It does not feel like very long ago when Harry Kane broke into the England team. Less than four years ago, in fact, when Roy Hodgson called the gangly 21-year-old into his squad for the first time. Kane was thrown on for his debut in England’s Wembley qualifier against Lithuania, a second-half substitute for Wayne Rooney. And 79 seconds and three touches later, he had his first England goal, heading in Raheem Sterling’s cross.
We all know what happened at Euro 2016, and of course at the 2018 World Cup where Kane won the Golden Boot. But as Kane prepares to start his latest international cycle back at Wembley on Friday night, against the Czech Republic on the road to Euro 2020, it is already time to wonder whether Kane might be heading into his peak as an elite footballer.
Kane has continued to steadily improve as a player since his international debut, although injuries mean that he is unlikely to match last season’s standard of 30 Premier League goals this year. He is stronger and leaner than he was when he arrived in top-level football, better at holding off defenders. His left-foot finishing is better, after years of hard work on it. His link-up and creative player is sharper and cleverer than ever, as he has shown for Spurs and England this year. His commitment to self-improvement remains as strong as ever, and he will not stop trying to push the boundaries of his own game.
But all careers have a rise and a peak, and it is likelier that we are in the second phase than the first right now. Especially given that during Euro 2020, when Kane hopes to be leading England out at Wembley, he will be 26, when most strikers would expect to be at their best. By the time of the Qatar World Cup in November 2022, Kane will be 29, and who knows how him, England and Spurs will be doing by then.
Given Kane’s age, given Wembley and given Qatar, the next 15 months could well be his best shot at winning a major international trophy. So does he feel like he is at his peak, ready for his best chance?
“It’s hard to say,” Kane said in his press conference at St George’s Park on Tuesday afternoon. “At 26, it is kind of on the border. Maybe 26, 29, 30. Nowadays with everything, sports science, I feel the prime can be a bit later, late twenties. I hope to be, maybe 28 or 30, that is maybe when you’re going to be in your prime.”
Kane has seen how Cristiano Ronaldo has sustained his peak through his 20s and all the way into his 30s and he hopes to stay at the top level for as long as he can too. All the way to the Qatar World Cup, Euro 2024 in Germany and beyond. “If you keep yourself in shape, Ronaldo has proven that, and Messi and players like that. I’ve still got a little bit to go. 26 isn’t too old. It feels old in this squad, but I’d like to think that, a couple of years after that, I’ll be in my prime.”
So while Kane may well be entering his prime now, he does not especially want to look at it this way. All he wants to do is keep improving and keep scoring, and leave the analysis until the end.
“It’s hard to say,” he said, when pressed on whether this was his playing peak. “You don’t really know until you look back on your career, through the years and see when you were playing at your best. I feel each year I’ve improved. This year I’ve improved as well. I’d like to think that, in a couple more years, I’ll be in my prime. But again you don’t really know.”
Of course 2018 was a great year for Kane’s career, winning the Golden Boot in Russia, an achievement that will stay with him forever. But the one thing missing in his career is still a major team trophy, and the Nations League finals in Porto gives him a fresh chance of that. Beat Holland and then Portugal or Switzerland, and Kane will be lifting the trophy, giving him something he has not yet tasted in his career. And then that would be the true peak of his career so far.
“Hopefully we can win some silverware,” Kane said. “If we win the Nations League, 2019 will top . I have said before that to have a chance to win a trophy in an England shirt is not [something that happens] very often. If we go and have a good summer and win that trophy, in my eyes, is a better year. Of course 2018 was fantastic but for me, the main thing is the team and we want to win things.”
Whatever happens in Guimaraes and Porto, Kane’s international career will likely be defined by what happens at Wembley in the summer of 2020. What better time to hit his peak than that? “We know the chance to play a Euros where most of the games are at home is an amazing opportunity and you don’t often get that in your career,” he said. “So we will try and make the most of it.”