England need a fit and firing Harry Kane – and that’s just what they got against Albania

The captain scored a perfect hat-trick to help the Three Lions move to within a point of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup

Mark Critchley
Wembley Stadium
Friday 12 November 2021 22:22
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<p>Harry Kane nets the third goal of his perfect hat-trick against Albania </p>

Harry Kane nets the third goal of his perfect hat-trick against Albania

Harry Kane is back, everybody, although if you have only been watching him in an England shirt, you’d wonder whether he ever really went away.

The 10th, 11th and 12th goals of his calendar year at international level, all scored in the first half, came by way of his right foot, left foot and head. His fourth England hat-trick – only Jimmy Greaves and Gary Lineker have scored more – was a perfect one, the first by any England player since David Platt against San Marino in 1993.

With it, England eased to a 5-0 victory over Albania to practically guarantee their place at next year’s World Cup finals in Qatar. Frankly, if they do not take the point that they require away to San Marino on Monday night, against the lowest-ranked side in Fifa’s world standings, they do not deserve to be there.

And what’s more, along the way, Kane became England’s all-time leading goalscorer in competitive matches with 38 to his name, passing by Wayne Rooney on the way up.

When you also stand back and realise that he has scored in six of his last eight international appearances, you might wonder whether we are still talking about the same player that has looked a shell of his former self in a Tottenham Hotspur shirt recently.

This is the part of the hastily-cobbled together article where we engage in a touch of cod psychology and propose that Kane feels more comfortable and more like himself when representing his country rather than his club. To be honest, for now, that may well be the case.

It is no secret that Kane was unhappy during the summer, that he would have preferred to be allowed to join Manchester City, and that the consequences of his agitation for a move have affected his early-season form. Though typically a slow starter, he has never started quite so slow.

“I came off the back of a tournament where you're physically tired, you're mentally tired and all of a sudden three weeks later the Premier League has pretty much started and you’re just straight back into it,” he suggested this week, speaking to the England press pack for the first time since the European Championship.

Kane celebrates scoring his side’s second goal against Albania

“It's never easy just to switch that mode back on and start firing on all cylinders again. Your body needs time to respond physically and mentally.”

There is a similar tension surrounding Raheem Sterling, the other defining player of the Gareth Southgate era alongside Kane, who is trapped in his own troubles at club level. Neither player is in particularly good form but at least in Kane’s case, he does not face an uphill task to regain his starting status.

With the World Cup only a year away, what happens if Kane is unsettled, disgruntled and struggling for form? What if Sterling is also stuck in a rut? Fortunately, Southgate gave an interesting answer along those lines earlier this week when discussing Sterling’s issues specifically.

In the age-old question of picking on form or reputation when it comes to selection, the England manager has always suggested he comes down on the side of the former, which is perhaps a more egalitarian approach to international management. Though for the first time, he gave an indication that some are more equal than others.

“I know I do always say there is a preference for us that players are playing regularly because they’re match-sharp, they’re ready, but if their physical condition is good and they’re playing enough football, then also, we’ve got to look at who we feel our best players are,” Southgate conceded.

“Okay, who’s in form, but over how long a period is that, have they produced in the big matches yet, do we know quite yet what they can do? And Raheem has proved time and time again with us how important he’s been, and that his level is really high.”

Kane is in precisely the same camp, as his dead-eyed finishing and seamless return to something approaching form here proved. Yes, it’s only Albania, ranked 63rd in the world, though international football is full of your Albanias and Kane has reliably been on hand to dispatch them over and over again, more often than any other English player of his generation.

That, simply, is why his week-in week-out performances for Tottenham are unlikely to ever come into Southgate’s reckoning. In order to make good on this generation’s potential, England need a fit and firing Kane. Fortunately, though, they usually get one.

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