On the final day of the 2016/17 season, Harry Kane cemented a unique place in the annals of Premier League history with a hat-trick against Hull City, winning the division’s Golden Boot in the joint-fewest appearances alongside Michael Owen.
Whereas the former Liverpool striker netted 18 in 30 during the 1998/99 season, however, Kane bagged a staggering 29, producing the best strike rate of any Golden Boot winner to date at 0.97 goals per match.
This is the second Premier League campaign in a row in which Kane has lifted the Golden Boot, the second in which he’s unexpectedly fired Spurs to a handful of points away from the title, the third in which he’s breached the twenty-goal barrier and the third in which he’s improved on his final tally from the term previous. Thus, the subsequent question is perhaps as predictable as it is inevitable; is Tottenham’s talismanic striker an indisputable world-class entity?
Of course, that term has many meanings to many different people. Is a world-class player someone who’d command a place in any starting XI in world football, someone who no manager would turn their nose up at if given the chance to sign them, or simply one of the very best in their respective position? My personal interpretation veers towards the latter; it feels unfair to suggest players like Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez aren’t world-class just because they have to contend with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for a spot in a theoretical world XI.
Regardless, in pure goalscoring terms, Kane unquestionably now finds himself firmly in the beautiful game’s top striker bracket. Whilst it may pale in comparison to the god-like returns of Ronaldo and Messi, the 23-year-old’s strike-rate over the last three seasons stands at a staggering 0.73 goals per game – just 0.01 behind Sergio Aguero’s in that same time, 0.02 behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and better than Edinson Cavani, £78million Juventus signing Gonzalo Higuain and Real Madrid front-man Karim Benzema.
The only three high-profile out-and-out strikers who rank above him are Robert Lewandowski, Luis Suarez and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but they all (in the latter’s case until the start of this season) lead the lines for a higher breed of club, expected to be virtually unstoppable in their quest to find the net. In contrast, Spurs’ average league position over the last three seasons is third place and they’ve finished up as the Premier League’s top scoring side just once in that time.
Likewise, although he may have finished the season with the second-fewest goals of any Golden Boot winner from Europe’s five leading top flights, he also achieved his haul in the least appearances and was the only striker to register less than 30 starts. He clocked up 246 minutes less than the Golden Boot winner with the next fewest, Aubameyang and 442 less than the goalscorer with the most, Edinson Cavani. That works out at a five full games – a substantial difference.
Finishing a top flight campaign just eight goals behind Messi is a phenomenal achievement in itself, but even more so when considering Kane spent two spells on the sidelines through injury and didn’t actually score his first Premier League goal until the second week of September, suffering once again from his infamous August curse.
Furthermore, he managed it in the most competitive top tier in world football. Messi’s Barcelona, in comparison, are so dominant in La Liga they scored 30 more league goals than Mauricio Pochettino’s Lilywhites.
In addition, looking at how Kane has found the net highlights what a well-rounded goalscorer he truly is, rather than simply being a right-place-in-the-right-time man, like Manchester United icon Ruud van Nistelrooy for example. Indeed, Kane’s converted penalties, headed home and scored a quarter of goals with his weaker foot, but perhaps most impressively, five of his strikes have come from outside the box – showing how he’s not only an exceptional finisher but also capable of providing moments of magic from long-range, something that can’t be said of all the five Golden Boot winners this season and something that can make a deciding impact in tight-knit games.
In some senses, however, focusing on Kane’s scoring exploits alone would be to do him a disservice. His impressive link play and ability to hold up the ball is well-known, whilst his role in Dele Alli’s 18-goal tally by drawing defenders away to create space for the midfielder’s late runs into the box has perhaps gone under-discussed this season, but the statistics highlight how effective he actually is.
From this term’s Golden Boot winners, only Messi ranks ahead of him for created chances, assists and successful dribbles per match, whilst his 1.3 successful aerial duels per match is only bettered by Edin Dzeko – who receives a lot more direct service at Roma. Likewise, whereas certain strikers shoot at any given opportunity, Kane ranks lowest for shots per match, showing how he’s much more of a team player who reacts to how the attack is developing around him rather than simply trying to pull the trigger, despite still finding the time to notch up 29 goals. Kane’s shooting accuracy is another interesting talking point; no Golden Boot winner has made the goalkeeper work more consistently this season.
Nonetheless, there are drawbacks to Kane’s game and his goal returns are perhaps a little flattering; he’s actually failed to score in 97 of his 165 games for Tottenham, instead notching up a whopping 99 in 68. Indeed, Kane’s form comes in flurries, such as his seven-goal glut in the final two games of the season and his stretch of two hat-tricks in three outings in February, and it’s not uncommon for the England international to endure a three-or-four-game barren spell, particularly at the start of campaigns.
Yet, that’s perhaps being hypercritical. The same can be said of Sergio Aguero, for example, who scored in only 22 games this season to produce an overall tally of 35. After all, 18% of Kane’s goals for Spurs have come against the clubs to finish 2016/17 in the Premier League’s top seven, not least including six against bitter rivals Arsenal, while nearly 30% of his strikes have been game-winning goals – defined as goals that put the scoreline in Tottenham’s favour – and 19% have come in the final fifteen minutes (stoppage time included), the period when most Premier League matches are decided.
Unequivocally, the statistics suggest we can only now consider Kane to be a world-class entity, not only as a goal-scorer, not only as an all-round centre-forward who can create chances and bring midfielders into the game, but also as a match-winner – someone who produces the goods against top-quality opposition, who nets one-in-three in Europe, who can break the deadlock with brilliance from outside the box and who impacts the scoreline in the dying embers of games.
That may well be Kane’s greatest gift as a striker; he really isn’t too concerned with who he’s playing against or the circumstances. Even when Spurs’ title bid came to an end a fortnight after Kane had netted against Chelsea and Arsenal, he still saw out the campaign with a run of eight in three against Manchester United, Leicester and Hull, regardless of the fact his side had nothing to play for.
That kind of indiscriminate ruthlessness is perhaps what makes Kane truly world-class, and if you’re still doubting his worthiness of such status, there’s one last factor worth your consideration. The average age of this season’s other four Golden Boot winners is 29. The Spurs star, deemed a one-season wonder only three terms ago, is just 23.
If Kane isn’t world-class in your reckoning just yet, it won’t be long before he is.