It started as a trickle.
A Europa League winner away in Cyprus. The third goal in a comfortable Capital One Cup victory at home to Nottingham Forest. The trickle became a torrent, and then a flood. A Thursday night hat-trick. Two against the league leaders, including a commanding run and drive. A towering header to win the north London derby – his second of the game.
Tottenham’s Harry Kane is a phenomenon. He has emerged this season as one of England’s brightest attacking prospects. For our interview he’s back where it all began: at Ridgeway Rovers, the youth football club that helped launch the careers of David Beckham, Andros Townsend and Kane himself.
“It’s great to come back and see some of the younger kids who will hopefully one day be playing for a big club like Spurs,” says Kane after watching the current members of the club working with trainee coaches from the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation. “Obviously David Beckham used to play here, and he was a big idol of mine growing up. So the fact that he played for Ridgeway made it even more special that I was playing for them as well.”
Beckham never popped his head in while Kane was on the books at Ridgeway, but he did have a brilliant childhood encounter with another footballer. “I was in the street with my mates just playing football,” Kane remembers. “Just having a little muck around. This Range Rover pulled up, and Jermain Defoe got out and said: ‘Do you mind if I have a little kickabout?’ He was probably there about half an hour, just messing about with us. I was quite in awe, quite starstruck. But it was great for him to do that and something I’ll definitely never forget.”
With his hair slicked back and wearing a classic football shirt for our photoshoot, Kane looks like a figure from English football folklore: a classic number nine straight from a pre-war cigarette card. But he is not just an old-fashioned goalscorer. There’s much more to his game.
He’s been compared to Alan Shearer, but Kane grew up admiring a more artful breed of forward – Tottenham’s own Teddy Sheringham. “I can see a bit of both in me, which isn’t bad, to be honest,” he says. “To be compared to someone like Alan Shearer is very special. He’s the all-time Premier League top goalscorer. If I score anywhere near as many as he did, it wouldn’t be a bad career.
“I feel sometimes I play in both of those roles for Spurs, and I see little bits that they had in my game. Shearer was a great finisher, and I like to think I’m a good finisher. Sheringham brought others into play, so you can definitely say I have some similar attributes. Hopefully I can do well and continue to score goals, and one day people will say that this player is like Harry Kane.”
Kane is a thoroughly modern breed of striker, and he’s much more comfortable in modern surroundings. After the shoot, he swaps Tottenham’s 1961 FA Cup final shirt for a hoody bearing the logo of another winning team: the New England Patriots.
Kane is a huge American football fan. One of his dogs is named Brady, after the Patriots’ quarterback, while the other is (coincidentally) called Wilson – sharing a name with the opposing quarterback (Russell) in this year’s Super Bowl. It’s a few days after the Super Bowl when we meet him, and Kane is buzzing from the result. He stayed up with Brady and Wilson to watch the Seahawks blow their last-minute chance to win the game.
The 21-year-old has his own experience of painful late reversals, as he recalls when we ask him for his worst moment in football.
“When I was on loan at Leicester, we were playing against Watford in the playoff game,” he recalls. “Anthony Knockaert had a penalty to take us to Wembley. He missed it, and they went up the other end and scored from the rebound. It was crazy, because it had happened in a Brentford game the week before. So for it to happen twice in a week…”
Kane might have been robbed of the opportunity to appear at Wembley by that last-gasp goal, but he’ll get his chance this weekend in the Capital One Cup final against Chelsea. It’s a repeat of “a very special day out” – Kane was in the Wembley stands in 2008 when Spurs beat Chelsea after extra-time to win their most recent trophy.
“I was there watching Spurs beat Chelsea on the big stage, and winning trophies,” he says. “It was something I grew up dreaming of doing, and now I have the opportunity.”
Kane scored twice and won a penalty against Chelsea on New Year’s Day; a powerful performance, but was it his best in a Tottenham shirt? “I think so,” he says. “So far. It was a game I’ll always remember. Against a top team like Chelsea, to be able to score two goals myself and five as a team, it showed how well we played that night. It was a very special night for me, the players, the fans, everyone.”
One of their own
Kane is a local lad, and a Tottenham fan – something that has greatly endeared him to the White Hart Lane faithful, who loudly proclaim the forward as ‘one of their own’.
“My family are big football fans, and they used to take me over there,” he explains. “I’m sure they’re as proud as I am that I’m playing for Spurs.”
“Whenever I was playing in Europe or in the cups, I was scoring. So I knew I just had to keep my head down and I’d get the chance in the Premier League”
Kane wears the number 18 shirt previously occupied by Jurgen Klinsmann and Jermain Defoe, and has inherited their clinical touch. The latter even bequeathed his shirt to Kane: “When Defoe was leaving, he said: ‘You’ve got to have that number 18 shirt, because it’s a goalscoring shirt.’”
