Harry Kane is hard to read and trying to assess his mood on Zoom doesn’t help. Like many centre-forwards, exercising superhuman levels of self-control is a personality trait which helps him to be so effective at his job. And right now, he’s not giving a lot away in his facial expressions.
So, it could merely be projection to suggest that there is fresh hope in his eyes. Addressing a familiar question, about whether Tottenham really could be title contenders this year, there does seem a renewed note of conviction in his answer, albeit laced with caveats.
In a season, which at present looks more open than any since 2015-16, maybe it is possible for the England captain to believe.
Tottenham have made a bright start to the season thanks to Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son
The England striker believes that Tottenham have a squad that is capable of winning the title
‘When you look at the ability of our squad you would definitely say that we’ve got enough to win a title,’ says Kane.
‘But I’d also say that we’ve been close over the last four, five years but just haven’t quite got over the line. So, it’s not as easy as just having a good squad and winning a few games to challenge for the title.
‘This is a season where I don’t think one team is going to run away with it, like Liverpool did last year. There will be opportunities for other teams to put good runs together and get right up the table.
‘We’ve got to make sure we don’t get carried away either. We know we’ve been playing well, we’ve been winning games, the last two games [against Brighton and Burnley] have been good for confidence, just to grind out results and to get good ugly wins under our belt. Because that’s what we’re going to need.
Kane praised the signing of Gareth Bale who has returned to the club on loan from Real Madrid
‘There’s going to be times when we’re 1-0 up with 10 minutes to go or 2-1 up and we need to see the game out which we didn’t do early on in the season. So, that’s been pleasing. But, look, there’s a long way to go. We have to see where we are come February, March and go from there…’
It’s the kind of thing footballers have to say, even if they don’t necessarily believe it. Except that it doesn’t seem as implausible as it might have done when Tottenham were losing game after game prior to lockdown last March and the whole Jose Mourinho gamble seemed a little desperate.
Back then it felt like Kane would have to do what Gareth Bale did in 2013 and leave Spurs to win trophies. That may yet be the case. But for now, aged 27, Kane may be able to give his best years to Spurs and play alongside Bale, the former hero returned.
There is a list of near misses: the 2015 League Cup final, the 2015-16 title race and FA Cup semi-finals in 2017 and 2018. Most significantly there was the Champions League final in 2019.
Mourinho was brought in to end that run and Kane and many of his team-mates were present at all of those games.
‘Every time you lose a big game or lose a final or lose a title race, you always wish you could have it back and do a little bit more and give every ounce you have.
‘I think especially for myself, when I haven’t won a trophy yet in my professional career, it gives you that motivation to do even more.
‘Look, it’s not just a one-man team. There’s a lot of us in this squad who have been here now for a period of time and haven’t won anything so we’re always as hungry as ever.
‘We all know that it takes an awful lot to get over the line and we just need to find a way of doing it.’
Kane also praised the signing of Hart who along with Bale has won league titles beforehand
Bale and Kane had in fact played together even before this season. Back then, in 2011 when they shared the pitch in a Europa League game and in 2012, when Kane got four minutes as a sub in a Premier League match, he was a callow teenager and Bale the global star.
But Kane says the return of Bale and the arrival of Joe Hart as back-up keeper could be critical to their trophy push.
‘It’s great to have people like Gareth and Harty, who have won the biggest trophies around the world, to have them in the squad, on the pitch, around the training room, talking to the boys. They’re good leaders to have in the dressing room.
‘I feel like that’s what we need to push all the way [for the title]. We’ve got a lot of experience and we tell each other how it is when we’re doing well and when we’re not doing well. We have a manager who does the same.
‘So we need to make sure we keep picking up points when we’re maybe not playing well or at our highest level, because we know when we do that, we can score three, four, five goals as we have done this season. There’s a long way to go but we’re feeling confident so far.’
Spurs being Spurs, the season hasn’t been without agonising moments, such as relinquishing a three-goal lead against West Ham in the last eight minutes.
‘It was a wake-up call,’ says Kane. ‘We played so well, the game was comfortable. To concede three goals like we did was a shock to everyone. We’re going to be ahead in games, whether it’s by one goal, two goals, three goals. We need to make sure that we see it out better.
The Tottenham striker was heavily criticised for the way he won a penalty against Brighton
‘It’s down to us on the pitch as players: talking, leading, whether it’s taking time on the pitch or keeping the ball or keeping the ball in the corner. Just being better at handling those situations.
