Harry Kane may soon find out that life as a footballer is actually easier when nobody thinks that you’re very good.
On Saturday, Kane’s Tottenham drew a blank against Everton at White Hart Lane and will head into the international break without a Premier League win. The forward, like his side, has made a stuttering beginning to the new season and with domestic football now on a two-week hiatus, he will feel the first stabs of negativity around him.
But what a difference a year makes and how much sharper the world is once you are required to live up to a certain standard of performance.
Twelve months ago, Kane was the antidote to all the negativity in North London. He scored goals, he played with an infectious energy and even when he tried-but-failed, he was very much amongst friends. Surrounded by an imperfect context and by a side who stuttered and spluttered their way through the fixture list, he was definitively a good thing. A brace against Chelsea; a last-minute winner against Arsenal; an England cap and an instant first senior international goal: his stock rose all the way through the year and, geographical rivals excepted, his tale was almost universally embraced.
Now, though, there’s a darker force around him. Kane does not breed resentment but, while his personable character may make him more appealing than many of his contemporaries, there is just the sense that a movement against his feel-good story has begun.
It’s unfashionable. The rise of Kane was interesting for a while but now, with the world tired of watching him rescue Tottenham from the train-tracks, there’s a need to advance the story.
How good actually is he?
Was last season a fluke?
On Saturday evening, Spurs should have beaten Everton and had enough chances to do so comfortably. Kane won’t need telling; his one-on-one in the first-half was the best opportunity of the game and, tellingly, it was the sort of opening that he would have gobbled up six months up.
It wasn’t to be. A slightly clumsy setting-touch took him onto his left foot and, unable to open his body properly, he shot straight at Tim Howard.
Proof! Proof! There’s the conclusive proof! He’s not that good!
It feels like people have been waiting for that moment. Even some of those who have benefitted from Kane’s success – the Tottenham fans themselves – have seemingly been hoping for this strange affirmation that they were worshipping a false idol.
It’s peculiar. Kane is still very much growing as a footballer and, successful though 14/15 was for him, it didn’t mark the end of his development. But that’s how he’s being treated in some parts and it’s as if his meteoric rise has propelled him into a world of zero-tolerance where the margin for error is now razor-thin. No longer can his mistakes or scuffs or miscues be seen as part of a learning process, now – apparently – they are symptoms of something more fundamental.
Last year was the illusion, this is now reality.
Harry Kane is an example of something which has existed in English football for a really long time. Whenever talent initially prospers – like his has – there is always a race to proclaim it as something. The player is the new this, the new that. Then, at the first sign that the apex has been reached or the upsurge has flattened out, there’s a compulsion to point out just how silly we all are and how blind we’ve been to the real truth.
It’s almost a form of self-flagellation and an attempt to admonish ourselves for our own enthusiasm.
Kane needs to be spared that. In the coming months, he will miss chances and he will take them. He will create goals and he will surrender possession. Most importantly, though, he has to be allowed to do all of that without being subjected to this constant boom/bust reassessment.
What Harry Kane is will be proven in time – months, years in the future – and not by a hat-trick against one team and a penalty-miss against another.
Development isn’t that binary; maybe it’s time we realised that?