Kane’s first senior game for Spurs was “a very emotional night”, he says: “It was obviously a great feeling to be walking out that tunnel at White Hart Lane, and I’ve been able to do it more often now, and hopefully I’ll continue to do it for a long time.” His favourite terrace chant, says Kane, is ‘He’s one of our own’:
“Especially after that Chelsea game – it was the loudest I’ve heard it, which was very special to me.”
The chants have only got louder since we spoke to Kane. We suspect his answer to his best moment for Spurs may have changed too, after a match-winning performance against local rivals Arsenal. Kane has certainly vindicated his manager Mauricio Pochettino’s decision to give him a regular starting place – but did he have to keep knocking on the manager’s door to get the chance?
“I just had to keep doing what I was doing,” he says. “Whenever I was playing in Europe or in the cups, I was scoring. So I knew I just had to keep my head down and I’d get the chance in the Premier League.”
Kane’s rise to prominence has not been straightforward. He worked hard to make his mark on loan in the lower leagues, with varying degrees of success.
“I went to Leyton Orient when I was 17 and scored five goals in nine games,” he says. “Then Millwall when I was 18, scored nine goals in 27 games. They were very good loans for me. Norwich and Leicester were maybe not as good as I wanted them to be [a combined two goals in 18 appearances]. But it’s still an experience on how to deal with not playing as well and being on the bench, and I think it helped me.”
Kane could well be out on loan again this season were it not for Tim Sherwood. “I think sometimes there are a lot of good players who just don’t get the chance to showcase themselves on the big stage, which is unfortunate,” says Kane when we ask whether it’s difficult for young English players to break through.
“I was quite lucky. Tim Sherwood first of all played me [regularly] in the Premier League. I knew Tim from the development squad, and we had a great relationship. He threw me in when maybe other managers wouldn’t have. Maybe that’s what a few more young strikers coming through need.”
“We won the game 5-1 in the end so it didn’t really matter – but yeah, I probably won’t be putting the gloves on again for a while!”
His breakthrough moment this season was arguably the hat-trick he scored in a Europa League game at White Hart Lane. Two weeks later he had his starting place. It was a performance given extra excitement by a brief stint in goal after Hugo Lloris was dismissed. “When I was really young, I had a trial for Ridgeway as a goalkeeper, and they wanted to take me as a goalkeeper,” he says. “But I got a bit bored and wanted to go out on the pitch. It was a good decision in the end, especially after what happened this season!”
Kane let a low free-kick slip through his fingers at the near post. “I was quite looking forward to it,” he says when we ask what was going through his head as he donned the goalkeeper’s jersey and gloves against Asteras.
“I’d scored a hat-trick anyway, so I was buzzing from that, and I actually go in goal in training sometimes. I’m quite good. We won the game 5-1 in the end, so it didn’t really matter. But yeah, I probably won’t be putting the gloves on again for a while!”
There’s no doubt about the position Kane will be playing in on Sunday – he’ll lead the line against the defence he terrorised on New Year’s Day. But if he had to choose between lifting the Capital One Cup or a Champions League spot, which would he go for?
“To win a trophy for a club like Spurs would be something very special, but we want to try and get into the Champions League too, so we’re focused on doing the best we can in every competition.”
He has sensed the anticipation in the area building as the Wembley date with Chelsea draws closer. “There are a lot of Spurs fans around this sort of area, and – especially this season now we’ve got to Wembley – you feel that little buzz in the air around the place.”
Kane still lives locally with his girlfriend, 10 minutes from his family, who he says have been the biggest influence on his career. Apart from watching American football, he spends his time playing golf and, inevitably for a 21-year-old footballer, on the PlayStation. “I play FIFA and Madden a lot,” he says, referring to the NFL video game franchise. “I play as Tottenham quite a bit on FIFA and I always put myself on. Hopefully my stats might have gone up a bit!”
In a triumph for investigative journalism, we fired up the PS4 to have a look. His form has seen Kane’s virtual rating increase from a 68 to a 77, but what stats does he think have changed in real life?
“I think I’ve got more physical,” he says. “I’ve got fitter, stronger, faster, which has helped me. And I’m always working on my finishing as well. I think it’s something natural as I’ve got older, but we’ve been working a lot on it in pre-season with the new manager – a lot of time spent in the gym, so that has definitely been part of it.”
His performances have caught the eye of England manager Roy Hodgson, who has all but confirmed that Kane will get his first senior call-up when the squad is named for the games against Lithuania and Italy. The striker has been an integral part of the youth set-up for England at all age levels, and will probably be going to the European Under 21 Championship in the Czech Republic in the summer. “I’m really looking forward to it,” he says. “It’s going be a great tournament, we’ve got a great side and we’ve got a good chance.”
Kane recently signed a new contract with Spurs that lasts until 2020, and the goals keep going in. He’s at 24 so far for the season, in all competitions: “I’ve set myself a new target in my head. I won’t tell you what it is, but I’ll tell you if I get there.”
Right now, no matter what that target is, you get the feeling that Kane is able.
Harry Kane was speaking at the home of Ridgeway Rovers, where he made a surprise visit to his old youth team to assist in a training session delivered by coaches from the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation