By Tim Todd, American English National Team Advisor
England were a delight to behold, soon delivering the most expansive football seen since the thrashing of Germany in 2001. The David Beckham era is over, the Walcott era has begun. – Henry Winter, 2008
Eighty odd thousand fans welcomed his introduction with incredible warmth. At that moment it became obvious that Kane is not just ‘one of our own’ to Tottenham fans but has also somehow become a national favourite before even kicking a ball for England. – Alan Smith, 2015
Henry Winter described Theo Walcott’s introduction to the English national team using the metaphor of a comet. Walcott streaked across the field, Walcott sparkled, and sputtered, and sure enough, Walcott’s brightness on that day, the day he scored a hattrick against Croatia, might have caused the ancients to marvel. Though, I’m not sure the ancients would have painted Walcott on their cave walls because as it turns out Walcott couldn’t repeat his sparkling feat and was more meteor than comet. And now England turns their collective hopes to a shining new extraterrestrial body, Harry Kane.
It’s an interesting phenomenon about England, they tend toward a heroization of individuals in the context of a collective game. If Gordon Banks makes a great save, he wins the game. If Charlie George scores a goal, he wins the cup. If Theo Walcott scores a hat trick against 10 men Croatia in a World Cup qualifier, he’s the next best thing since David Beckham. If Harry Kane is left unmarked at the far post in the last 10 minutes of a game that England has already won 3-1 and he heads the ball right at the keeper while the hapless defender looks completely disinterested, he’s the next Lionel Messi (even if he looks more like the next Peter Crouch). But the Harry Kane story isn’t so much about Harry Kane, it’s a story about how desperate the English national team supporters are for a hero and how little they really need one.
Harry Kane is now everything to everyone in English football an is even being held up as a symbol of what English football clubs “ought” to be doing to bring young Englishmen up through the ranks and ultimately improve the English national team. The FA are so desperate for a savior that Greg Dyke wondered:-
How many other Harry Kanes are around in the youth teams of Premier League clubs?
Here’s a clue, none. He’s a one-off. He wasn’t discovered by “chance” plying his trade in some stock room. He worked his bollocks off to get where he is and was repaid when he was given a chance at Tottenham by Pochettino. And here’s another clue, Harry Kane isn’t even that good. His technique is no better than Andy Carroll, he just applies himself better. He tries real hard and the English love a good tryer.
Harry Kane is a lark. He’s not part of a Tottenham pipeline of young English talent being brought through the ranks. He’s one guy, who applied himself after being rejected by Arsenal,
Harry was always someone who was going to get better just by the sheer volume of work he was willing to do, and by the mentality he would demonstrate on a daily basis to invest in himself. He had a fantastic desire to improve and would always want to do extra work at the end of a session,” recalls Inglethorpe. “He became obsessive about his finishing in all its various forms and would dedicate a huge amount of time to improve these aspects of his game.
That individual work ethic is much lauded in English coaching circles and it has to be, because truth be told the academies aren’t doing their jobs.
And so while Hurricane Harry Kane wreaks its destruction through the English football landscape the one true model of how English clubs and academies actually ought to be operating is left almost forgotten in a little town just north of the Isle of Wright.
England is a football crazy country. There are more clubs, academies, and fans than any country in the world. And yet, it’s telling that the Football Association is proposing what amounts to Affirmative Action quotas for Englishmen in order to cover up for the failings of the academy system in England. They want to, as Wenger says, “protect the mediocre” instead of producing the best.
Wenger’s proposed solution is to plow money into academy coaching, to hire the very best youth coaches and have those folks develop the millions of young kids who are playing football in England. As Wenger might say, what England needs is fewer Harry Kane stories and more stories about academy successes like Southampton.
I agree, it’s not the one percent rare talent that England need to produce more of — if we agree that Harry Kane is one of them (I don’t) then we could use Harry Kane as an example here. Those people will naturally produce themselves, because those folks already have that drive and desire to be the very best. What England need to produce¹ is more top level talent throughout the entire ranks of English football. This is essentially what Southampton have done and continue to do.
Southampton have a fraction of the resources of a club like Tottenham and yet they count among their graduates Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, and Calum Chambers. Southampton produce quality and a lot of it. That’s what England needs more of, quality academy players fighting for places against quality foreigners, playing in the best league in the world. If you manage to do that, I’ve no doubt England could win a World Cup.
The other main thing that England need to produce is fewer journalists prone to hype. The hype machine in England seems to be going non-stop all the time. Look at the careers of any player hyped by the press: Walcott, chosen for the World Cup as a 17 year old, dropped as a 21 year old; Rooney, tipped as the best footballer of his generation, more likely to get a red card in a big match for England than a game winning goal; and now Harry Kane, goal poacher extraordinaire, literally called a “hero” in the article above written by Alan Smith.
What did Harry Kane do to win the title “hero”? Did he save a village in Afghanistan from the Taliban? Did he get arrested taking a stand for minorities? Did he don a cape and mask and rescue people from evildoers? Nope, he scored a few tap-ins this season; one of them for England, well after the match had already been won by Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck. I don’t know much about many things, but I’m pretty sure that’s the definition of the word “hype.”
¹This same argument holds true for Major League Soccer in the USA. Too much focus is on acquiring star players when it should be on raising the level of the game entirely.