Harry Kane is Spurs’ all-action heartbeat after transition from complete forward to complete footballer

Vithushan Ehantharajah
·5-min read
Harry Kane was everywhere for Tottenham in the draw with West Ham (AP)
Harry Kane was everywhere for Tottenham in the draw with West Ham (AP)

This might seem a bit like raving about the sinks in the ensuite bathrooms on the Titanic... but did you see Harry Kane’s defensive header in the 94th minute?

With Tottenham Hotspur clinging on to a 3-2 lead, Kane rose to clear an Aaron Creswell free-kick aimed for the runs across the near post made by Tomas Soucek and Declan Rice. It wasn’t the first header of that nature for Kane. Though Spurs’ third goal came from the same forehead, you could argue that, in the moment, this was the most important header of them all.

What immediately followed was, well, unfortunate – for Kane, Spurs and this intro. A tame flick away from Harry Winks and a cultured rasp of Manuel Lanzini’s right foot consigned this bit of responsible donkey work to the stats sheet, where it’ll forever be eclipsed by the sexier 3-3 scoreline that effectively captures the absurdity of West Ham flipping a match in which they were 3-0 behind with eight minutes of normal time to go.

It was one of three clearances made by Kane, if you were wondering. Part of five interventions in the box that included throwing himself in the way of an attempt from Vladimir Coufal at the end of the first half.

That block at the time felt like a real hallmark moment in Kane’s Sunday performance. A moment to shout “Bingo” after you had already ticked off the two goals, the 60-yard raking assist and the gimme of the captain’s armband. This was all that was left on your Roy Of The Rovers card.

It ended up being all for nothing. Or rather, just a point. But it was instructive that Jose Mourinho refused to lay into his team for their late collapse. “It’s easy for me to praise them [West Ham] than to criticise us,” said Mourinho, though he did lament a mental fragility at the death. “My guys were not strong enough to cope with it psychologically and in the last few seconds we lost two points.”

By now, Kane was low down on the agenda. But when the stewing over this result has been completed, Mourinho can take heart from a talisman and team that looked as in sync as they ever have done.

That’s more to do with the rest rather than Kane. Dropping back is nothing new – though all the way into defence is a tad excessive – and the criticism of that particular move was as much down to losing a threat in an attacking position as it was about losing Kane in an attacking position.

Now he has the accomplices to cover for his sojourns into midfield. Not just Son Heung-Min, with whom he has combined with for 28 Premier League goals – the fourth-most of any duo – but whoever occupies the other wing, whether that's Steve Bergwijn, Lucas Moura and Erik Lamela, too. On Sunday, further assistance came from full-backs Sergio Reguilon and Serge Aurier, and, for the final 18 minutes, Gareth Bale.

Even Tanguy Ndombele, the forwardmost of the three in midfield, found himself moving further on, with and without the ball. There was a point in the 19th minute when the Frenchman carried the ball forward and had four options in front of him – and none of them was his captain.

Kane still did the traditional centre-forward stuff, too. When Spurs defenders hit the ball long rather than over the top, he was the one tussling with Angelo Ogbonna in aerial duels. When transitions were not so slick, his 6ft 2in frame came in handy to shield possession. He even played off the shoulder a couple of times and ended up being the only Spurs player caught offside in part because Son could not find the speed and execution of pass to set him off.

In a literal sense, the 27-year-old was everywhere and at the heart of everything good for the hosts. But it is worth considering if that ended up being the problem.

Spurs react after Manuel Lanzini’s late equaliserEPA
Spurs react after Manuel Lanzini’s late equaliserEPA

Kane visibly tired during the second-half, walking up the field on a handful of occasions following shifts further back. It meant the ball spent more time in front of him and less at his feet – the latter a particular struggle for Moussa Sissoko and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who used that time to set themselves as the foundations on the pitch. Thus, Spurs lost their structure and West Ham were allowed to keep themselves in the game.

Of course, maybe that’s being a bit too galaxy brain about it all, and maybe why space is needed to ensure those final 12 minutes do not cloud judgement on whether the good and not so good are intrinsically bound.

Mourinho was probably right not to swallow the bait whole when asked if this was solely down to complacency. Granted, it is hard to take his words at face value, but there was a whiff of sincerity in his view that this group of players have evolved.

“Even defensively the team is much better than before. Even defensively we are much stronger but in the lat part of the game this happens and sometimes it’s difficult to explain.”

What follows is a favourable set of fixtures for Spurs, with three of the bottom six over the coming weeks and then Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool in the next four. By then we will have a better idea of how sustainable this system is, and whether Sunday’s late aberration was just football being football in 2020.

One thing we can be sure of after five goals and seven assists (and a few clearing headers) in five league matches is that Kane is, probably, the most complete forward in the game right now.

Read more

Mourinho refuses to blame Spurs collapse on Bale introduction