He’s the home-grown poster boy of FA chairman Greg Dyke’s movement to improve the fortunes of the English national side. But at 21 years old, Harry Kane is the late bloomer who sprung to prominence a mere four months ago, and now stands on the eve of his first England start against Italy in Turin.
“Kane will make his full debut from the start,” manager Roy Hodgson confirmed on Monday night. “Wayne Rooney will captain the team. It will be nice to see the two of them on the field together; they’ve been playing well in training. Harry certainly deserves his chance and it’s a great opportunity for players who haven’t been in the Qualifiers to show they deserve their place in the side.”
The 90,000 fans at Wembley who revelled in Kane’s instant impact against Lithuania on Friday unsurprisingly made the headlines – as scoring a mere 79 seconds into your international debut undoubtedly would – but faced with the task of out-muscling Giorgio Chiellini, out-foxing Gianluigi Buffon and feeding off a supply line filled with experimental choices will prove a far bigger test of Kane’s pedigree.
Tuesday night will nonetheless be a time of celebration, not just for Kane, but for all English footballers who have been farmed out into the relative wilderness of lower league football and seen their dream of one day emulating the likes of Charlton, Shearer and Rooney tarnished by a big-money arrival from abroad.
Kane has served his time more than most, wandering on his way from Leyton Orient to Millwall onto Norwich and then Leicester, before finally winding up back at White Hart Lane.
When England defeated Scotland at Celtic Park last November, the Chingford-born forward had registered just the one goal in a season that has now been defined by his meteoric ascent – and that will culminate with him leading the line for England Under-21s in the Czech Republic in June.
For now, he leads the country’s goalscoring charts, with 30 senior goals for club and country, and with Kevin Phillips’ record of being the last home-grown striker to receive the golden boot 15 years ago well in his sights.
And yet, as is the way with any feel-good generator surrounding the national game, there is a bubbling cauldron of fatalism in which to stir a club v country row and dissolve any powder of positivity.
Such is the modern game, Premier League clubs are now bound by post-season tours to places like Malaysia and Australia, and the Spurs star is contracted to be in attendance when his club entertain their global fan base close-up in May.
Indeed, 50,000 tickets have already been sold for the second of the proposed fixtures at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium, many of which would have been bought on the basis of Kane’s inclusion.
Tottenham head coach Mauricio Pochettino expressed his desire for the striker to have at least a month off, but there are less than three weeks following the Sydney FC fixture on May 30 and England Under-21s’ European Championship curtain raiser against Portugal on June18.
After England trained at Tottenham’s impressive training base in Enfield prior to the Lithuania formality, both Under-21s boss Gareth Southgate and Hodgson were given the perfect opportunity to iron out terms that would appease all parties, and that conversation may well have included the notion that utilizing the front man and playing in a meaningless friendly in Kuala Lumpur were in no way the same thing.
This is not to disrespect the club who pays his wages. Indeed, England have seen the wave of optimism that has infused a Spurs side that struggled at the start of the season, and have quite naturally decided they’d like a slice themselves, given the dearth of excitement aroused by such an easy European qualifying campaign.
Whilst Kane is very much now part of Hodgson’s plans, the benefits of being eligible to play tournament football this summer should not be ignored.
Former Chelsea and Republic of Ireland striker Tony Cascarino told Sky Sports about the positive knock-on effects of Southgate being able to call on the Premier League’s leading scorer.
“He could say to the rest of the players, ‘Harry Kane’s turned up. He’s chosen to play with us.’ Imagine the lift that gives to everyone else? All of a sudden, no one has the excuse they can pull out. It’s a great situation to be in, as he has a top player who can bring the group together.”
Kane, who scored eight goals in 10 games for the Under 21s in qualifying, would also gain invaluable tournament experience, such as learning how to handle the boredom of down-time in between fixtures, and the expected scrutiny of being one of the ‘stars to watch’ among fellow professionals of international class.
The Three Lions have a 100% record in qualifying for Euro 2016 in France and former Middlesbrough boss Southgate admits it is a luxury that England must take advantage of.
“Roy and I know that the seniors are in a good group position and he feels that the experience of going to the Czech Republic in the summer will be more beneficial to Harry than the two games he has got,” said Southgate, referring to the qualifier against Slovenia and friendly versus the Republic of Ireland in June.
“We still feel we can give the players the best possible preparation to go into the seniors and achieve success if they have got the experience of the European U21 Championship behind them. That is still the case with Harry.”
Playing for the Under-21s is often seen as a backward step for players who have received a senior call-up. Hodgson himself has gone on record to say that he prefers not to ‘relegate’ the younger members of his squad, for fear of how the disappointment would impede on the mind of a less experienced footballer.
Everton’s Ross Barkley is a case in point. The midfielder was discussed at length by Southgate and Hodgson prior to the most recent squad selections, and the pair decided to back the player to react positively from remaining in the senior squad, despite not being a regular at club level.
Barkley, who has declared himself an attacker and not a midfielder ahead of the Tuesday night clash in Turin, has not played for the juniors since August 2013, and Toffees boss Roberto Martinez is likely to be another manager on collision course with Southgate come the summer over the Spaniard’s insistence that the player needs a rest.
That the 21-year-old has cut a forlorn figure throughout the Merseyside club’s frustrating season is perhaps indicative of the insufficient rest period the Wavertree-born talent has had since the World Cup last summer in Brazil.
With this in mind, should Kane be used as a focal point in Southgate’s quest to build up a winning mentality within the so-called next generation of full internationals, it may come at the cost of burn-out for the Spurs man over the next 12 months, with the worst case scenario being that it affects England’s hopes in France come June 2016.
But the benefits of being part of a winning tournament are there for all to see. In 2009, Germany thrashed England 4-0 in the European Under-21 Championship Final in Malmo. It was the Germans first ever title success at that level, and in Horst Hrubesch’s side that day were no fewer than six future World Cup winners.
Kane is not the only player who will have a decision to make this summer, with a host of players technically still able to be picked at Under-21 level. Should he play in the two lucrative friendlies for Spurs and lead England to the final in the Czech Republic, Kane will have played in 60 games since the start of this season, with less time to recuperate before it all starts again in August.
Whether it is morally right for the squad involved in qualifying to be overhauled in preference of players with more Premier League experience is another matter, but Kane’s inclusion is important in reminding him, and his army of admirers, just how far he has come.