Harry Kane: England’s irreplaceable star at Euro 2024

Harry Kane: England’s irreplaceable star at Euro 2024

We have waltzed through a tumult of pre-tournament narratives this past week. Jude Bellingham’s late arrival and an apparent over-reliance on him. Luke Shaw’s hamstring. The loss of Harry Maguire. And, for 24 hours when Gareth Southgate got brave and some of our nation got scared, the axing of Jack Grealish and James Maddison.

But the elephant in the dressing-room is Harry Kane, or at least it should be. We have forgotten that he finished the season at Bayern Munich with a back injury, and he did not look himself during an hour of Friday night’s 1-0 defeat by Iceland. But we have forgotten, too, that for all the talk of Bellingham being the saviour, Kane is the one England player who is irreplaceable.

Phil Foden was poor against Iceland but, as Premier League Player of the Year, he is a fine alternative to Bellingham at No.10. Declan Rice, meanwhile, is better than Bellingham in a deeper role.

There is no substitute for Kane, not when the deputies for this country’s greatest-ever goalscorer have three international goals between them, and that from just 15 caps. Ollie Watkins has never convinced in an England jersey. Some strikers don’t. Exceptional strikers, too. See Andy Cole, Les Ferdinand, Ian Wright and Robbie Fowler. When Watkins toiled for 60 minutes in North Macedonia in November, he was replaced by Kane. Within 60 seconds the captain had forced an equaliser.

Ivan Toney is less exposed at this level and could well thrive, but he is not in the squad to start games. More so, it is events some two hours after kick-off that could prove his worth, and the possibility of penalty shootouts.

England need Harry Kane to be at his sharpest if they are to make a major impact at Euro 2024

Bellingham will be a hugely important figure for England but Kane remains the main man

Bellingham will be a hugely important figure for England but Kane remains the main man

Kane, then, is the starter and finisher upon whom England’s hopes genuinely rest. When an Iceland player landed on John Stones’ ankle in the opening minutes, there was much talk of England being one injury away from having no chance of winning the Euros. 

That assertion was correct, but it was incorrect in identifying Stones as the player they cannot lose. The defence is weak with and without Stones, but the strength of Kane at the other end could yet mask that. Lose Kane and England lose the one thing that tears them apart from nearly all of their rivals – a world-class goalscorer.

While Southgate was quizzed post-match on Friday about the importance of Bellingham and how his addition will raise standards, the team’s true standard-bearer was holding court in an adjacent corridor. Kane is England’s adult, on and off the pitch. And much like a parent, he was telling the kids to wake up. ‘This could be a nice wake-up call for everyone to realise it is not going to be as easy as people think,’ he said.

Kane, who ended the season with a back injury, missed an inviting chance against Iceland

Kane, who ended the season with a back injury, missed an inviting chance against Iceland

The 30-year-old last played for Bayern Munich against Real Madrid more than a month ago

The 30-year-old last played for Bayern Munich against Real Madrid more than a month ago

It was not nice. Much of Friday’s send-off was horrible. But his point stands – England are not the tournament favourites some would have you believe. Not when they are so dependent on the form and fitness of one man. And no, that’s not Bellingham.

So, how is Kane’s back? This was the sixth of 10 questions asked. It should have been the first.

‘I am all good,’ he said. ‘The plan was for me to play 60 minutes. It has been a really good camp for me personally, in that sense. Getting a good week of training, 30 minutes (against Bosnia), few more days of training, then 60 minutes. I feel really prepared and in a good place. It would have been nice if I had scored that chance (against Iceland), but that’s the way it goes.’

Kane had volleyed over from a few yards out when unmarked. Insignificant, perhaps, in the wider story of his wonderful England career. But significant if that miss is a forewarning of the story yet untold.

The 30-year-old last played for Bayern over a month ago, when substituted in the second half of the second leg of their Champions League semi-final defeat by Real Madrid. He was only brought off because Thomas Tuchel had doubts over his ability to impact, because of his bad back. 

Ivan Toney and Ollie Watkins are in the squad but Kane is England's only world class goalscorer

Ivan Toney and Ollie Watkins are in the squad but Kane is England’s only world class goalscorer

Kane’s back has not since had the round-the-clock attention of Wayne Rooney’s or David Beckham’s metatarsals, but maybe we have taken too much comfort from knowing the injury was never enough to keep him out of the finals. A half-fit Kane, however, would more than halve England’s chances of victory. Southgate must also harbour concern, for he has included two other centre-forwards in his final squad for the first time.

The manager would not have minded Kane borrowing his own statesman-like mantle and addressing the team’s shortcomings at the weekend. When the skipper questioned the ‘hunger’ of the side, it felt like territory into which only he could venture. But without his other trusted generals, Jordan Henderson and Maguire, Southgate needs that.

Indeed, he needs Kane more than any other player, and he needs Kane to be fit and firing. Without that, there is a chance that England will not be fit for purpose.

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