Updated: June 13, 2021 1:40:39 pm
By Rory Smith
There are a lot of things that everybody knows about Harry Kane. First and foremost, there is the fact that he is the captain of England’s national soccer team, a status that bestows upon its bearer the sort of profile unavailable to most athletes, particularly in tournament years. It is part-of-the-furniture fame, royal family fame. Everyone has heard of Harry Kane.
Then there are the goals. Harry Kane scores goals with startling efficiency. He scores goals with both feet and with his head. He scores goals from close range and from long distance, for good teams and bad. He does not really seem to be subject to things such as form or confidence. He simply started scoring goals seven years ago and never stopped.
He has scored so many that he is seventh on the list of the Premier League’s career top scorers; with a fair wind, he will be third next year at this time and within touching distance of the record-holder, Alan Shearer, not long after he turns 30. By that stage, in all likelihood, he will have usurped Wayne Rooney as England’s leading scorer, too.
What colors he will be wearing as he does so is anyone’s guess. Everyone has known for some time, of course, that Harry Kane is one of Tottenham’s own, the star of the team he supported as a child.
Over the past few weeks, though, a drip feed of interviews has made it clear that, in Harry Kane’s mind, that might have to change this summer, if he is to fulfill his ambition of winning collective awards, rather than individual ones. The expectation is that at some point, Manchester City, Manchester United or Chelsea will make him the most expensive English player in history.
But that is where the knowledge stops. Harry Kane is captain of England, he scores a lot of goals and he is about to star in his very own transfer saga. Beyond that, Harry Kane is something of an enigma. It is a neat trick: for a player of his status, and an athlete of his generation, to be as well known as he is and yet not well known at all.
Occasionally, some trivial jetsam floats to shore. He went to the same school as David Beckham. He married his childhood sweetheart. He likes the TV show “Dexter.” He is an ardent fan of the NFL in general and Tom Brady in particular, and harbors hopes of playing that other kind of football — as a kicker — someday.
They are mere details, glimpses of what lies beneath, rather than a whole picture of a personality. His name, perhaps, illustrates it best. Most players are referred to exclusively by their surname, a tradition that reminds them they are just cogs in a machine. Only a select handful are afforded the privilege of being known simply by their first name.
For Harry Kane, it is neither. Calling him “Kane” would seem disrespectful: He is more than just another player. But he is not a “Harry,” either: Somehow that would be too intimate, too familiar.
Instead, he will lead England into this summer’s European Championship — hoping to win an international tournament in a final on home soil — as Harry Kane, forename and surname, like a reverse Pele. It is an honor, in a way, but it is also a sign of some subconscious distance, as if he is a brand or a corporation or a place.
There are a lot of things everyone knows about Harry Kane. But knowing who he is, or what he is like, is not one of them.
At the end of his first campaign with Tottenham, Kane and his teammates traveled to Australia for a brief tour. It had been Kane’s breakout year: He had scored 21 goals in 34 Premier League games. Almost overnight, he had gone from a fringe player, forever being shipped out on loan, to a blossoming idol.
Kane, though, had not noticed the transformation. While he was in Sydney, he decided that he fancied a stroll. He took himself to the nearest mall, expecting to be able to quietly wander around in peace. Instead, within a few minutes, he found himself swarmed by hundreds of fans. Unable to escape, he had to call the club to get him out.
The memory has stayed with him. “I think, at the start, I was a bit naive about what being famous would be like in terms of what you can and can’t do,” he said. “I appreciate it, obviously, and I enjoy parts of it, and I suppose when I retire and it’s gone, I’ll be able to tell you if I miss it or not. But there are restrictions that come with it.”
Kane traces that naivete to the fact that he had never really considered the “famous” part of “famous footballer.” He grew up, in Chingford, Essex, on London’s northeast fringe, dreaming of playing for Tottenham and for England. His idol was Beckham. Kane cites him as his “role model,” but that admiration went only so far.
“I had a mohawk when he had one,” Kane said. “But he wasn’t a role model for me in terms of what he was wearing. It was how he conducted himself. I wanted to be a footballer, that was it. I was not really worried about being in the public eye.”
Kane never lost that single-mindedness. Long before he established himself at Tottenham, as he made his way around the country with the smaller clubs where he had been sent, countless coaches were impressed by his doggedness, his determination.
At Norwich, Chris Hughton recalled Kane practicing finishing for so long that all of his teammates, as well as the goalkeepers, left him to his own devices. At Millwall, he asked his manager, Kenny Jackett, if he could help him get better in the air. Even now — when most of Kane’s week is spent recovering from one game and preparing for another — he admits to being a little “addicted” to improving his performance data.
“I compete with myself,” he said. “When I broke into the Premier League, I was not quite as physically developed as the other players. With Mauricio Pochettino, we did a lot in the gym, trying to improve my strength and speed and power. I got a bit addicted to improving the statistics. I put pressure on myself to get better.”
