Wednesday 21 February 2018

Kane lives up to the hype in shooting down Gunners

Tottenham Hotspur 2 Arsenal 1

Harry Kane heads in Tottenham Hotspur's winning goal late on in their Premier League clash with Arsenal at White Hart Lane. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images
Harry Kane heads in Tottenham Hotspur's winning goal late on in their Premier League clash with Arsenal at White Hart Lane. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images
Mesut Ozil celebrates with his Arsenal teammates scoring the opening goal in his side's Premier League clash with Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images
Tottenham Hotspur playmaker Christian Eriksen is challenged by Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey during their Premier League clash at White Hart Lane. Photo: Paul Gilham/Getty Images
Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane gets past challenges from Arsenal defenders Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal during their Premier League clash at White Hart Lane. Photo: Paul Gilham/Getty Images
Tottenham Hotspur's Erik Lamela tangles with Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny during their Premier League clash at White Hart Lane. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images

Jonathan Liew

Harry Kane was the last player down the White Hart Lane tunnel after a North London derby that he first rescued and then won.

A little while later, he was shuffling from microphone to microphone, camera to camera, explaining how he did it. Yet, a part of him was still on the pitch.

"I didn't want to come off, I wish I was still out there with the fans," he admitted.

The first question that the Kane phenomenon raises is this: just how phenomenal is it?

The answer: it may be without parallel. His two goals against Arsenal took him to 22 for the season in all competitions.

In terms of goals per game, he is currently enjoying the most prolific season of any 21-year-old in Premier League history - better than Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, anyone.

On Saturday's 'Match of the Day', Danny Murphy suggested that England should not just pick him, but build a team around him.

This is a player who, a year ago, had never started a Premier League game and two years ago, was on loan at Millwall, and not even playing that well.

There is no footballer on the planet whose stock is rising more rapidly.

Which leads to the second question. In one of the most analysed, scrutinised leagues in professional sport, how come nobody saw this coming?

Of course, just as with the financial crash, you will always find plenty of people who claim they did.

And, to be fair, Kane's advocates have always argued there was real potential within him. Statistics blogs pointed to his unusually high volume of shots. Former managers extolled his unquenchable thirst for self-improvement.

But even the most extreme Kane-truthers were not telling us we had the next great English striker on our hands, a man who could propel Tottenham from Europa League to Champions League contenders.

As ever, when people are confronted with something unexpected, they seek answers in hindsight.

"We could see from the beginning that he has amazing potential," said Mauricio Pochettino, who awarded Kane a grand total of 63 minutes of league football before November.

Over recent weeks, a procession of teachers, ex-coaches and former managers have been wheeled out to explain that this was all inevitable, he always had it in him, it was only a matter of time really.

(An exercise: do a Google search for the phrases "Harry Kane" and "not surprised".)

But this is all sleight-of-hand. The truth is that football, a sport in which some exceptionally smart people make a living, absolutely did not see Harry Kane coming.

And in order to make sense of this whole circus, this has to be the starting point: part of it makes no sense whatsoever.

In fact, that is not quite true. There is one person who saw everything coming and it is Kane himself.

Look at the absolute, almost effortless certainty with which he describes Tottenham's comeback against an extremely gifted Arsenal side: "They didn't deserve to be ahead and we said at half-time just to keep doing what we were doing and our time will come, and it did."

Most athletes have self-belief, but with Kane it appears to be more like self-destiny.

It was why when he was at Millwall, he would do so much extra finishing practice that coaches warned him he would pop his thigh.

It was how he managed to overcome a lack of pace to become stronger.

But again, perhaps this is also a form of reverse-analysis.

And while in some quarters the shock of Kane's rise might prompt a certain soul-searching, maybe there is something to be celebrated here, too.

The fact that a player can go from nothing to something, at a speed that defies analysis, is a reaffirmation of football's glorious capacity for caprice and chaos; a mystery in a sport where mystery was supposedly extinguished.

Above all, it captures that impossibly thrilling moment in a player's career when he is just rising and rising, like a rocket with unlimited fuel.

Experience, reason and cold-headed common sense tell us he will surely plateau soon.

But the pace of Kane's ascent has lifted him to a place where the laws of sporting physics need not necessarily apply.

And it wasn't just Kane's performance that delighted Pochettino, who afterwards spoke with the authority of a man who had just been absolutely vindicated.

He had just seen his Tottenham team give the ultimate Pochettino performance, full of youthful energy and attacking ambition, lifting them, for a few hours at least, up to fourth place.

This victory over Arsenal was not as spectacular as the 5-3 destruction of Chelsea on New Year's Day.

But it was a more complete performance.

They dominated throughout as, while Kane scored the goals, Nabil Bentaleb and Ryan Mason ran the midfield.

Pochettino brought some very talented youngsters into his Southampton side last season and explained, in the afterglow of victory, how important this was to him.

"This is our philosophy, it was our philosophy at Espanyol, Southampton and now here," he said.

"In the first season at Espanyol, we gave 25 debuts to players from the academy.

"If you have players with potential, why not? We have to give them opportunities."


Throughout his career, Pochettino has been moulding young talent, although he describes this as harder than coaching established professionals.

"It is very difficult," he explained.

"It is easier to coach players, senior players, because they are already developed. You need to be patient, to have quality."

Arsene Wenger bemoaned the "quality of defensive pressure" that Mason and Bentaleb exerted in midfield, providing the drive and energy Pochettino wants from his teams.

Bentaleb was especially impressive, given that last Sunday he was playing an African Cup of Nations quarter-final for Algeria against Ivory Coast in Malabo.

But Pochettino saw he was in a "perfect state" and he showed it on the pitch.

Bentaleb, who looks like a future Tottenham captain, was grateful to Pochettino for his trust.

"It is just faith," Bentaleb said after a derby day to remember.

"We all believe we can win these types of games. We showed it against Chelsea and now against Arsenal.

"We believe in ourselves." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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