Released by Arsenal and initially rejected by Tottenham Hotspur, Harry Kane could have gone the way of scores of young hopefuls, on the books at big Premier League clubs as children but cast aside before they’ve even started shaving. Instead, Kane emerged as England’s greatest goalscorer since Alan Shearer, the No 9 who will lead the line at World Cup 2018 after another season of setting records in Spurs colours.
Kane spent a season as an Arsenal player as an eight-year-old and had an unsuccessful trial with Tottenham before Spurs reconsidered. “You are always a bit angry,” Arsene Wenger admitted when asked about the one who got away. “I asked ‘why did he go?’ But at that age, boys can move here or there.”
It still wasn’t all plain-sailing for Kane once he put pen-to-paper at White Hart Lane as a youth player. First, he had to find his position, having been a defensive midfielder in the club’s youth set-up. He slowly moved further forward and by 17, was scoring 18 goals in 22 games for Spurs’ Under-18 side. That same 2009-10 season Kane made his first appearances in the senior set-up as an unused substitute and in 2010, after turning 17, he signed his first professional deal.
Kane though wasn’t a Wayne Rooney type, earmarked for greatness from an early age. Not even his youth team goals were a guarantee of a chance in the Spurs first team. But the signs were there, even when Kane was sent on loan to get more experience. He scored on his first start for Leyton Orient and by the end of his spell with the East London club, had scored almost a goal every three games.
Jermain Defoe, speaking years after the fact, felt Kane was always likely to make it, even though his club didn’t seem to show the same belief. “I knew from day one,” Defoe said in 2017 when asked if he expected the young Kane to flourish. “He’d get the ball, he’d shoot, and sometimes the lads would moan at him. But he’d do the same thing again…I was exactly the same. All I wanted to do was score goals.”
It wasn’t enough to keep him at the Lane, though. Kane did get a Spurs debut in a dead-rubber second leg Europa League qualifier against Hearts, Tottenham having won the first leg 5-0 in Scotland. He was restricted to minor Europa League fixtures in the first half of the 2011-12 season and duly scored his first Tottenham goal against Shamrock Rovers. But with Emmanuel Adebayor, Defoe and Roman Pavlyuchenko competing for Harry Redknapp’s favour, Kane was allowed to leave on loan again, this time to Millwall, where he again scored one-in-three, netting nine goals in 27 appearances for the Lions.
Redknapp was sacked in summer 2012 but his replacement, Andre Villas-Boas, couldn’t find a place for the now-19-year-old Kane either. Perhaps by now Kane would have been ready to make an impact in the Premier League, having been loaned to Norwich City, but a broken bone in his foot meant he made only three appearances for the Canaries. 2013 came and Kane was on loan again, to Leicester City, scoring on his debut but managing only one more goal before the end of the season.
Kane was living a peripatetic existence, bouncing from loan to loan to loan, scoring a few goals but never really setting the pitch on fire. By the age of 20, Kane had made more appearances in six months at Milwall than anywhere else — by that point, Rooney had played more than 75 games for Everton and Manchester United, and was a full-fledged England international. There seemed little sign of a breakthrough at Spurs, who were not the successful, well-run club of 2018. Kane turned 20 the month before Spurs sold Gareth Bale to Real Madrid and used a large chunk of the fee from the Spanish giants on Roberto Soldado, who cost £26m but barely broke double figures in 2013-14.
Slowly moving up the Spurs pecking order, Kane played three consecutive first team games in April 2014 and scored in each one and with Soldado continuing to struggle early in 2014-15, the Spurs Coach couldn’t ignore him any longer. By now it was Mauricio Pochettino in the dugout. Villas-Boas was gone in December 2013, replaced by Tim Sherwood, who lasted until May 2014, and it’s no coincidence that it was Pochettino who gave Kane his first real chance at Tottenham. It was a confluence of events — a Coach ready to give young players a chance, and the 21-year-old Kane was old enough to take it. Once Soldado proved unable to replicate his form from Spain, it fell to Kane to score the goals for Spurs.
Between a September 2014 League Cup game against Nottingham Forest and a Premier League fixture with Hull City, Kane made 10 appearances and scored nine goals. He scored five times across three Europa League fixtures and then, after a four-game dry spell, plundered four goals in as many games and a brace against Chelsea on January 1, 2015. By the end of the season Kane had made his England debut, captained Tottenham for the first time and passed 30 goals in all competitions.
Kane joked after the 2014-15 campaign that he achieved more in a season than he expected to in his whole career but, self-depreciation aside, his level head was crucial. “I try never to get too high or too low,” he said when asked about his streaky form — nine goals in 10 games, then none in four. “All goalscorers go on droughts. It’s how you cope with that.”
Kane also had to cope with immediate, intense transfer speculation. After one season of goals, he was linked with Manchester United and then, after he proved to be anything but a flash in the pan, it was Real Madrid. Bale had gone from Spurs to Santiago Bernabeu and so had Luka Modric, so the path was well worn.
Yet everything about Kane suggests he sees his future at Spurs, and Spurs — in contrast to when Bale and Modric left for La Liga — can give Kane what every top player wants. That is, to compete for trophies and play regularly in the Champions League. Indeed, while Chelsea, Leicester and 2017-18 champions-elect Manchester City have lifted the Premier League trophy, Spurs have been the most consistent challengers. Few would be surprised if they went one better in the next couple of years.
Kane’s actions, meanwhile, indicate he wants to be a Tottenham lifer. He reportedly swapped his No 18 shirt for the No 10 because it’s an ‘iconic’ number previously worn by Jimmy Greaves, Glenn Hoddle, Teddy Sheringham, Les Ferdinand and Robbie Keane, each one a Tottenham legend. “It was always my dream to wear it,” Kane admitted. “When I knew No 10 was available I just wanted it. I love this club and I couldn’t resist.”
Love doesn’t always trump money in modern football, however. “I believe Harry Kane should leave for Real Madrid this summer, if he gets the chance,” Graeme Souness wrote, as rumours swirled Spurs would consider selling for £176m if the deal could be done quickly. “He’s ready for Real Madrid.”
Kane may well be ready for Madrid — and given their struggles this season, Real Madrid may well be ready for Kane — but it’s not always that simple. It took Kane years to earn his status at Tottenham and there’s no guarantee he’ll want to give it up so soon.