OPINION | By Tottenham correspondent Tony Hughes
Harry Kane’s spectacular ascent has been the story of the season. From the Tottenham fringes to England hero in just four months.
To paraphrase Graham Gooch’s question of cricket legend Ian Botham, “Who writes your bloody script then?”
The most astonishing chapter yet in Kane’s ‘Boy’s Own’ story came when he brought Wembley and a nation to its feet with a goal 79 seconds into his England debut.
It made not a jot of difference to the outcome of a routine Euro 2016 qualifier annihilation of group minnow Lithuania – the hosts were already 3-0 up – but it confirmed Kane as an instant national favourite.
What a sight this was, as it became obvious through the universal warmth that greeted, first Kane’s introduction from the bench and, then, his headed goal, that the 22-year-old is not just ‘one of our own’ to Tottenham fans but also to England followers.
That’s what happens when a young English striker takes the Premier League by storm. Kane has raced through all the stages, from League Cup back-up striker to regular Spurs starter to phenomenal goal-getter to national saviour. All in half a season. Remarkable.
Not since Michael Owen showed as an 18-year-old that he could reproduce his clinical Liverpool finishing on the international stage has there been such excitement around an orthodox English-born front man.
Yet it is wildly premature to hail Kane as some kind of Messiah who only needs to be uncaged by Roy Hodgson to carry all before him in a knockout tie against Germany, Spain or Italy at Euro 2016.
Oppobrium was poured on the England manager by the likes of Gary Lineker and Ian Wright when the team was announced on Friday night for what they regarded as unnecessary conservatism.
With Daniel Sturridge out injured and Kane very able, why not unleash the Tottenham man from the start instead of Danny Welbeck, who is not an automatic pick for Arsenal?
Many saw it as an injustice and a sign of England’s Neanderthal tendencies to leave a red hot striker who had plundered 29 goals this season out in the cold.
Yet Welbeck has been a reliable goal-getter in the national jersey and had been joint top-scorer across the entire Euro 2016 qualifying going into Friday night’s gentle fixture.
Hodgson would have had to rip up his 4-3-3 formation, which featured Rooney in the spearhead role flanked by Welbeck and Raheem Sterling, had he started with Kane. The three starting attackers all scored, with Sterling lighting up the second half and Welbeck delivering a polished display marked by his sixth qualifying strike.
Resisting the temptation to go for the populist option served Hodgson well.
There is no need to downplay the romance of Kane’s rise. A young English striker who has the self belief to match his finishing and technical prowess is a rare gem indeed.
But that is not the same as saying Hodgson should have torn up his team shape and axed regular starters to accommodate a 21-year-old who will have many chances to shine in international football.
Kane has great promise and most of the attributes, bar burning pace, to succeed on the highest stage of all. Nevertheless, it will do him no harm to soak up the international atmosphere initially from the sidelines. His time will eventually come. Kane himself will see to that.