Gary Lineker knows what it takes to win the Golden Boot at a World Cup. Luck, to come into form at the right time. Nerve, to play your best football in the biggest games. But above all, that hunger for scoring, not just every game but with every chance in every game. An “absolute, burning desire”, in Lineker’s own words, one that can never be satisfied.
Lineker scored six at the 1986 World Cup and 32 years on Harry Kane is trying to emulate him. He has five already in this 2018 World Cup, after an unusual hat-trick on Sunday: penalty, penalty, unwitting deflection off his heel. But Kane now stands one ahead of Romelu Lukaku and Cristiano Ronaldo, the greatest goalscorer in the history of the game.
To read another great goal-scorer in Lineker discussing what it mean to win the Golden Boot, in Pete Davies’ excellent account of Italia ‘90, ‘All Played Out’, it could easily stand as a description of Kane today.
“There’s something inside me,” Lineker said. “The big games, I don’t know why, I’ve always done reasonably well [in them]. Sometimes I really need the adrenalin to be doing. I feel at my sharpest when it’s a big one.” Just like he did against Paraguay and Argentina in the knock-out rounds in 1986. Or with those two pressure penalties against Cameroon in Italia ‘90, and that late equaliser against West Germany.
Kane is similar, but when Lineker spoke about the mentality required to win a Golden Boot, it sounded like a description of Kane today. “I think you’ve just got to want to be the best, to score the most goals,” Lineker said. “I always want to win the top goalscorer award, every season. You’ve always got to want to do it. If you’ve not got that absolute desire, you won’t. You’ve got to really get in there and believe.”
After the Tunisia game, after Kane scored his first two goals of the World Cup, Kieran Trippier was discussing that same physical need Kane feels to score more goals than anyone else. He pointed to the 2016-17 Premier League golden boot race, when Kane was still trailing Lukaku going into the end of the season. Only to score four against Leicester City, three against Hull City, and win the boot back.
Even the fact that Kane only scored two rather than three in England’s opener would have upset him, Trippier said. “You know Harry, he would have been devastated he didn’t get another goal,” Trippier said. “His mindset for every game is that he’s going to score.” Of course, on Sunday afternoon, Kane did get his hat-trick. Even if it was in a slightly easier context than his two against Tunisia in Volgograd.
But go back to Lineker’s words from 1990 and, again, the comparison between his mentality then and Kane’s now stands out. “I don’t know where it comes from, it’s in-born,” Lineker told Davies. “As a character, I think I’m pretty laid back. But I just have a burning desire to score the maximum amount of goals possible. If I’ve got two in a game before half-time, and I don’t score another, I won’t be too pleased. Once I get one, I desperately want another.”
Coming back to the present day, and Nizhy Novgorod, Gareth Southgate could not have been more positive about Kane when discussing his form in the post-match press conference. He has seen his captain score five goals in two games and can now start planning for knock-out round scenarios. Without Kane’s late intervention on Monday night, who knows where England would be now. Southgate hailed Kane as the best striker in the world.
“He has started brilliantly,” Southgate said. “He is there, he’s up at the top. We would not swap him for anyone at the tournament, in terms of number 9s. You know that when he gets opportunities he will bury them. He is very confident in his ability to convert chances.”
Kane’s pair of penalties on Sunday were not quite as high-stakes as Lineker’s pair of penalties against Cameroon in 1990, but Southgate still pointed to them, and what they said about his main main. “You can dismiss penalties to be easy,” Southgate said, “but the length of times he had to wait, and the number of distractions which made him refocus and start again, that tells you about the mental toughness he has got.”
Now on to Belgium on Thursday night, by which point Ronaldo will have faced Iran - on Monday night - and he may have overtaken Kane again. This battle will run all the way until the end, and it will likely extend far beyond the usual standard of five or six, to Brazilian Ronaldo’s modern-era record of eight from 2002 and maybe all the way to double figures.
Kane did not talk too much about his desire to win the Golden Boot in his own press conference on Sunday afternoon. “There’s a long way to go,” he said. “The most important thing is winning games. There are a lot of good players just behind me.” But he did not need to. His “absolute desire”, as Lineker put it, to score more goals than anyone else, and become the second ever Englishman to win the Golden Boot, is obvious every time he steps onto the pitch.
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