Why Harry Kane isn’t the leader England need

Harry Kane will lead the Three Lions into Russia this summer, but it was the wrong decision to name him as captain.


REUTERS/Carl Recine

Harry Kane carries a high-profile name, no doubt about it, but is the desire to score goals and take the limelight satisfactory pre-requisites to be given the honour of captaining your country?

Kane has had another great season in front of goal in the Premier League, finally reaching the 30-goal mark that had painfully eluded him for the two previous terms. 

However, after a long campaign which has included its share of knocks, bumps and injuries, is giving the Tottenham star the armband the right move?

Kane too selfish for the captaincy

As far as tradition goes, at least, the captain of a side is the one player who demonstrates an exemplary level of leadership, commands respect from his teammates, has a firm backing from supporters and would give anything for his team. 

When those criteria are thrown into the mix, do they and Harry Kane make a perfect match? Perhaps not.

Purists of the game will always say the captain of a team, especially a national team at a World Cup finals, should be a centre half or central midfielder. Manager Gareth Southgate’s choice isn’t exactly ‘groundbreaking’, but is a sign that times and tradition may well be changing. 

At Tottenham, Harry Kane is the focal point of the side, the shining light in a team that pulses with attacking talent, the golden boy – ‘one of our own’. 

As far as having the right attitude, desire to succeed, improve and be the best player he can be, few can question Kane’s drive; his short journey through the lower-league loan spells to the world stage a testament. 

REUTERS/Carl Recine

However, that desire can often be misconstrued and interpreted differently. Kane was hellbent on winning the Premier League golden boot this season, on a warpath to catch eventual winner Mohamed Salah. Even if it meant being a detriment to his team…

An injury in the first half of Tottenham’s game away at Bournemouth forced him off with an initially bleak prognosis. At first, it looked as though Kane may face a race to even be fit enough for the World Cup. 

The international break, though, came to his rescue – at least as far as he and Tottenham were concerned. Missing the March international friendlies, Kane stayed with his club’s medical team and threw himself through a recovery programme. 

With his side 3-1 up away at rivals Chelsea, Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino brought Kane on with 15 minutes to go. Was there any need to do that? No. More often than not, managers will bring on an extra defensive-minded player in those situations. 

So why did he bring Kane on, why not bring on a fully fit Lucas Moura, instead? To give Kane the chance to score, to allow him to chase his own agenda – how much of an influence does he have at the club?

Kane was not ready for a return, and so it was proven as he feebly ‘moved’ around the pitch, barely making a mark in the next four games. Most noticeably, or perhaps unnoticeablyin the FA Cup defeat at Manchester United. Chris Smalling barely had to lift a finger.

Meanwhile, at Anfield, Salah couldn’t stop scoring. The golden boot was getting further out of sight for Kane, and he hated it. Thus, he played when not fully fit, forcing his team to play, effectively, with ten men.

Not least, his ridiculous ‘claim’ to Christian Eriksen’s second goal in the win over Stoke City the epitome of childish, selfish behaviour; to have been a fly on the wall at training the next day…

Quality player, poor captain

There is no disputing Kane’s talents here. A born goalscorer, a gifted player, England’s best forward by some distance. 

Despite his qualities, there are many question marks over his suitability to captain his national side. So why has Southgate elected Kane?

Perhaps he likes Kane’s obvious drive and determination to succeed, it’s the mentality that is needed to get Kane to where he is, the mentality that’s got him all his goals and put him in the position he now finds himself in.

Nonetheless, is a mentality that is so focused, so good for an individual, a worthy one to have as the head of the dressing room and the pitch? Not really.

REUTERS/Carl Recine

While most footballing matters off the pitch are not seen or heard, we can only assume. Kane, though, doesn’t appear to be the type of character to pull his team mates together in the dressing room when 2-0 down at half-time.

And when he’s isolated up front trying to get England a goal, while it’s an unorganised mess at the back, what then? Who will take charge of the midfield and defence?

Much of England’s hopes will be pinned on Kane, and his ability to link up with the likes of Dele Alli and Raheem Sterling to produce the goods this summer, and he undoubtedly has the quality to do that. 

As a captain, though, his suitability doesn’t stand out.

Lack of other options?

With Southgate’s eventual choice perhaps upsetting the odds somewhat, who else could have realistically been in the frame for the armband? The lack of standout options or go-to choices is alarming. England are desperately short on obvious, quality leaders. 

Wayne Rooney led England in France for the last European Championships and was the first forward to captain the team since Alan Shearer in the late 1990s.

Kane has led the team out before, on four occasions, most notably in the 2-2 draw against Scotland in which he scored an injury-time equaliser. It is though, Kane’s first World Cup, and after a poor Euro 2016, he’ll be under enough pressure to perform as it is. 

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson was the favourite to receive the honour and can count himself unlucky to be overlooked for the role. Although not so much in the headlines himself, Henderson has overseen an incredible Champions League run and been part of a Liverpool side that has captivated the football world this term.

REUTERS/Andrew Yates

Gary Cahill, who also has prior experience of leading England, was perhaps rather fortunate to make the final squad in the first place, and despite his experience of 58 caps, it’s unlikely he’ll feature much in the tournament, ruling out any real chance of consideration. 

With Southgate choosing an inexperienced side, most of the defensive players picked are lacking in any real captaincy credentials. Harry Maguire and John Stones, who are likely to form part of a back three, have only 28 caps between them.

Playing alongside them will probably be Kyle Walker, who isn’t a standout captaincy pick either. Joe Hart’s poor recent seasons have caught up with him, as Southgate left his experience in England this summer – another potential outsider for the armband had he been chosen. 

Tottenham’s Eric Dier might be the only other real contender for the responsibility; the versatile defensive-minded player ever-present in England sides of the last couple of years.

The sheer lack of obvious choice may well have been part of the reason Southgate opted for Kane; perhaps the thinking being his individual achievements being something for the younger, less experienced members of the side to aspire to.

Point to prove

Over the years, the importance or significance of having the armband has become less of an ordeal; nowadays more of a formality. 

Even so, the country is always intrigued to know who will lead the side out at a major tournament. 

In the days since being given the honour, Kane has openly said he believes that England can win the tournament – a brave statement, but one that will now be scrutinised should the pattern of underwhelming summer tournaments continue to develop. 

Kane himself will be eager to put his Euro 2016 horrors behind him, and will have a great opportunity to showcase his abilities on the grandest stage of all – but as the captain…? We’ll need convincing. 

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