Harry Kane’s England role under scrutiny but captain ready to trade everything in for Euros glory

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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Harry Kane’s role will inevitably be fresh under scrutiny in England's Battle of Britain against Scotland tonight, following questions over his performance as England began Euro 2020 with a 1-0 win over Croatia on Sunday.

Kane had just 26 touches at Wembley and no shots on target, seemingly evidence that he should curb his habit of dropping deep and instead be a selfish focal point for Gareth Southgate's side.

Yet, England's winning goal came via a selfless piece of movement from Kane, who dragged Domagoj Vida out of position to create the space for Kalvin Phillips to burst forward and put in Raheem Sterling.

The question is whether Kane was simply starting slowly in the searing heat, or if the performance was evidence of a different role for the skipper, one in which he is less central, but just as pivotal.

He demonstrated at Tottenham last season that he can both score and create in astonishing measure, becoming only the second player to record the most goals and assists in a Premier League campaign. In an ideal world, he would have the same influence for England, but international football is often cagier and Southgate is building a controlled side, based on clearly defined roles.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Kane remains on course to break Wayne Rooney's record as England's all-time top scorer, but a return of one goal from open play in his last 10 internationals suggests his job is subtly changing.

Kane's entire career has been defined by the relentless pursuit of goals and he has racked up the individual accolades, including the Golden Boot at the last World Cup and three in the Premier League.

But, as he has matured, Kane's focus has definitively shifted towards the pursuit of team accolades, evidenced by his frustration at Spurs and desire to leave after the tournament.

"I'd trade in all my Golden Boots to win the Euros this summer, of course," Kane said on the eve of tonight's match. "I've said before that winning a team trophy, especially for our nation, would probably be the greatest highlight in my professional career."

Southgate has no doubt that, if necessary, Kane would happily be England's answer to Olivier Giroud, who played a pivotal role in France's 2018 World Cup win without scoring a single goal.

"He'll get a bit irritable if he hasn't scored, for certain," Southgate said. "But I think if you were to spend time with him, the personal accolades for him are important and for any player, they are something that will be with you forever. But in your career you do get to a point where you know that actually winning things with the team is going to define where your career actually sits. I think that's how he feels.

"He's the England captain. He knows no England captain for more than 50 years has been able to win something. He knows how special that would be for everybody. I think that is what is really apparent with this group of players.

"He wants to win, he wants England to win and whatever that takes, if we'd got to the end of the tournament and we'd had a successful tournament, and he hadn't scored the number of goals he'd hoped, then he would still feel fulfilled in having been a part of an important team performance."

Tonight's match, where England can book their place in the knockouts with another win, could shed light on what to expect from Kane during the tournament. On paper, Scotland are the weakest of the three sides England will face in the group and the captain will see an opportunity to get off the mark and fill his boots, as he did against Panama and Tunisia in Russia three years ago.

The Scots did not look convincing defensively in a 2-0 defeat to the Czech Republic in their opening game and their back three has been weakened by Scott McTominay's move into midfield, although the expected return of Kieran Tierney is a boost.

"Of course, it was fantastic to win the Golden Boot in a World Cup, but that was three years ago. I've changed as a player, I'm more experienced," Kane said. "I take confidence from that, knowing I've done it on the biggest stage possible.

 (The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)

"Regarding tonight, I'm not a striker who gets too carried away if I score two or three or if I don't score for a couple of games or so. Of course, I want to try to help the team by scoring — and if I can do that tonight then it will be fantastic, but the most important thing is that we win games.

"If we win again tonight and I don't score, then I'll be a happy man, don't worry about that."

Scotland's three-man defence will present Kane with a different challenge to Croatia, potentially crowding out the middle of the park but leaving spaces on the flanks for his trademark switches of play, all of which could benefit Sterling, Phil Foden and a more attacking pair of full-backs in Luke Shaw and Reece James.

"Are they going to come tight to me and try to make it difficult? Will they come all the way or stay deeper? There's lots of different situations," Kane said.

"You try to move them about as much as possible to create space for other players — and you saw our goal on Sunday. I thought Raheem used that perfectly. It's easy to see it now on previous games, but it's all about assessing that feeling on the pitch and seeing where you can hurt them— and that's what I'll try to do tonight."

Whether Kane is scoring freely or not, one thing is certain: questioning him has long since proven the best way to motivate the 27-year-old to greater heights, so perhaps everyone backing England at Euro 2020 should consider criticising the captain.

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