Finally a win for Spurs. Five games in and and it’s finally happened. Away to Sunderland, it was roundly expected that Spurs would come away with the three points, but against probably the only team in the league to have no positives from their first four games, Spurs made hard work of the game.
It was a stuttering performance reminiscent of a lot of their performances from the end of last season – disjointed and turgid with the one exception of Ryan Mason’s goal. The only thing that stopped it from looking like a carbon copy of so many games from last season was the absence of a Harry Kane goal.
This was the first game after transfer deadline day, the first game since Spurs failed in their final, dying attempts to prize Saido Berahino away from West Brom. And it was a game crying out for the kind of abilities that Berahino possesses. Pace, directness and with an eye for the killer finish.
But actually, he would bring more than that to this current Spurs side. It’s not that Spurs lack a finisher, or that they lack a player up front who will terrorise defences. Kane will do that, and he does that week after week. Despite his fresh-air shot in the second half on Sunday, Kane has shown this season that he’s still a good player – as if we’d forgotten. He found the net for England, coming off the bench to change the game, really, adding some penetration to a flagging team who simply could not break down the well-drilled Swiss defence. It was his movement in the box that got him the space, but his finish was a vintage.
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But I worry about the poor lad. The more blanks he fires up front for Spurs the more I worry that he’ll fade into the background once the media gets stuck into him.
I worry that Kane will go the way of all great English hopes. The English youngster bursts onto the scene full of freshness and without fear. But he’s greeted with a bizarre cocktail of scepticism and unbridled excitement – something that should, by rights, be a logical impossibility. But there it is, present and correct in English football.
Just look at Raheem Sterling – the great bright hope. Admit it, you were up celebrating and running around the room when you thought he’d scored the opening goal of England’s World Cup campaign against Italy. It was only when you mother / little sister / group of angry neighbours told you to calm down and put your shirt back on did you realise he’d hit the side netting.
And now he’s a slithering serpent with a two-pronged tongue, bona fide scaly scum to many these days. His price tag derided as madness for a player who scored seven goals last season. As if scoring seven goals – sometimes, bafflingly, from left wing-back – in a team whose life force was depleted by the sale of Suarez and the never-ending drone of Brendan Rodgers’ new-age ‘philosophies’ wasn’t an astounding feat for a teenager.
I hope Kane doesn’t find himself in a similar position: having a poorer season than he did last time, thanks to the physical pressures of playing every week and the mental ones of carrying the weight of expectation around the pitch with him. If his form dips, it’s because he finds himself in a vicious circle. The fewer times he finds the net, the worse his team fares. The worse the team does the more pressure there is on Kane to win the games. The more pressure on his shoulders, the worse he plays. And the worse he plays the more the pressure grows.
And the obvious way to combat that is to give him some help. Kane hasn’t managed a goal in his club colours this season – ironically, his club colours are also his country colours – but he’s had precious little help. For England against Switzerland, he had at least a team who had penned the opposition into their own half and who had the ability to create something. For Spurs he’s feeding on scraps.
So when Spurs failed to sign Berahino, they failed to sign a player who could have helped Kane out. They failed to sign a player who could help the team out, and take some of the pressure off him. Without Kane’s goals last season, Spurs would have managed only 40 points. He was so vital to their team that they could have been in a relegation battle without him.
Maybe that’s not true, maybe other players would have stepped up and scored the goals, but on the evidence of this season it doesn’t look like it.
And that’s bad not just for Spurs, and not just for Harry Kane, but for England and English football. If Kane doesn’t get the chance to regain his form this season, if he isn’t able to silence the critics and persuade the doubters, then he won’t play well for England. And if Kane is eaten alive by the hoarding crowds, just like so many other English talents before him, then it’s a sad day for English football. Not just because they’ll lose a potential star, but because the cycle won’t end.
Kane needs help from all corners. He’s fighting a war on two fronts – he’s trying to be his team’s gladiator on the pitch, and he’s trying to keep it all together off it. He has to fight opposition players as well as the fans and media.
He needs help. Because if his team repeats the performances of last season, Kane won’t be able to play his part for a second season in a row.