Harry Kane completes cycle of England hotshots with goals record | Barney Ronay

Forward now sits at the top of a golden seam of main men after goal in Naples – and his mark of 54 goals will be difficult to beat

There was an agreeable note of pantomime when the moment came for Harry Kane. Goalscoring records don’t matter, perhaps, or shouldn’t matter, are just numbers in the book. And yet of course they do matter, not least in international football, with its sense of duty and history and ritual.

And somehow it always seemed likely Kane would get his chance to take that England record in this wonderful mini-epic of a qualifier, with England just about holding on to take a thrilling 2-1 victory.

Naples is a glorious place to play football, a city where even the lead-up to the stadium, the total chaos of carriageways and concourses speaks to something unbound and slightly beyond the control of everyone present. Football basically happens to Naples, jamming the roads, scrambling squadrons of police, causing strange noises, energies, excitements to break out. You don’t really steward or manage football in a place like this. You ride it like a wave.

And England were sublime in those first 45 minutes, establishing a two-goal lead that could have been a few more, and producing surely their most balanced midfield performance under Gareth Southgate.

Kane was a magnet for the ball in that period, making it stick like a human baseball mitt. His little runs into space drove the Italy defence into a mania of indecision. Several times he dribbled away from his man, then was caught – he really does chug these days – then had to dribble again, a strange game of tag.

The record moment came after a corner. Giovanni Di Lorenzo handled the ball shielding it from Kane. The referee, Srdjan Jovanovic, strode to his VAR screen, then returned to point at the spot. Gianluigi Donnarumma threw the ball away. The blue shirts crowded around the penalty spot, churning the turf.

Kane paused, collecting his revs, gathering the potential energy of all those years, the rungs on the ladder from there to here, the stumbles and steps up, the act of finally getting in the Spurs team, of making his debut for England under Roy Hodgson, scoring within moments of coming on and looking, even then, like a man just born to do exactly this in exactly that shirt.

England fans celebrate the victory against Italy in Naples.
England fans celebrate the victory against Italy in Naples. Photograph: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images

The ball that Kane had sent into the night sky from the penalty spot at the Al Bayt Stadium three months ago is still out there somewhere, floating in the desert air. He wasn’t going to miss this. Donnarumma dived right. Kane buried it high to the goalkeeper’s left and just kept on running to the corner as one slice of the ground at the far end erupted.

And that was that: the mark passed, 54 goals for England, and a note in the pages of England-dom that will always be there, and is, at the very least unlikely to be passed any time soon.

It is huge moment personally for Kane, who loves records, and who clearly feels his own place in that England scoring lineage, a golden seam of main men, goal kings, record-chasers running back through Harry Kane-Wayne Rooney-Michael Owen-Alan Shearer-Gary Lineker, amassing a total of 225 goals between them in the years 1984-2023.

There has always been something retro in Kane’s noble sad-lion styling, the comic book brow, the 1950s insurance clerk hairstyle, as though this England line is turning back on itself in time, completing the cycle of England hotshots. Who will take it up from here? The English game doesn’t churn out goal-poachers right now. Kane himself is something of an outlier, forged by Football League loans and time in the doldrums, a No 10 who became a No 9.

Kane is, for some reason, talked down by some, dismissed as a penalty king, a deflections merchant, a man who has simply got lucky 54 times in 81 games. This seems back to front. In reality Kane has scored relentlessly while always playing for teams with an aversion to winning. Imagine being this good while playing for Spurs and England.

Kane has got there quickly too. His goals per game record is better than any significant goalscorer of the past 50 years, better than Rooney, Charlton, Lineker, Owen, Shearer. Only Jimmy Greaves and Vivian Woodward finished with more than 30 goals at a better rate.

Harry Kane of England talks to the former Liverpool and England player Steven Gerrard
Harry Kane of England talks to the former Liverpool and England player Steven Gerrard, who was on pundit duty with Channel 4 in Naples. Photograph: Will Palmer/Getty Images/Allstar

Greaves was an outright genius. Woodward was born in 1879. Kane has done all this while leading England to a final and a semi-final, taking a World Cup Golden Boot, barely playing a friendly (although there has been plenty of meat for the grinder, as there is on every single one of these scorers’ lists: check out Charlton’s roster of whipping boys).

Plus of course Kane is not just about goals. He plays as a No 10 for half the game, uses the ball beautifully is, in effect, a one-man attacking plan. England were already 1-0 up when he scored his record-breaker, after the goal from Declan Rice. Just before half-time Kane almost made a third for England, sniping through on the left, looking up and pinging the perfect low cross to meet Jack Grealish’s run on the opposite flank. The finish was horrible, stunned weirdly back across a semi-open goal and well wide of the post. If anything it was a useful reminder. This stuff only looks simple.


Barney Ronay at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
‘A dream becomes reality’: Harry Kane’s pride at breaking England goals record
Harry Kane said his dream had come true after the striker became his country’s record goalscorer and helped England make a flying start to their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign

Jacob Steinberg at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona

23, Mar, 2023 @11:11 PM

Article image
Southgate must be ruthless to elevate England – starting with Harry Maguire
The Manchester United defender is a fine team player but his lack of mobility will be exposed by the best at Germany 2024

Barney Ronay

27, Mar, 2023 @1:49 PM

Article image
Southgate tells England players to stay hungry after perfect Euro 2024 start
Gareth Southgate, who said he was delighted with Bukayo Saka’s progress, has warned against squad complacency in England’s next two games

Jacob Steinberg at Wembley

26, Mar, 2023 @8:19 PM

Article image
Harry Kane believes Bayern Munich pressure will sharpen his England edge
Harry Kane has set his sights on a Hollywood ending to the season with the Champions League final at Wembley and Euros in Germany

David Hytnerand Nick Ames in Wroclaw

08, Sep, 2023 @9:30 PM

Article image
Whole England squad backs Southgate decision to stay, says Jack Grealish
Jack Grealish, preparing to face Italy, said: ‘Gareth’s a brilliant manager and a brilliant person,’ and added he thinks England can win Euro 2024

Andy Hunter

21, Mar, 2023 @10:30 PM

Article image
Gareth Southgate pushes England to centre stage but spotlight still shines
The manager who inspired a hit play finds that sticking to football is a tough task even with a big game looming

David Hytner in Wroclaw

08, Sep, 2023 @3:18 PM

Article image
England can harness pain of setbacks to overcome Italy, insists Gareth Southgate
‘The Euro final is additional motivation to us,’ said the England manager before his side begin their qualifying campaign for Germany 2024 in Naples

David Hytner in Naples

22, Mar, 2023 @10:30 PM

Article image
Southgate will not rest England starters and risk ‘shambles’ going into Euro 2024
It will be a long season for the England players before facing Malta and North Macedonia but Gareth Southgate is wary of sending wrong message

David Hytner

27, Mar, 2023 @9:30 PM

Article image
Alexander-Arnold shows again he is a talent England cannot afford to waste | Jacob Steinberg
Creative spark put on a passing masterclass in Malta and Southgate would be committing an act of vandalism if he is not embraced

Jacob Steinberg at Ta' Qali Stadium

16, Jun, 2023 @9:40 PM

Article image
Southgate plans to give Alexander-Arnold more games in England midfield
Gareth Southgate will give Trent Alexander-Arnold more opportunities in England’s midfield after he starred in the 4-0 win in Malta

Jacob Steinberg at Ta' Qali Stadium

16, Jun, 2023 @10:02 PM