels when the partnership is broken and also in part due to his public commitment to the club in signing a new long-term contract.
He has delivered key goals in big games without his strike partner and carried the team to crucial wins in difficult moments, the most notable being his standout performances home & away against Manchester City during the run to the Champions League final.
Kane has been the poster boy of the club for many years, arguably the greatest striker Tottenham fans have seen at the Lane since the late Jimmy Greaves, and so his service should certainly not be overlooked or brushed aside.
But when the partnership is incomplete and the club need a goal, it’s more often than not been Son that has stepped forward in the last couple of seasons as his transition to Spurs’ main man nears completion.
I believe that Kane needs Son more than Son needs Kane, which is why the South Korean can now be labelled Tottenham’s most important player.
He has reaffirmed his long term commitment to the club and single-handedly holds the key to bringing the best performances out of his teammates and, most importantly, Kane.
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