It has seemed impossible to ponder England’s excursion to Hampden today without homing in on Harry Kane. And his national manager Gareth Southgate made sure the Tottenham Hotspur striker took centre stage on the eve of the World Cup qualifier against Scotland by naming the 23-year-old as his captain for the latest instalment of the famous fixture.
Kane, who has worn the armband on occasion at club level, hasn’t been available for Southgate since the first of the England manager’s six games in charge; the win over Slovenia last September.
The jettisoning of Wayne Rooney has opened up a skipper vacancy within a squad Southgate is set on moulding to project strength, excellence and sound values. He finds all of these in the English top flight’s highest scorer these past two seasons. Kane has not been given the position on a permanent basis – no time- scale has been placed on deciding which player will earn that honour. Nor has he been given it because he proved himself the sort you want out front in the trenches with you across the England squad’s bonding weekend with the Royal Marines.
“I’ve spoken before about developing more leaders in the group,” said Southgate. “That’s been key and was evident this week with the different things we’ve done. Harry’s not been with us up to this point. His mentality is excellent. He has a very good view of the game. He’s keen to lead. Everyone says we don’t have leaders. That’s not my view of this group of players, but they have to step forward at different moments and show it.
“Harry is prepared to do that. I’ve worked with him at the under-21s and I know his mentality. He wants to be one of the best in the world.”
Kane ended his club season with seven goals in his final two games to take his tally for the season to 29 goals and become only the fifth player to snare England’s golden boot in back-to-back seasons.
Ominously for Scotland, it is more than a year since Kane scored for his country after cutting a fatigued figure during England’s Euro 2016 misadventures last summer.
“It’s eight months since he played,” Southgate petitioned over the player’s perceived international ‘drought’. “And three other months were the summer.
“Look, I played with Alan Shearer when he went through how long before Euro 96, and he ended up top scorer in the championships. Goals will come. It’s a good moment for him, the way he finished the season.
“His goals record over the last three seasons speaks for itself. When we worked at the under-21s, his finishing was clear. You saw the level of finishing – the likes of [Robbie] Fowler, [Paul] Scholes, [Alan] Shearer – and in Harry you could see that level of finishing from the first day. Then it was about transferring that into matches because he wasn’t playing for Spurs at the time, but he’s done that. He’s always had the focus about being the best possible player. They’re the attributes when you look at the top players.”
A considered Southgate, very much one of the holistic football coaches becoming ever-more prevalent in the modern game, wants to better those under his charge as both personalities and players. “Every time you work together as a team you should be looking to improve,” he added.
“We’re culturally shifting to where we’d like to be: in terms of the way we work, the way we carry ourselves, to get the public proud of the team, but also in the way we play to excite the public. The players want to play that way, be on the front foot. They have tremendous belief in themselves and the coaching staff have faith in them. They’re hungry and excite me. I can see progress. There’s room for development still, but that’s exciting.”