It is fairly late into the evening and the interview has run over time, but Harry Kane shows no sign of impatience. Speaking to The Mail on Sunday from a quiet corner at St George’s Park, the England captain has been asked about the mental toll of playing almost all year round, and will admit that it is not always as easy as he would make it appear.
‘It’s tough, for sure,’ he says. ‘Physically I feel like I’m in a really good place but, mentally, you go through ups and downs. The pressure of every game that comes along wears you down a little.
‘But we’re pretty used to it. It’s probably been three or four weeks’ holiday for the last 10 years or so. It’s just something you have to deal with. The important thing is trying to take time as much as you can just to recharge, with the family, with friends. That’s what I do and I feel like I end up in a pretty good place.’
Harry Kane has insisted that England can win the World Cup and delved into their success
The issue of player workload is especially pertinent after two seasons in which senior players shouldered a Covid-induced fixture backlog and ahead of a campaign that includes a winter World Cup.
Asked to turn his thoughts to Qatar 2022, he identifies the national side’s ability to handle the pressure that comes with near-favouritism as crucial to their prospects. It strikes a very different tone from his first press conference as England captain, in the early summer of 2018, when Kane sought to consign the burden of previous teams’ disappointments to the past.
‘When I think back, it’s funny, before then we had no real expectation,’ he says, chatting over Zoom two days before the fixture against Italy. ‘We hadn’t done well in tournaments for a long time. But I felt like it was right to have the mindset that we need to go and try to win it. Every team in any competition has the mindset of trying to win and we should be no different.
The striker believes the Three Lions will have to handle the pressure of near-favourites in Qatar
‘I think now this is a little different. We’ve been to a semi-final. We’ve been to a final. We will probably be going into this tournament as one of the favourites and that comes with a different pressure, a different responsibility.’
Gareth Southgate’s England might not quite have brought football home yet, but they corrected some historical shortcomings in reaching the World Cup last four and Euro 2020 final.
The team beat Germany in major knockout tie for the first time since 1966, ended a 22-year wait to win a penalty shootout in a major tournament and became the first England side to reach a final since Sir Alf Ramsey’s men.
‘We’ve been knocking down hurdles over the last four years,’ says Kane. ‘We’ve been creating our own history. I’m really confident in the group. We’ve still got stuff to improve on and we’ve got stuff we can be better at. But, overall, the team’s in a good place.
England captain Kane scored the equaliser from the spot against Germany but was due a rest
‘We played the whole of Euro 2020 and didn’t lose a game and it was just that the penalty shootout didn’t go our way. It shows we can handle ourselves at that pressure. But at the World Cup you’re playing at the next step up and in a different environment, being in Qatar. There is stuff we need to go and break down to be world champions. And that is our goal.’
Kane’s representatives suggested this interview to promote a new exhibition dedicated to him at the Museum of London.
Entitled ‘Harry Kane: I Want To Play Football’, the organisers drew its name from a scrawled message he wrote as a five-year-old and charts his football life from child to man, with family photos, other personal items and his myriad accolades.
Designed to inspire young people to stick to their dreams, it highlights obstacles Kane overcame to become his country’s pre-eminent player, from rejection by Arsenal as an eight-year-old to the four loan spells he was sent on with mixed success, and comical misappraisals as a one-season wonder.
Kane’s exhibition ‘I want to play football’ (pictured above) runs until December 2022 in London
There were also periods of uncertainty during his progress through the Tottenham academy, which his former coach Bradley Allen recalls when asked about a pivotal meeting with the teenage Kane and his father Pat.
‘I can still remember a chat at the end of his under-14 year,’ Allen tells the MoS. ‘I was sitting alongside [academy manager] John McDermott, with Pat and Harry there at the office at our former training ground.
‘They were, I think, a bit nervous. Were we going to keep him for another two years? We were suggesting some stuff that we felt he needed to do more work on, his fitness and his running capacity. We felt there needed to be technical development.’
They wanted to retain him. ‘Pat looked across to Harry and just said, “Well, you know, there you go, son, you know the coaches fully believe in you, you know what you’ve got to do, it’s over to you”.’
Some of the superstar’s memorabilia from across his storied career is included in the museum
McDermott has in the past been more forthright in his appraisal of Kane’s potential at that time, reportedly describing him as ‘the runt of the litter’ whose physical metrics were significantly down on his team-mates’.
With Pat standing 6ft 4in, however, the coaches were hopeful that his son was due a growth spurt and had noted both how sweetly their prospect struck the ball as well as the early signs of an inner steel.
Kane himself identifies the latter quality as crucial to him surpassing more promising talents. ‘I always knew what I could do,’ he says. ‘I always knew I could score goals. Technically, I always knew I was really strong. I guess when I was younger, though, physically, it took me a lot longer than a lot of other players to develop and grow into being a man. I just knew in my head that I’d fit the challenge one day to go and become a footballer.’
