Jamie Carragher: Harry Kane is not world-class – yet. He still has to perform on biggest stages
Truly great players shine in the Champions League knockouts and international tournaments, and the Spurs striker must aspire to that platform.
It is often said in football that the word ‘legend’ is applied too loosely. The same must be said of the phrase ‘world-class’.
Too many players are given this tag, but we should pause before handing out such lavish compliments. That is why I do not agree with those arguing Harry Kane is a world-class footballer. He isn’t. Not yet.
My criteria for world-class status are stricter than excelling in the Premier League, no matter how long Kane terrorises defences domestically.
World-class players are those who deliver in the post-Christmas stage of the Champions League, shining in the quarter-finals and beyond. World-class players are those who deliver at major international tournaments.
By the end of this season Kane might tick both boxes. He has the credentials, but until such time, becoming English football’s most talented footballer is not enough.
There was a comment by Pep Guardiola when asked about Kevin De Bruyne’s superb start to the season. I loved it.
“If you want Kevin to be considered one of the best he has to win titles,” said Guardiola.
In that sentence Pep encapsulated my argument. De Bruyne is the best player in the Premier League at this moment. But one of the greatest managers of all time is telling him how much farther he has to go. The same applies to Kane.
I agree he is one of the finest strikers in the world, but it not solely about being one of the best of your generation. The stage on which you consistently apply that talent also matters.
If selecting a world XI, would Kane join Lionel Messi, Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo in the line-up? No. Not at this moment. Kane’s form compares favourably with his goalscoring peers, but his task is to go beyond them.
The record of the most prolific in this calendar year is similar. In 2017, Kane and Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski have 36 goals apiece in all competitions. Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has 35. Edinson Cavani has 37 for PSG. D
Domestically, Kane and Lewandowski have 27 league goals over this period, so statistically the Spurs man is already on a par with the most productive around. He is outscoring Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema and Juventus’ Gonzalo Higuain. I believe he is better than them.
This is why there is understandable enthusiasm to promote Kane’s current standing. You see the reports suggesting Real Madrid are prepared to pay £200 million and I am sure, had he scored the winning goal in the Bernabeu in the Champions League in midweek, it would have been presented as evidence Kane has reached the highest tier.
But, with the exception of Lewandowski who helped Dortmund to the Champions League final in 2013, I would contend these strikers have more to do to be truly world-class. Forwards like Cavani, Benzema, Higuain and Aubameyang are greatly admired and some might argue that being part of this group proves Kane is world-class. Not me.
Arsene Wenger made a good point a couple of years ago regarding the number of top-class strikers out there. “The strikers are South American today. Europe doesn’t produce strikers any more,” Wenger said.
I am sure the progress of Kane and Kylian Mbappe since he made this comment would make him revise that view slightly, but broadly I agree. There was a time when the world’s greatest players were No 9s. Think of Marco van Basten from Holland, or the Brazilians Romario and Ronaldo. Now there is a dearth of world-class strikers and that is putting Kane top of most wanted lists.
I do not write this to belittle or criticise the Tottenham striker. He is my favourite Premier League footballer and if I was a manager he is the one player I would be begging my chairman to sign.
There are few certainties in the transfer market, but – injury permitting – Kane is as close to the ideal signing you can get.
He guarantees goals. He is the right age – 24 – and at a point in his career where he will get better. Most important, he is striving for greatness. He has the application you need to attain his targets. I do not believe it will matter to him who is saying how good he is, or whether he is world-class or not, he will want more.
I can see it in Kane’s eyes when he gives interviews, that focus and single-mindedness to achieve as much as he can from the game. He is obsessed with goals. When he turns up for pre-season every summer, I can tell he has that determination to finish the year as the top goalscorer. He will be studying his numbers.
When I read the extract from the Spanish journalist Guillem Balague’s book on Mauricio Pochettino describing Kane as the “best player in the world in terms of mental strength, willpower and endeavour,” it did not surprise me.
As a 14-year-old at Spurs, Kane was not the tallest or most physically developed in his group. I believe the coaches at the time thought his progress could go either way, but when they saw his dad at the training ground – and how tall he was – they took a long-term view with the player.
He has repaid that faith.
If he stays fit and is not tempted to move abroad, I believe Kane will break Alan Shearer’s Premier League goalscoring record of 260. Where he needs to distance himself from Shearer is the number of medals won.
It is a travesty that a player of Shearer’s ability has only one Premier League winner’s medal. His haul should be up their with the greatest players. Kane cannot let his career progress without reward. No matter how strong Kane’s affinity to Spurs, the club must start winning trophies.
Shearer underlined his world-class talent because he also performed at the highest standard for England at a major tournament, in his case Euro ’96.
England has had other recent players such as Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, John Terry, Ashley Cole and Wayne Rooney who used the Champions League to confirm their world-class status, regardless of how their international careers are judged.
Fernando Torres was world-class, not because of his Anfield career, but his contribution to Spain’s European Championship win in 2012. Luis Suarez, one of the few strikers around who I feel still has the edge on Kane, is world-class because of his performances for Uruguay at the World Cup and Barcelona in Europe.
These performances added to what they were producing domestically. They were consistently brilliant at all levels and collected trophies.
I apply the same logic to managers. The greatest are defined by their success in the European Cup or Champions League.
Think of it as those great golfers who spend their careers chasing a Major trophy. We all know who has the talent, but there is clear way of separating the very best from the rest – those who win Green Jackets and Open Championships.
Kane already stands apart from every other English player. There was a time when the national team was packed with those who were the main men for their clubs – Gerrard, Terry, Lampard, Rooney and Michael Owen.
Now only Kane is the main man for his club. Pochettino may be upset about Spurs being referred to as this, but England are certainly the “Harry Kane Team”.
Like it or not, that is a phrase that will stick when Kane eventually achieves world-class status. His contribution will resonate most when we recall this era for Spurs and England.