This year, things were different at Spurs; the turbulence set in a bit earlier, and the apathy hung heavy over the glistening new stadium, but one thing remained constant: Harry Kane kept scoring. If anything, Spurs’ season opener, a day on which when they repeatedly sliced through Southampton with ease and scored four times, was an indication of what not to expect for the rest of the season. The free-flowing and potent football was one, but no Harry Kane goal was another.
Following that outing, Kane scored in 8 of his next 10 games and in 26 different matches for the season. Volume, on its own, is not always the greatest indicator of quality but combine it with regularity – of the unerring sort that Kane displayed this year – and you end up with a 30-goal season in which the Englishman scored in more games than anyone else in Premier League history (tied with Andy Cole 93/94). Undoubtedly elite level production. For Tottenham Hotspur, Harry Kane was the Lilywhite Reaper, always lurking and nigh-on without fail, snatching the souls of opposing defences.
In the 2020/21 season, Heung-min Son and Kane began to hit the right notes as an offensive duo for Tottenham. Under Jose Mourinho, Kane found an extra dimension to his game, becoming a more prolific chance creator, and the primary beneficiary of that reinvention was his strike partner Son. Finding pockets of space deep infield, Kane expanded his working area, and this movement warped defensive shapes as centre backs were unfamiliar with this type of movement from a “traditional no.9”.
Once this happened, the English forward punished teams, flexing his passing muscles and finding runners in behind these tilted defences. In the second game of the season, Kane and Son produced their magnum opus, a 5 – 2 victory against Southampton with four goals assisted by Kane and finished off by Son. It was the blueprint for how effective Kane could be in areas away from the penalty box.
Popping up on the halfway line and on either touchline, Kane played some inch-perfect passes to his teammate to put away, and as that season showed, those two were just getting started. Two seasons and 80 (evenly shared) goals later, however, that tandem has lost a lot of its lustre. A large part of this is Heung-min Son’s historically elite finishing overperformance settling towards a more reasonable level. This year, the South Korean scored 10 goals on 10.1 xG, a fairly decent return but a steep decline in production after scoring 40 goals on 26 xG in the previous two seasons.
Explanations aside, this left a huge scoring void that Spurs needed to fill somehow if they wanted to challenge at the top end of the table. Richarlison came in from Everton, Dejan Kulusevski from Juventus and Arnaut Danjuma from Villareal (in January) ostensibly to share in that responsibility. An immensely talented trio of forwards who provided a measly four goals combined, leaving Conte (and later, Ryan Mason) to fall back – heavily – on Harry Kane, and the striker delivered.
The England international got the job done for Spurs in a number of different ways this season. He has developed an extensive repertoire of finishes which make him an extremely complex matchup for any defence. In addition to this, the quality of his movement – which has significantly evolved over the last few seasons – makes him a threat even before he has touched the ball, an extra issue for the opposition to worry about. Over the course of the season, his movement in transition and at setpieces especially stuck out as one of the main reasons why he is so effective in front of goal.
Kane’s first goal came away at Chelsea, a raucous Stamford Bridge providing the backdrop for what was a feisty, intense and extremely entertaining 90 minutes and beyond. Chelsea largely dominated the game but Spurs found themselves just one goal down going into the sixth minute of added time, and they had just won a corner kick. Harry Kane’s positioning during these situations this season has particularly interested me.
He is usually lurking around the backpost area, waiting to pounce on flick-ons or long, arching deliveries. We have seen other players used in this way, Gabriel Jesus at Arsenal for example, is a certified backpost hanger. Now this arrangement makes intuitive sense – as one of the shorter players on the team, Jesus can provide maximum value away from the melee in the middle of the box and take advantage of anything that finds its way all the way through to far post area. Kane however, is one of the taller players in the Spurs lineup, but his movement and strength make him a nightmare to defend in those areas.
