Harry Kane doesn’t need trophies at Tottenham to prove his greatness

<span>Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

This was Harry’s game, Harry’s day. And also, in an agreeable piece of irony – football really does love this stuff – Arsenal’s day, although we can perhaps draw a veil over that for now.

At the final whistle of this 1-0 defeat of Manchester City the Tottenham players stayed out, trophy ceremony style, for an on-field moment with Harry Kane as he celebrated passing Jimmy Greaves’ all-time club scoring record.

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It should perhaps be added that Greaves ended on 357 in the top tier in total, and that Kane is 27th overall on the roster of the English top flight, a far more storied list than the quarter-century Alan Shearer pursuit so beloved of the broadcasters. Fourteen more and Kane will be level with Tony Cottee. He can reasonably hope to go top 10 by getting to 250. All of these will have been scored in the white heat of a league that is competitive from top to bottom.

There was bobbing huddle, speeches, cheers. Thankfully nobody wheeled out a podium and a ticker-tape bomb. The moment will be mocked, of course, because everyone mocks everything, and because it was also quite silly. The winner of the Harry Kane shield is … Harry Kane.

But there is also a reason why the club celebrated this thing: because this is a ground built for celebrating things; and because it was a genuinely lovely moment for Kane, a club-record winning goal at the stadium he helped to build, his performances sustaining Tottenham’s income streams and their Champions League presence during the years of austerity on the pitch as this thing was funded.

All those rushed returns, the ligament twangs, the years without any serious backup, the full-body commitment to trying to make Spurs finish fourth. They should probably name this ground after him, or after his ankles. At least until Google or Yahoo or Myspace or some Skynet of the future finally makes its move

Harry Kane celebrates after scoring his record-breaking goal for Tottenham
Harry Kane celebrates after scoring his record-breaking goal for Tottenham. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

So Harry talked about sacrifice and dedication, although of course (churlishly) part of that sacrifice was not being allowed to leave to win the title with Sunday’s opponents. It felt entirely fitting that he should make the difference with the only goal of an engaging game, albeit a hugely disappointing one for City.

Pep Guardiola fielded a strange team, starting with Rico Lewis on the left. Lewis has only recently turned 18. He was asked in this formation to play two roles, to defend as left-back (he is a right-back) and to move into midfield as required. Lewis did it brilliantly, all things considered. But he was sold short by Rodri for the game’s only goal, given a scuffed pass from a tough angle with no time to turn. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg scragged his way through Lewis and bundled the ball sideways to Kane. From there the day seemed to stop. Kane paused with just a touch of theatre, then pinged it into the far corner.

What a wonderful player he has been, a model of constant self-improvement from his early days as a mildly fleshy creative forward. There is slight myth that Kane was a plodder as a young player. This isn’t quite right. Those who saw him during his loan spells, notably at Millwall, recall a player of obvious high-end talent. The physical development under Mauricio Pochettino was the moment of real ignition. Kane pressed and harried and hustled like a maniac in those early seasons.

The development into a creative, deeper forward has in part been a response to his own loss of high-throttle speed. Even here he is a wonderful model. How many players do this, reinvent themselves not once but twice, from midweek hopeful to prime cutting edge to creative foil. Kane has three footballing superpowers: his finishing, his passing and above all his supreme footballing intelligence, a quality English players have so often been accused of lacking, or failing to develop.

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For City this was perhaps a case of here’s what you could have had. It will always be tempting to put forward a counterfactual history where Kane, not Erling Haaland, became Pep’s mid-life crisis centre-forward, his red Porsche 911, his tactical ponytail and wayfarers.

There is a favourable take that suggests Kane could score Haaland goals for City; but that Haaland still lacks the all-round gears of Kane’s game. On the other hand, Haaland’s one obvious strength is an absolute super-strength. He’s also 22. His final form has yet to reveal itself. He was poor here, though, failing to offer any coherent presence in attack.

A last word on Kane, whose feting as a top player has always been a little begrudged by some. It is true that very few footballers have had such an illustrious career without actually winning a trophy. The misunderstanding is that this dilutes Kane’s achievements. In reality it makes them more impressive. Here is a man who has performed to a relentlessly high level while playing for Spurs and England, two teams with almost no modern history of winning pots. A genuine homespun hero in the peculiarly brutal, globalised landscape of modern football, he deserves his moment.