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A Small Minority of Idiots

The Doomed Fairytale of Harry Kane

He looks like Nicholas Lyndhurst making a guest appearance in The Inbetweeners, but he keeps scoring goals. How long can it last?

by Ben Machell
27 February 2015, 11:02am

This man will score two England goals at the next World Cup and then open a pub in Chelmsford (Photo via Barclays Football)

At what point do you sit down, pour a drink, and actually try and get your head around Harry Kane? It could be that you've already done this and you are now totally at peace with the fact that one of the Premier League's top scorers is a gawky 21-year-old from Walthamstow who could quite easily be the result of Nicholas Lyndhurst and Gabriel Batistuta doing some weird Face/Off type shit. And if that seems in no way unusual to you, then cool, well done: nothing about football will ever surprise you again. It's just that for the rest of us the whole thing is still taking a bit of getting used to.

Tottenham fans are obviously delighted, and the fact that Kane has broken into the first team and scored 24 goals across all competitions can now officially be filed under "fairytale". But the thing about fairytales is that they tend to be fucking weird. And, in the nicest possible way, the case of Harry Kane is just that. But why?

Well, to start with, there's the obvious thing: Kane does not look like a football player. He looks like someone you might actually know in real life. Specifically, he looks like someone you probably became acquaintances with in halls of residence, someone who did business management and wore tracksuit bottoms a lot. Someone who was seriously good at table tennis, who enjoyed reading car magazines and who always seemed friendly enough although when it came to it you never really saw that much of because he had a girlfriend back home he'd been with since GCSEs. There was also one time you saw him crying on the phone. He looks like the kind of guy who would keep his room obsessively tidy, have one of those little putting machines in the corner and a poster of The Rat Pack above his bed. I guess what I'm saying is that he doesn't look like someone who is currently on course to outscore Diego Costa or net twice as many league goals as Romelu Lukaku.

Another thing that makes the emergence of Kane hard to rationalise is that he fucks around with our preconceptions of how young players are supposed to develop. This time last year he was getting the odd game for Spurs having previously been shipped-out on loan four times in three seasons without ever once hitting double figures. If he'd ended up moving to Cardiff or Ipswich for an "undisclosed fee", I don't reckon fans would have torched White Hart Lane in protest. Only now? Twelve months on? Goals. Goals goals goals. Goal after shitting goal. It's like he'd been playing FIFA and someone finally told him he'd been pressing "pass" not "shoot" whenever he was through on the keeper. But it's our own stupid fault that we're surprised. We've become so obsessed with the idea of the wunderkind – the young player who arrives fully formed and who hits the ground running, a Wayne Rooney or Raheem Sterling or whoever – that the idea that it could actually take a few years for someone to get really good can come as a shock. Again: if you were always fully confident that he would turn into the player he is now, then good for you, Guardiola. I'd love to see some paperwork on that though.

And what kind of player is he? It has already been observed that, on the pitch, Kane can seem a bit like a fan who has won a competition to have a run-out for the team he supports. And while it's not that he lacks technique, he definitely puts himself about. I found one of those "heat map" things that shows you the extent of player's movement during a game and, for Spurs' 5-3 win over Chelsea this season, Kane wasn't just working the opposition box, he was literally leading the line from one side of the pitch to the other, constantly running the entire width, touchline to touchline. It was like he was doing the Bleep Test in PE, only for 90 minutes, with half the Chelsea team trying to tackle him up as he did it. And he still managed to score two goals in the process. He sounds knackered in post-match interviews. Apparently he trains so hard that coaches sometimes have to tell him to just chill the fuck out. He could be a whole chapter in some "is-this-really-clever-or-is-this-fucking-obvious?" Malcolm Gladwell book about how if you put loads of effort into becoming good at something, you eventually become good at it.

"He's an all-round centre-forward," observed England manager Roy Hodgson earlier this year. "He has good determination. He doesn't stop. He keeps going," said Arsene Wenger after Kane had put two past his Arsenal side at the start of February. "Harry Kane talks like a mong and plays like one too," was the verdict of some West Ham fans, (allegedly) chanted in a recent game that also saw Kane score a last-minute equaliser. And while it's obviously not on to call someone a mong – the chanting was reported to the FA – I think that what we can say is that Kane is not a player who will ever exude the kind of brooding, icy gravitas of most top strikers.

I mean, just look at his Twitter. He gives enthusiastic endorsements to upmarket kebab restaurants in Chigwell. He showers his apple-cheeked missus and their two pet dogs with wave after wave of loving emojis. He seems genuinely moved to have been included in the FIFA 15 Team of the Week ("buzzing!") and is generally big on exclamation marks ("Wow!", "Incredible!", "What a game!"). He's probably one of the few Spurs or Chelsea players who is actually excited about the League Cup final on Sunday. He is a sweetheart, basically. It's impossible to picture him alongside, say, Luis Suarez in that "There Will Be Haters" Adidas campaign. I mean, find me someone who truly, truly hates Harry Kane. "There Will Be Some People Who Call Me A Mong But Even That Was Probably Just Banter" doesn't quite have the same ring.

And yet, for some reason, I fear for Harry Kane. For all his success this season, the more you watch him, the more convinced you become that there is something doomed about him. It doesn't help that he totally has the vibe – right down to his name – of an Edwardian soccer star who volunteers for the army at the outbreak of WWI, only to get promptly vaporised at Mons. If the Premier League has taught us anything it's that being a nice guy is an obsolete skill, and I can't shake the gnawing sense that one day this reality will catch up with him. It's like he's PacMan, running round like a maniac, gobbling up goals. But you know that, eventually, inevitably, he's going to get fucked up. I mean, would anybody be hand-on-heart surprised if at the League Cup final on Sunday a Chelsea player – let's say John Terry – does a late, late tackle on Kane that snaps his anterior cruciate ligament like pork crackling? It's all too easy to imagine how this would play out. Kane would publicly exonerate Terry of any wrongdoing. Terry would visit his hospital bedside and they'd both give thumbs-ups to the cameras. Terry then would leave with his latest medal and Kane – never the same player again – would go on to become nothing more than the answer to a pub quiz question about the 2014/15 football season.

Obviously, I hope something like this never happens. But until it does, he'll keep scoring goals. And every time he does, we should be happy. The story of Harry Kane is a fairytale, it's just that sometimes fairytales have weird, fucked-up endings. But whatever happens in the future, Kane is today a cult hero for everyone who has ever profusely apologised for catching an opponent with their elbow on a Sunday morning. Whatever happens in the future, Kane will never have to buy a kebab in Chigwell again.

@ben_machell