He takes the same approach to the other aspects of being one of the most famous athletes in the country. Kane is not, by his own admission, the sort to “get into situations where I am photographed on a night out.” That side of celebrity, so available to him, is rejected not through necessity, but inclination.
He keeps his commercial commitments restricted, too. He will not commit to any sponsor engagements 48 hours before a game: Even if they might largely involve, in his words, “standing around,” a photo shoot lasting a few hours can be draining. “And the games are the most important thing,” he said.
He works only with a handful of carefully selected sponsors, ones deemed by the player and his brother, Charlie, who is also his agent, to be a natural fit. “If it’s just for the money, it can be hard work,” he said. Like most players, he has a portfolio of charitable causes that he supports — some public and some private.
Last year, Kane struck an innovative deal to become the main jersey sponsor of Leyton Orient, the east London club where he first played senior soccer, as a way of supporting it during the pandemic. (Kane gave the advertising real estate over to three of his chosen charities.)
His business interests are growing, too. He is one of several England players to have invested in STATSports, a technology company that provides GPS tracking vests to teams across a range of sports. He made the decision not just for profit, but because he felt it “fitted my personality well.”
But Kane’s extracurricular activities are notably limited compared with those of some of his peers. He could probably have an arrangement with Egyptian Steel, but doesn’t. He might prove a powerful advocate for a facial fitness product in Japan, but he is not tempted to find out. Kane is a familiar face, a familiar name, but not because he is relentlessly marketed. He does not seek to trade too much on his fame, because to him his fame is secondary.
There is a reason the things that everyone knows about Kane extend no further, really, than the field itself: because that is all that he has focused on. “I don’t want that attention,” he said. “It is a conscious effort to avoid it. Football is my job. I dedicated a lot of time and work to be where I am now, and I think some players lose sight of that. You start to think the other things are more important, more exciting, but what I am paid for is to work hard and be professional.”
What we know about Harry Kane, in other words, are the things that he wants us to know.
A Star’s Haven
By his own estimate, Kane has watched “The Brady 6,” a documentary about the six quarterbacks chosen before Brady in the 2000 NFL draft, a dozen or so times. Last spring, like millions of others, he found himself captivated by “The Last Dance,” the documentary series highlighting Michael Jordan’s final year with the Chicago Bulls.
Given the scarcity of information about Kane, those two fairly unsurprising viewing choices — professional athlete is intrigued by stories of great athletes — are often co-opted as false insight into who the 27-year-old Kane is away from the field. Barring evidence to the contrary, they prove, after all, that he likes the NFL and basketball.
But neither one seems particularly extracurricular. Kane has spoken previously of the echoes he hears of his own story in Brady’s rise — a player written off by most before his career had begun, who managed to go on and conquer the world. And “The Last Dance” is, in the eyes of more than one soccer player, a case study in the nature of greatness. These are not outside interests for Kane. It is background reading.
The one place that Kane does seek solace from soccer — the one place he goes deliberately to escape — is the golf course. It is his haven, his chance to take his mind off his relentless drive to self-improve by persistently trying to get better at something else. “It is my way of meditating,” he said. “When you’re playing, it is all you are thinking about for four or five hours. It gets me away from football.”
Perhaps, then, it was only on the golf course that Kane felt comfortable enough, detached enough, to confront the issue of his future. He had been dropping hints for months — if not longer — that his ambitions and Tottenham’s might be starting to diverge, although, as a rule, he had stopped short of anything that might be considered undiplomatic.
Last month, though, while playing golf with Gary Neville, the former Manchester United captain-turned-television pundit, he was blunt. A difficult conversation with Tottenham was coming, he told Neville; he felt he could go on and win trophies for years to come, and if the club could not provide a team to do that, he would have to consider his options.
He is at the stage of his career when he is starting to think about legacy, weighing those individual awards — the scoring titles and the player of the year accolades — against the ones that define a player: the titles won, the cups lifted and the trophies claimed.
In an interview with The New York Times in late April, he said he “didn’t panic” about it, that he did not believe he had one last shot at winning something, but he will know, too, that time is not limitless. He will turn 28 in July and is starting to think of what people will know about him when, years down the line, he is no longer the England captain, no longer scoring goals.
And he knows that one thing stands out above all others. “England is No. 1 for me,” he said. “It is the biggest thing you can achieve. I dreamed of playing for England, but I also dreamed of winning something for England. That is on top of my list. You play Premier Leagues and Champions Leagues every year, but a major tournament only comes around once every two years. The window is a lot smaller. To win something with England: That would be No. 1.”
It would outstrip whatever he achieves, for himself and for his club, whichever club that is: to be England captain, winning a major trophy for the first time in almost 60 years, and doing so on home soil. Make that happen, and that will be the only thing that people will know about Harry Kane. It is the only thing they will need to know. It will be the only thing that matters.
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