Harry Kane looks spent and Tottenham are paying the price
Star striker didn’t have a shot in sluggish San Siro performance
Harry Kane rounds Samir Handanovic before spurning his best chance of the match in Tottenham’s 2-1 loss to Inter Milan. Photograph: Dan Istitene/Getty
Well, that escalated quickly. A goal up on 85 minutes: 2-1 down at the final whistle. Defeat for Tottenham to Internazionale in the Champions League makes it three defeats in three – Watford then Liverpool before this one – all of them by the same scoreline, all of them without a goal from Harry Kane. Muddled at the back and lacking energy in the middle: this is becoming a recurrent tableau. These cows can see the train coming but there doesn’t seem to be much they can do about it.
None of this was Kane’s fault on the face of it. Spurs lost because they failed to defend properly at a set piece. Before that their biggest problem was repeatedly giving the ball away playing out from the back, often indulging in the kind of intimate passing moves that would have taxed a triangle of Xavi, Johan Cruyff and David Blaine. Never mind Jan Vertonghen and the twin left feet of Michel Vorm.
Still, it is unavoidable that Kane should be a key feature in any autopsy of the congealment at Spurs. Not only is Kane the chief cutting edge, he has been the engine driving that high-pressing energy, the same energy that seems to have dissipated in the last few weeks.
What’s eating Harry? Here Kane did at least show some consistent form. He was invisible again, registering zero shots and touching the ball 25 times in total. This happens with centre-forwards. When Mauro Icardi scored his brilliant volleyed equaliser in the 85th minute it was his 15th touch and his first shot on target.
The problem is movement not touches – and whether Kane is tired or not, he does not move like he used to. At times he seems to have become a venerable, late-model Alan Shearer seven years ahead of schedule, a player who wants the ball with his back to goal constantly where once he was a blur of bruising half-turns and runs down the channels.
At San Siro he spent the first half basically following a straight line from centre circle to penalty box, wearing the grass thin, like a slow medium trundler reeling off 15 overs in a day. This was not high-energy world-class centre-forward play. It was a game of crown green bowls. It was going for a walk.
In fairness, this is a lovely place for a stroll. At the kick-off on a muggy, close Milanese evening the stadium was a wonderful spectacle. Tottenham’s travelling fans, high up in the gods, were drowned out before the match by Inter’s constant stream of rock ballad sing-alongs.
On the pitch Tottenham only started to suffer when they brought it on themselves. Five times in the first half the back five insisted on playing out under pressure only to lose the ball. At the risk of making another bad cow joke, sometimes you really do have to hoof it.
Kane had one excellent chance on 37 minutes. The ball was sent floating in a perfect back-spun parabola by Christian Eriksen. Kane killed it, tried to go round the goalkeeper, didn’t have the space. At his most ravenous he might have just buried it first time.
Spurs took the lead through a piece of brilliance from Eriksen, the skill that made it deserving of the flukey deflection that finished it.
Eriksen had not scored a goal for Spurs since 14 April. He has also played 113 games in the past two seasons, which is 13 more than Kane.
From here the suggestion Kane is simply tired will continue to float around, an object of mockery, even outrage for some. But why shouldn’t he be? And why shouldn’t that then have a disastrous effect on the team he leads?
Kane’s game is based on bumping and scragging and running his direct opponent into the ground. He plays every game, and plays the whole 90 minutes of full-contact football. Human beings are not designed to do this constantly.
Of course he is tired. He needs a month away and without injury to recharge and train and free up some RAM in his brain. He won’t get it.
The fact is Spurs have relied on their No 10, have taken everything he has been willing to give for the last three years, have built a new stadium while his goals have powered them back into the Champions League with no other serviceable striker at the club.
A key asset has been sweated by senior management. Little wonder right now, it looks in need of a little care; and that the structure behind it should start to suffer too.