At the start of the season, after Harry Kane had gone four games without a goal, the Tottenham Hotspur forward was questioned about a criticism that has dogged him since he first rose to prominence in November 2014. The 22-year-old was asked about the argument he is just a flash in the pan, someone set to fall away. By the end of his response, it was hard to know what was more convincing: his words or the assured way he said them.
“I know I am more than that,” he said. “We will see at the end of the season how it is.”
We haven’t had to wait anything like that long. Kane’s performances have been as convincing as anything. Jose Mourinho is just one manager, among growing interest from the elite end of the game, who sees him as a primary transfer target should the Portuguese get the Manchester United job. Kane’s continued goals are one primary reason why Spurs could yet pull off the historic feat of winning the title at the end of the season.
So much of this was signalled last Sunday. Spurs went to Aston Villa on a run of three games without a win in all competitions, and with doubts resurfacing about their resolve. It was, in short, one of those proper title-race tests. The opposition may have been poor but, because dropping points to Villa would have represented such a revealing slip-up, it only added to the pressure. That didn’t faze Kane. He scored two supremely taken goals in a 2-0 win. It felt like another signpost moment.
“I feel strong and good,” he said after Thursday’s Europa League home defeat to Borussia Dortmund. “The Aston Villa game was probably one of the best I’ve felt all season. The whole team is in good shape and all I can do is keep working hard and improve.”
Kane has many qualities but it is exactly that work rate, along with his young age, that make many in the game think he is worth over £50m, probably closer to £60m. It is known to have been discussed in boardrooms at the top levels in Spain as well as the Premier League, and is what Mourinho so admires.
It is also what manager Mauricio Pochettino so greatly values. In many aspects of his game, Kane almost personifies the Argentine’s intense pressing approach to football. He is almost the ideal forward for the Pochettino system. That can be seen with how much blunter Spurs look when Kane is not involved, and how dependent they are on him to provide an attacking edge. It is also clear, however, that the player’s rapid rise has been someway dependent on playing in the ideal system for his game, and under the ideal manager for encouraging youth.
“A lot has changed since this manager came in,” says Kane. “The way we play is different, the high line and the way we play from the back. There has been a big progression from last year and the younger players have had their first seasons in the Premier League and now they are more experienced.
“What happens this year will happen but we are in a good shape and next year there will be more progression. And with the new stadium coming up, the future’s bright. As long as we keep working hard that’s all we can do.”
All of that forms one big reason why Spurs are extremely confident Kane doesn’t want to leave the club – regardless of who comes calling. He has deep appreciation for the manager, and is greatly excited by the future. That link could be deepened if they actually win the league. He believes Thursday’s elimination from the Europa League - a comprehensive defeat to the Germans – will aid that unlikely quest.
“We all have plenty left in the batteries,” the 22-goal striker said. “We play a high press type of football and, without a midweek game, it will definitely help and give us time to do a bit more on the training field and for the manager to do the things in preparation he wants.
“We obviously know we are in a great position – we’re not stupid – but there is still a long way to go and all we can do now is win [today], go away for a week, and then we have Liverpool and Manchester United coming up [in successive games in early April]. All we can do is get ready for them and sort out our own destiny by winning games.”
Kane is certainly sorting his own destiny by winning admirers.