Harry Kane has evolved as a playmaker

Words By Seb Stafford-Bloor Illustration by Philippe Fenner
March 6, 2018
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Tottenham’s two-nil victory over Huddersfield was rather typical of the fixture type. It was an unremarkable game decided but a few isolated flourishes and after which everyone seemed content enough with their lot. Mauricio Pochettino tucked away the three points and began to focus on Juventus. David Wagner shrugged cheerfully, accepting that his players had been well beaten by a far superior side.

It was not the kind of match, then, from which to draw any conclusions orĀ  – as the irritating online habit goes – to “learn” anything.

But if there was one moment which lingered in the mind and seemed representative of a growing trend, it was Harry Kane’s carved cross for Son Heung-Min’s second goal. Kane does this now. A lot. The obvious parallel to draw would be with the pass played at Swansea when, again under pressure and without a clear sight of his teammate, he dropped a fabulous ball into Dele Alli’s stride.

Kane has always had a creative element within his game. His goals may have animated his rise in reputation, but it’s the breadth of his play which draws admiration from within the sport. His running off-the-ball is a celebrated part of his reportoire, so too his willingness to drag centre-halves into the channels and towards the touchline. Tottenham’s style of attacking – which often sees attacking-midfielders advance beyond a single forward – has also been partly formed by his skillset; it’s a gameplan designed by Mauricio Pochettino and enabled by the physical and technical attributes of Alli, Eriksen, Son and the rest, but it works as well as it does because of Kane’s unique abilities.

And those abilities are broadening all the time.

Most centre-forwards improve over time. When they make bad decisions or squander good opportunities, that experience tends to be instructive But that isn’t necessarily a trait of an excellent player – after all, even a journeyman hacker will eventually learn not to snatch at chances.

Kane’s evolution has involved all the usual refinement, but also seems to have been shaped by his team’s imperatives, too. Spurs depend on their attacking midfield and, to suit that need, he has grown progressively more comfortable in deeper areas. It’s not unusual, for instance, to see him drop fifty or sixty yards from goal and play a first time pass out to one of the advancing full-backs. It’s now a regular part of his game.

More interestingly, so too is the driven switch of play. His showreel of passes will always focus on those which lead directly to a goal – Son’s most recently or Alli’s against Swansea – and rightly so. However, to watch him now is to see a player who not only completes a lot of attacking moves, but also begins them as well. It’s not so much “link play” as it is creativity. He sees the subtle through-passes and the “round the corner” balls as well as anyone, but this new weapon – this laces-through-the-leather delivery is a different skill entirely.

The January game with Everton showed it at its most vivid. A negative team who arrived at Wembley intending to sit behind the ball, they were ultimately undone by the speed with which Tottenham played and the regularity with which they found attacking space in wide areas – and, while not the sole cause, Kane’s ability to take one or two touches and then arrow a quick pass over long distances enabled the offensive gear changes which prevented Everton from settling into proper defensive shapes. For a long time, Spurs have relied almost exclusively on their full-backs for pace and width, with the key to maximising those players’ production being the quick supply of possession in dangerous areas.

Christian Eriksen has the same pass in his locker, so too do Toby Alderweireld and – less frequently – Jan Vertonghen. The advantage of Kane’s vision is obvious though: he attracts more defensive attention than any other Spurs player, meaning that the combination of his movement and quick, long-range delivery typically creates a wide fracture which is difficult to repair.

The broader point, though, is to recognise his private evolution. It’s fascinating to watch players improve, more so when the individual himself is smart enough to recognise the value in refining the parts of their game which most benefit their team.

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Harry Kane Tottenham Hotspur
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