‘We had a little chat among a few of us as players and just said that if we’re getting in these situations again, we need to do better. I think we’ve seen that against Burnley and against Brighton. There’s going to be times in the season when it’s going to happen again and we need to make sure we’re all on the same wavelength to get over the line.’
Part of the key to Tottenham’s good start has been a development in Kane’s game under Mourinho. Kane contributed 16 assists in the past five seasons for Spurs.
He was an old-school out-and-out centre-forward. This year he has eight assists already and Kane dropping deep to lay off a ball for Son Heung-min to run on to has become a signature Tottenham goal under Mourinho.
‘I think it’s been a development of my game and maybe Sonny’s game as well,’ says Kane. ‘Obviously there’s been a lot of talk about me dropping deeper this year and finding pockets and playing those passes into Sonny and other players. The main thing, I think, is that we’ve been more clinical as a team. I think Sonny’s been taking pretty much every chance he’s been given so far this year! Whoever else that’s been playing or getting chances has been scoring as well.
‘I’ve always dropped deeper as a No 9 anyway. My whole youth team career, I played as a No 10. I’ve always had that understanding of how to drop into those pockets [of space].
Kane knows Tottenham have to avoid the mistakes shown during their 3-3 draw with West Ham
‘But since Jose has come in, he’s made it clear that if I do drop deep, the wingers are running in behind. Whereas maybe, at certain times over the last couple of years, if I drop deep and Sonny drops deep and the other wingers drop deep, it all becomes a bit too crowded.
‘Having that tactical understanding that, if I’m the one coming deep, we need two or three runners in behind, and if I’m the one running in behind, the other boys need to drop deep.
‘From that aspect, we’ve been working on that. It’s the understanding we have as players, because we’ve played together a while, we’ve come to know each other’s game a bit more.’
He remains unabashed at the furore surrounding how he was awarded a penalty against Brighton last week, when Adam Lallana jumped high in his direction and Kane seemed to insert himself under his opponent and amplify a potential foul.
‘As a striker, when you’re dealing with long balls all the time in the middle of the pitch from goal-kicks, long balls from defenders, you’re getting your body in the way and trying to hold the ball and take pressure off the team. [This] was just a similar situation. It just happened to be in the box.
‘The ball went up in the air, I tried to get my body there, Adam tried to jump up and he’s come through the back of me before getting the ball and the ref made a decision.
‘It’s one of those 50-50s. I’ve had stuff go my way in my career, I’ve had those decisions not go my way. But that’s why the refs are there and that’s why VAR is there.
The season is set to be more wide open compared to Liverpool’s dominant surge last season
‘If that was just from a goal-kick, I don’t think there’s any debate at all. It’s just the fact that it got given as a penalty that obviously a lot of people want to talk about it.
‘For me it’s one of them, I got my body in the way, I got there before him and he’s come through the back of me so it caused me to go down.
‘That’s then down to the ref to make a decision. I’m not going to cry if I don’t get it. I’m not going to go over the top if I do get it. I got the decision, scored a goal and moved on from there.
‘I think cheating is when you try deliberately to draw a foul or jump over someone or fall to the ground without any contact.
‘I think it’s clear that my one at the weekend was both of us challenging for the ball, I tried to shield the ball my way and someone came through the back of me. It’s part of the game.’
That controversy tackled, there is West Brom to deal with tomorrow, an international break and then a resumption of a title race and that elusive quest for trophies.
DANNY MURPHY: Sorry Harry, I still make you outsiders
With due respect to Harry Kane and while this is a unique season, Liverpool and City are the likeliest Premier League title winners. Very rarely does cream not rise to the top. Yes, Leicester’s triumph in 2016 shows major surprises can happen — but the chances of anyone muscling in are slim.
LIVERPOOL –I know they’ve lost Virgil van Dijk but Liverpool have that belief and happy knack of finding a way to win even when they are not playing well.
MAN CITY – Started slowly but improved defensively since their only loss against Leicester. Have games in hand.
CHELSEA – Very talented squad but it’s a big ask for Frank Lampard’s team to gel in their first season together.
ARSENAL – They were fantastic at Old Trafford last week but top four a more realistic target over the whole season.
TOTTENHAM – Good firepower but not tight enough defensively as they showed when conceding three goals against West Ham in a dramatic 3-3 draw.
LEICESTER – They have players who know the impossible can come true. But I can’t see history repeating itself.
WOLVES, EVERTON, ASTON VILLA & SOUTHAMPTON – All have a good work ethic and organisation but lack strength in depth when injuries or suspensions hit. You saw Everton’s defeats at Southampton and Newcastle when they missed key players.
PS I’ll add Manchester United to the list when they get a bit closer to the top!
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