Harry Kane's versatility for Tottenham makes him more than a pure goal scorer
Let's begin with a quiz question. Which club's shirt number has been responsible for the most Premier League goals since the competition started in 1992?
If you guessed Newcastle's No. 9 shirt -- they love their goal scorers at St James' Park -- you'd nearly be right. Were it not for a couple of seasons outside the top flight, Newcastle's No. 9, with 298 goals, would be top dog. Manchester United's No. 10 also features highly, with 297 goals, but was handicapped by being left vacant for a couple of seasons, while Arsenal's No. 14 shirt (248) has been prolific this century but beforehand was worn by the somewhat rare goalscorer Martin Keown.
No, the most prolific shirt number in the Premier League's 26 seasons, with 306 goals, is the Tottenham No. 10 shirt: worn by Teddy Sheringham, Les Ferdinand, Steffen Iversen, Sheringham again, Robbie Keane, Darren Bent, Keane again, Emmanuel Adebayor (and very briefly Rafael van der Vaart) and now, of course, Harry Kane.
Most Premier League goals by team & squad number combination:— GoalScorer Challenge (@GoalscorerC) August 6, 2018
306 Spurs 🔟
298 Man Utd 🔟
297 Newcastle 9️⃣
248 Arsenal 1️⃣4️⃣
211 Chelsea 8️⃣
210 Liverpool 9️⃣
Kane looking to extend the lead this season with Rashford and Gayle in the chasing pack. pic.twitter.com/l3DlOIBqhz
It was 2015 when Kane was promoted from No. 18 to a "first-team" number, electing 10 rather than 9, which was also set to become available with Roberto Soldado's imminent departure. "It's such an iconic number at Spurs," Kane explained. "When you look at the players who have worn it -- Sheringham, Keane, [Glenn] Hoddle, Ferdinand, [Jimmy] Greaves. When I was growing up Keane and Sheringham were my idols and they wore 10, so it was always my dream to wear it. ... When I knew 10 was available I just wanted it, I couldn't resist."
But a shirt number's significance goes beyond its past owners; it also represents a position, a style, a role. We've all been infuriated by number crimes over the seasons -- a centre-forward wearing 2, a left-back electing for 10. But shirt numbers remain meaningful. There's something magical about the sight of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah lining up at Liverpool wearing 9, 10 and 11 respectively.
The No. 10, rather than 9, indicates what type of footballer Kane believes he is. In the modern game, almost no out-and-out striker considers himself an out-and-out striker, and in a world where passing quality and link play are crucial, No. 9s are often converted No. 10s: Sergio Aguero, for example, took the majority of his career to accept he was a pure striker. He, like Kane, prefers 10 to 9.
While Kane was initially considered a pure goal scorer, he's actually a good all-round player, often playing as an attacking midfielder. "I played in different positions as a kid and it helped me learn different parts of the game," he said a couple of years ago. "Playing alone up front means you have to be good at so much more than taking chances. I know, in a game, I am going to receive the ball with my back to goal, and that the team will need me to link up and bring others into play."
This is particularly valuable currently, because Kane isn't looking himself in goal-scoring terms. Kane's supposed "August curse" previously seemed like a statistical anomaly, but increasingly it's becoming difficult to overlook: no goals from 14 matches contrasts sharply with his record of 108 in 136 between September and May. Perhaps Kane simply takes time to reach full fitness, and full sharpness. That certainly seems the case at the start of this campaign, after a World Cup when he increasingly seemed incapable of sprinting. It's handy, then, that Kane offers much more than goal scoring.
This was a notable feature of Kane's World Cup performances. It sounds curious to say about a player who won the Golden Boot, but Kane didn't actually offer much goal-scoring threat in open play. His six goals were comprised of three penalties, two close-range finishes from set pieces and a ludicrously fortunate deflection. But that doesn't mean Kane played badly.
No, for Kane's contributions in deeper positions were outstanding, his back-to-goal work as impressive as ever. England played an unusual, almost unique 3-3-2-2 formation, with Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli running in behind. The roles of Kane and strike partner Raheem Sterling were about occupying opponents and creating space for the runners, almost like pawns in a chess game, leading the attack and sacrificing themselves for the more dangerous pieces behind. Kane does something similar for Alli at club level, of course.
That selfless Kane was the No. 10 we witnessed in the opening day 2-1 victory over Newcastle, where he offered very little goal threat but still performed impressively. Continually coming short towards the ball, Kane received it on the half-turn and laid the ball into the path of runners, particularly Lucas Moura and right-back Serge Aurier, who he located with one brilliant diagonal ball in the second half.
Interestingly, Tottenham seemed to get players in advance of Kane more regularly. Christian Eriksen, rather than floating between the lines, made a couple of runs in expectation of Kane flick-ons from long balls. Moura, usually a dribbler who wants the ball into feet in deeper positions, also made supporting bursts, and it felt like Tottenham were attacking in greater numbers than usual, at least in terms of breaking past the opposition back four. Those runs in behind might be further in evidence this weekend against a Fulham side that defends high up the pitch, with the centre-backs sticking tight to the opposition centre-forward.
Kane's short link play is precise, although with longer balls he tends to drive them powerfully rather than striking the ball with finesse, meaning diagonal or crossfield balls are effective, but straight passes are often overhit. His statistics in terms of penetrative through-balls over the course of his career are modest, although he assisted a fine Eriksen goal against Real Madrid last season. His best assist was for Son Heung-Min against Huddersfield, more of a Beckham-esque cross from the right flank, and this works well with Alli's tendency to make late runs to the far post. They effectively work as a strike partnership at times, Kane creating goals with movement rather than flick-downs and knock-downs, in contrast to, for example, Olivier Giroud.
Statistically, Kane is actually becoming less involved in play as the years pass. In 2014-15 he played 30 passes per game, but that has dropped to 26, 21 and 20 passes per game in subsequent campaigns. Against Newcastle it was up to 30, perhaps not significant in isolation, but that particular performance was more about Kane as a link man than a finisher.
That might be the Kane we witness over the coming weeks. Physically he doesn't look right, yet technically he remains impressive and tactically he's more adaptable than often considered.
The last time Kane faced Fulham he smashed in a hat trick. Maybe he'll replicate that this weekend, but if not he remains a very dangerous attacking weapon.