Harry Kane could be within two weeks of becoming England’s greatest-ever striker.
Kane can eclipse Gary Lineker’s goal haul from Mexico in 1986, and the performances of Alan Shearer at Euro ’96, come home with the Golden Boot and inspire England to a stage of the World Cup few of us truly believed possible before the start of the tournament.
If he succeeds, I will be amending the view I expressed in this column last October. I stated then Kane is not yet world class, suggesting the criteria for being so depended on shining in the latter stages of the Champions League or at a major international tournament.
With five goals in the group stages Kane is already on his way to achieving this in Russia, but he is capable of more and I know how much he will want it. He has the opportunity of a lifetime, starting against Colombia on Tuesday night . I think he will have the mindset to double his current tally in the knockout stage.
I do not believe this to be a golden age of centre-forwards. There is a dearth of world-class No 9s, particularly in Europe. Most of the best around are South American.
Kane is leading the way for the Europeans. He is so effective because he is good at everything, possessing the instincts of a natural goalscorer with the assets any modern striker needs.
If you were to draw up a list of essential qualities in a striker – strength, speed, movement, the ability to find space in the box and, obviously, finishing – most people will agree he is at least 8/10 in all departments. But there is one area where Kane is 10/10 and that is the most important for any gifted footballer. Mentality.
Some strikers bully you physically. Whenever I was facing the best in the Premier League – Didier Drogba or Thierry Henry, for example – the biggest fear was being overpowered or outpaced. You knew exactly what you were coming up against and could prepare yourself, whether you could stop them or not.
What I see with Kane is slightly different. You do not look at him and think he has the aggression of Shearer, for example. He is not as lightning quick as Lineker. It is the overall presence that intimidates – that knowledge he is going to keep on coming. His temperament is exceptional. He won’t let his head drop when a chance is missed, nor be unduly affected by lack of confidence.
Against Manchester United and Liverpool at Wembley last season, he demolished the centre-backs of two top teams simply with his aura – the defenders fearing what Kane could do and disintegrating when trying to stop him.
I can’t help but wonder how well his team-mate, Davinson Sanchez, has been sleeping over the last few days. He is a strong, fast centre-half, but the challenge for him is not physical, it is mental. He knows better than anyone how he has to watch Kane for every second of the 90 minutes because he will never stop. This is a powerful weapon England possess – one which every centre-half left in the competition is aware.
What we have seen in this World Cup reinforces this view of Kane’s mental strength.
Before England’s first game, Kane’s press conference where he basically called on the challenge from Ronaldo in the race for the Golden Boot summed him up. I have to admit, when I first heard those comments I was not sure it was the right idea. Ronaldo had just scored a hat-trick against Spain. It is really wise to put yourself into a goalscoring duel with one of the greatest players of all time?
Two weeks later, Ronaldo is out with a goal less than Kane.
Call it bravado, self-belief or even arrogance, if you like. To me, it demonstrates the certainty Kane has in his ability to score every game. The penalties he struck against Panama put his words into action. He took those spot-kicks with impressive, reassuring swagger. Striking the second in the same position as he placed the first was a message this is a striker at the top of his game mentally, who has put in the hours on the training pitch and believes he can hit that ball precisely where he wants.
It does not matter if it was the Panama goalkeeper or Manuel Neuer. This is a World Cup, a global TV audience, but he took those penalties as if in a practise match.
Watching Kane from afar I always sensed he was that type of character. I had the pleasure of chatting to him at Tottenham’s training ground towards the end of last season and his first words said everything.
“I have a man to catch, don’t I?” he said, referencing his contest with Mo Salah for the golden boot.
I could see how much drive he has. I told him I think Tottenham are on the verge of being a great side, and he has a responsibility to ensure everyone around has his attitude. The same applies with England. Gareth Southgate made Kane captain because he will want him to push his team-mates in the same direction.
Kane has not reached the Lineker and Shearer pedestal yet, but I feel at the end of his career we will be talking about him as England’s record goalscorer and the record Premier League scorer. He is young enough to ensure his goalscoring achievements yield more major trophies than Lineker and Shearer.
Goalscoring, by its nature, is a selfish business. It is healthy to be obsessed with goal records because I have seen with strikers how those targets keep them hungry for more. But there will also come a moment when Kane must ask himself if the individual feats matter as much as winning team silverware?
The longer England stay in this competition, the more Kane will have to contemplate. He will want both, of course, but there is a prize at stake far greater than the golden boot.
He may have arrived in Russia seeking to replicate Lineker. Should England make progress, he may start to believe he can leave the country inviting comparisons to Bobby Moore.