His positivity helped. ‘I never thought too much, never thought too negatively. It was always: this is the process, I’m going to go on loan. I’m going to come back. I’m going to get my chance at the top level and I’m going to take it.
Gareth Southgate has performed well to take England to the position of being a powerhouse
‘I’d love to have been playing for Tottenham at 16 years old and playing every game, but it was important to have those experiences. The loan spells. The ups and downs that taught me to be patient. Taught me to have more self-belief.’
For all the early difficulties, Kane’s career has run remarkably smoothly since he refused former manager Andre Villas-Boas’s suggestion of a fifth loan spell and established himself in the Spurs first team.
The four golden boots on display in the museum – three domestic, one from the World Cup – point to his prolificacy in front of goal, while the royal medal afforded MBE recipients is testament to his broad popularity.
Last week he wore a rainbow-coloured armband and confidently fielded questions about treatment of the LGBT community in Qatar, insisting it was important that fans from it should be allowed to accompany England safely through the tournament.
Kane confidently fielded questions regarding the treatment of the LGBT community in Qatar
The loanee striker who once sat alone in a Leicester flat, wondering how he might ever progress from a Championship subs’ bench, has graduated seamlessly, it seems, to the rank of assured national leader.
His brand of captaincy, Kane says, is mostly instinctive. ‘You learn from captains that you’ve played with. I had Wayne [Rooney] when I first came into the team, I’ve had Hugo [Lloris, at Spurs] for a long time. You pick up different things along the way, but I always realised I’ve been a leader in the dressing room.
‘I’ve always spoken my mind and tried to lead by example. Being England captain is no different. I try to set that example. For every player coming in, I try to get to know them as much as possible and understand them.
‘When we’re on the pitch, I just be myself. I try not to think about it too much. But of course, it comes with added responsibility off the pitch, with the press conferences and being a good role model and all those things. But that’s pretty natural to me. I enjoy the role.’
His MBE displays his broad popularity around the country after his impressive career to date
It would be too easy to suggest that the breakdown of a move to Manchester City last summer affected Kane’s start to the club season just finished, but his form broadly followed that of a team dramatically revived by Antonio Conte’s appointment in November.
While Spurs went from rank outsiders to qualify for the Champions League – Conte reckoned it would be a ‘miracle’ as late as April – their talisman went from scoring two league goals before Christmas to 15 afterwards as a place in the top four was wrapped up.
Spurs fans will be encouraged to hear Kane now appearing to look beyond this summer when discussing how the club need to kick on under Conte.
‘It was a really good finish to the season,’ he says. ‘We really struggled at the start. Antonio came in and we still had ups and downs. We were training really hard. Antonio had these ideas of how he wanted us to play. We were learning that as a group and getting to know him and he was getting to know us. It took a bit of time.
Antonio Conte’s Tottenham side rallied impressively in the Premier League to finish fourth
‘But as the season went on, physically and mentally [we improved]. To get to the Champions League, it was important just to give everyone a big boost into next season. But of course, we still have stuff to improve on.’
One billboard at the Museum of London has mocked up Kane in England kit beside his eight-year-old self with Ridgeway Rovers, his local club in Chingford, north-east London. The two poses are remarkably similar, with the ball a touch away from his feet and Kane’s head up, scanning opportunities.
In his youth, Kane played as an attacking midfielder, only converting to striker after leaving Allen’s tutelage. The remarkable progression since has placed him three goals short of Rooney’s England record, with Kane’s penalty against Hungary his 50th goal from 72 games.
Did his ambitions extend this far at the outset of his international career? ‘You always have dreams. ‘I want to be England’s all-time top goalscorer. I want to get the most caps’. And I guess you want to be the best the country’s ever had. That’s a mindset for a lot of players.
Spurs fans will be encouraged to hear Kane now appearing to look beyond this summer
‘You have no idea whether you’re going to go on and achieve that. But when I got to the camp I didn’t feel out of place. I knew I could handle myself on the international stage.
‘To have played as many times as I have and scored the goals, it’s really pleasing. And I know there’s still more to come. I’m 28. I’m still young. I’ve got loads more, hopefully, I’m going to achieve.’
Tottenham’s pre-season begins with a tour of South Korea in the second week of July, leaving Kane with only a few weeks’ downtime with wife Katie and children Ivy, aged five, three-year-old Vivienne and Louis, born in December 2020.
The first World Cup fixture comes round on November 21 against Iran. By then, England fans will pray that the team’s talisman will be hitting his stride. ‘I’m confident in the group,’ he says. ‘We’ve got a great mix of experienced players and fresh talent, just the ingredients to make the team successful.’
Harry Kane: I Want To Play Football runs until December 2022 at The Museum of London. Entry is free. The museum is open seven days a week from 10am to 5pm.