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How Harry Kane’s role is different from England’s past major tournaments

How Harry Kane's role is different from England's past major tournaments
Harry Kane has been reduced to a peripheral role at Euro 2024 so far - Kevin Voigt/Getty Images

The greatest goalscorer in the history of the England national team has so far been a peripheral figure at this summer’s European Championship. Harry Kane being Harry Kane, he has still found the net — but there is no doubt that England need more from their captain.

As England have struggled in their opening two games, so has Kane. This is also true the other way around: as Kane has struggled, so have England. Kane needs quality service from his team-mates, but his team-mates also need him to provide them with a platform. In the games against Serbia and Denmark, neither of those things has happened as it should.

Compared to Kane’s previous appearances at international tournaments, the Bayern Munich striker’s lack of influence in Germany so far must be a source of serious concern for Gareth Southgate.

Kane is one of Europe’s best all-round forwards, capable of scoring goals and creating them, but in two matches at Euro 2024 he has hardly touched the ball.

Former England striker and BBC presenter Gary Lineker commented on Kane’s lack of influence on the team after the 1-1 draw to Denmark saying he needs “do better” despite scoring the early goal.

“His movement was minimal,” Lineker said. “He did not look to get in behind and he doesn’t often but even when he is coming short he is doing it lethargically and plodding short.”

Fewer touches, fewer shots

In Germany so far, Kane has averaged 26 touches per match. In his previous four major tournaments for England, he averaged 37 touches per match. In other words, Kane is currently 30 per cent less involved in England’s games than he has been in past major international events.

The drop-off is even more dramatic when it comes to touches in the penalty area. In Germany, Kane has taken an average of just 1.1 touches per game in the opposition box, down from an average of 3.3 in Euro 2016, World Cup 2018, Euro 2020 and World Cup 2022.

The obvious consequence of Kane seeing less of the ball is that he has been less able to shoot, which is arguably the greatest of his many strengths. His average of 1.7 shots per game in 2024 is the lowest of any of his international tournaments.

Kane’s heat map from Euro 2024 is illustrative of the problem: most of his touches have come around the centre circle, with many of them actually in his own half. At his previous tournaments, his overall involvement was mostly higher up the pitch, towards the opponent’s third.

It should not be forgotten that there were also concerns over Kane at the start of the previous European Championship, which took place in 2021. A major talking point after England’s opening game was that Kane was dropping too deep, and that he only had 26 touches. He and England, therefore, have been in this position before.

The fear this year, however, is that the attack is no longer set up to make the most of Kane’s all-round quality. With Phil Foden often drifting inside into a more central position, England have had only one player, Bukayo Saka, who has shown willingness to run in behind the opposition defence.

The theory in previous tournaments was that Kane’s ability to drop deep allowed him to play scything passes to England’s runners in behind. In Euro 2020, Kane was usually flanked by two quick wingers, rather than one.

Raheem Sterling started every match of that tournament, Saka started three games and Jadon Sancho played in the quarter-final against Ukraine. Jack Grealish also offered width on the left wing, mostly from the bench.

In Euro 2020, Kane played an average of 5.4 passes per game to England’s wide attackers. In 2022, when Marcus Rashford was involved, it was a similar number: 4.6 per game.

In both tournaments, the tactic of Kane spraying passes to his wingers proved to be fruitful for England. Their opening goal against Denmark in the Euro 2020 semi-final was the result of Kane playing a through ball to Saka, who crossed to force an own goal. At the 2022 World Cup, it was Kane’s cross for the sprinting Sterling which brought England’s third against Iran.

This year, however, is yet to bring any similar moments for England and Kane. So far in 2024, he has played an average of just 3.5 passes to England’s wide attackers (Saka, Foden and Jarrod Bowen) in the two games.

The worrying Pickford-Kane link-up

Perhaps even more concerning is the identity of the players who have been passing to Kane. In two games at Euro 2024, the player who has played the most passes to Kane has been Jordan Pickford, the goalkeeper.

Pickford has hit Kane with long balls on eight occasions already, which is 29 per cent of all the passes Kane has received. By contrast, at the 2022 World Cup, Pickford played only nine passes to Kane over five matches.

Kane is therefore receiving the ball over longer distances, which is making it harder for him to cause problems for opposition defences. In this tournament, he is yet to receive a single pass from deep-lying midfielders Declan Rice (160 minutes played together) and Conor Gallagher (37 minutes together), and has taken just one from Trent Alexander-Arnold (123 minutes together).

Again as a point of contrast, Rice played 10 passes to Kane at the 2022 World Cup and 17 at the 2020 European Championship. This year, that connection from the centre of midfield has simply not existed.

The other glaring issue is the absence, so far, of Luke Shaw at left-back. Over the past two tournaments, Kane combined with Shaw a total of 59 times (an average of 5.4 combinations per match), which was more than any other England player.

With the right-footed Kieran Trippier playing there instead at Euro 2024, the route from left-back to centre-forward has not been nearly as productive. Trippier and Kane have combined just four times in the two matches.

The eventual return of Shaw should, theoretically, help to provide Kane with more quality service. But this would be the solution to just one problem of many, and it is clear that much more needs to change if England are to see the best of Kane this summer.