There can’t be anyone left in English football unaware of Harry Kane’s underwhelming performances this season. Indeed, the 28-year-old has been the subject of much discussion for months - first it was his apparent desire to leave Tottenham Hotspur for Manchester City then it was his subsequent poor run of form.
For all that Kane has struggled to get going for Spurs, though, England has always been his comfort zone. The 28-year-old had only scored in the Europa Conference League at club level when he scored in three successive games against Hungary, Andorra and Poland in the September international break.
This is why the sight of Kane being hooked with England still level against Hungary with 15 minutes to go was so symbolic. The national team captain could have no complaints after producing so little in the 75 minutes he was on the pitch, but that Southgate thought his side would stand a better chance of winning the match with Kane substituted off was nonetheless notable.
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Whether it’s for club or country, it’s clear something isn’t quite right with Kane. Outside observers can sometimes read too much into body language, but the 28-year-old has frequently looked disinterested, certainly detached, this season and he has now allowed this to creep into his international form too.
Of course, Gareth Southgate has plenty of attacking options to choose from. Tammy Abraham has revived his career since making the summer switch to Roma and looks to have climbed the England pecking order as a result - the 24-year-old was the one who replaced Kane against Hungary.
Ollie Watkins has also earned his place in the national team set-up with Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Danny Ings also good options. This is before Mason Greenwood, arguably England’s best young attacker, and Ivan Toney, still uncapped, but catching the eye for Brentford, are even mentioned.
None of these options have the skill set of Kane, though. At the peak of his powers, the 28-year-old is the most accomplished all-round centre forward in the European game. He is much more than just a penalty box finisher. He is a final third conductor and Southgate recognises this, explaining why Kane plays almost every minute of every England game.
England have good centre forwards besides Kane, but they don't have another one-man attacking hub. This is why it’s so important that the Tottenham striker rediscovers his best form before the 2022 World Cup. If Kane is still in this depression by the time England head to Qatar, Southgate will have to rethink his team’s attacking structure.
“I can’t talk about the club but I think he feels settled in our environment,” Southgate insisted before Tuesday’s match at Wembley, addressing a question on Kane’s recent form. One wonders if the England boss still believes Kane is “settled” for the national team after watching him toil against Hungary.
In isolation, Kane’s poor performance against Hungary is far from a reason to panic. Remarkably, this was the first time the 28-year-old has failed to find the back of the net in a qualifying fixture for a major tournament since September 2017 (against Slovakia), bringing to an end an incredible scoring run of finding the net in 15 consecutive such matches.
However, the sample size isn’t so small when also taking into account Kane’s less-than-impressive form for Tottenham this season. It’s clear the centre forward feels he has been left in no man’s land with regards to his club career, stuck between the past and what he hopes will be the future with another team, but he mustn’t allow that to affect his performances for England. His country needs him.
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