The Reinvention of Harry Kane

Forget about being a one-year wonder. He's not a one-trick pony, either. Harry Kane's evolution from goalscorer to assist machine is changing Tottenham's outlook entirely.
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There has always been something a little inexplicable about Harry Kane. 

When he first emerged, the tendency was not to take him entirely seriously because it wasn’t obvious what he did or why he was good. Everybody had seen much quicker players, more skillful players, more powerful players, players who were better in the air, players who were better at shooting from range, players who looked more like great footballers. His secret, it turned out, was that he was good at everything. 

As a youth player and in a series of loan spells, Kane had done nothing special, but suddenly, in 2013–14, something clicked, physically or mentally, and he started scoring goals by the bucketload. Almost overnight Kane became recognized as one of the best strikers in Europe. 

Over the last two seasons, his goals output has dropped—nothing too dramatic, but enough that questions began to be asked. Was it simply the result of Tottenham’s wavering form? Or had Kane, who is still only 27, reached the limit of his talents? Had his body begun to let him down? 

The injuries and Tottenham’s form almost certainly had an impact, but what has become increasingly clear is that Kane’s role has changed as his partnership with Son Heung-min has developed. After Son had scored the winner against Burnley on Monday, cameras caught him turning to Kane as he ran to join the celebrations and, with a broad grin on his face, asking, “Did you get the assist again?” To which the answer, of course, was yes. Kane and Son have now set up 29 goals for each other, the second-most productive pairing in Premier League history after Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard, with 36. 

“Me and Sonny have had a nice little partnership going,” said Kane with characteristic understatement. 

Tottenham's Harry Kane and Son Heung-min celebrate a goal

That the pair sits seven off the record is only part of the story. In six games so far this season, Kane and Son have combined nine times. In six games, in other words, they have achieved a quarter of the all-time record. Son is the Premier League's leading scorer with eight goals, while Kane leads goal involvements (goals plus assists) with 13; nobody has ever amassed that many after just six matches. 

"When the gaffer came in he said when I drop deep the wingers have to run in behind," Kane went on. "It's something I have been doing for a while, but I think we are seeing the final product now.” 

The dream for Tottenham is that when Gareth Bale is fully fit he can make similar breaks at speed on the right to those Son makes on the left. 

As ever, some context is required. Manchester United was an unusually accommodating opponent. The way Southampton plays meant that when it capitulated against Tottenham, it was unusually susceptible to the sort of ball Kane plays for Son. But still, these are remarkable figures. In fact, that people are even talking about the partnership is striking: It’s been so eye-catching that statistics about combinations, which had never before been a topic of conversation, have moved mainstream.

Kane may credit the change to José Mourinho, who replaced Mauricio Pochettino last November, but the manager, unusually, was keen to share the credit with his predecessor.

"It is an understanding that comes from Mauricio's time,” Mourinho said. "I don't want all the credit myself, let's share with Mauricio. They play together for a long time, probably a different way because Harry is not always a nine now. What pleases me more about them both is that they are two top players but close friends, no jealousy, they both play for the team." 

This, being Mourinho, immediately makes you wonder what the greater purpose is. He is not naturally magnanimous, so perhaps the aim is to deflect attention from what Kane is doing differently now. If so, it feels he is a little late, especially given how open Kane is about his purpose in coming deep. 

Or perhaps Mourinho has simply been inspired by the relationship between Kane and Son. Kane is able to play that role dropping deep not only because of his remarkable array of skills, but because he lacks the selfishness of many top strikers. His tally of eight assists so far this season already exceeds his previous record tally for a whole campaign, and the sense is that he relishes being the provider just as much as the finisher.