At this moment, however, Kane went the traditional route. Finding a seam in Chelsea’s zonal marking setup, he rose up and deftly flicked a header past Edouard Mendy and into the goal. The first of many points that the Englishman’s goals would rescue out of nothing for the North London side. Against Wolves in the very next fixture, he showed that knack for sharp movements at the backpost. Initially wresting for position with Nathan Collins, Kane took a heavy step away from goal, sending Collins in the wrong direction and then bursting towards a near post-flick-on and nodding it home.
In a 2-1 home loss to Newcastle, Kane was lethal in that same area. This time, simply overpowering Kieran Trippier to get his head onto a flick-on and the result was the same. It is an interesting quirk in his game that the Englishman has been able to find and consistently exploit an opposition weakness in this way. It is therefore unsurprising that he has reached the top of the Premier League’s all-time headed goals chart with 40.
Zooming out to the larger collection of finishes, it is not an easy task to pick a “best” goal by whatever metric. With that in mind, I will completely sidestep the challenge and instead highlight a few of my personal favourites. Third on this list is his slightly awkward but impressive finish away at Brighton. Son flashes a cross into the box at about waist height and Kane, not very far out from the cross, contorts himself into position to redirect the ball past Robert Sanchez in a remarkable display of awareness and body control.
Next is his finish against Brentford, a stunning mix of power and finesse. Off a free kick from about 30 yards out, Kane run onto a Kulusevski layoff and found the top corner with a truly amazing strike. Kane’s goal at home against Crystal Palace takes the top spot in these completely arbitrary rankings. It represents a number of the skills the forward excels at, packaged together to provide a result we have become all but used to by now.
Receiving a bouncing ball from the Spurs’ left with runners beyond him, Kane controlled, swivelled and then found Pedro Porro in acres of space on the opposite flank. He then charged into the box, to his favoured haunt at the back post and put his header into the ground and past Vicente Guaita to become the second all-time Premier League scorer.
So in a season where Harry Kane started every single Premier League game, finished second in the Golden Boot race with 30 league goals and scored the highest percentage of a single team’s goals. He also clinched the Premier League all-time record for goals away from home in a season, total goals away from home, different matches scored in and second place for total goals in the competition’s history. Add in the crown as most prolific player in Tottenham Hotspur history and you have a historic campaign in which Kane proved once again, not just his high-level talent but his unshakeable spot in league history myth; why do we not care more?
Well, the short answer is the significance or rather a lack of it. Trophy discourse in the football space can be extremely reductive but even setting that aside, Tottenham Hotspur sputtered to a painfully insipid 8th-placed finish in the league, limped out of the Champions League in the round of 16 after scraping through the group stages on the last day and then inexplicably failed to get past the fifth round in either the League or FA Cup. So what was the point?
Detractors claim Harry Kane’s season – his goals, have lacked any significance in the greater team context. That seems unfair to the forward (and as a way to discredit his season, it actually is) since he has obviously done his job and done it exceptionally well, but judgement will be passed on the achievement of the whole team – a team that he may well captain into next season. There is also the small matter of Erling Haaland who scored 36 goals in 35 games in his debut Premier League season for the eventual league champions. That tends to demand a majority of the spotlight – understandably so.
Even with all this, Kane will probably be the first to admit that he wants to add some trophies to his resume and this desire raises the question: Where next for the English forward, Real Madrid? Bayern? United? Or maybe, Kane will just stick instead of twisting in any of these directions. Tottenham Hotspur just hired Ange Postecoglou, and with the summer transfer window comes the opportunity to strengthen and maybe even challenge for a title or two going forward. With his emotional connection to the club and status within it, a single trophy won at Spurs in their current state may weigh even heavier than one of many won in Madrid, Munich or even Manchester.
Regardless of how things play out this summer, it is clear that Harry Kane has had an exceptional career at Spurs. From warming the bench at Leicester on cold nights in the Championship, Kane’s ascent to stardom matched and accelerated Spurs’ march into the elite of English football. Kane has provided seasons to remember and moments to cherish for all Tottenham Hotspur fans, and frankly all appreciators of good football. His quality is seared into the collective memory of the game and he will go down as one of the greatest strikers to ever grace the Premier League.
By: Wepea Buntugu / @Wepea0
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Chris Brunskill / Fantasista / Getty Images