England captain and absolutely pivotal to the Three Lions’ World Cup hopes, life is good for Harry Kane. Here TOBY PORTER admits that the striker has bucked a trend of Millwall loanees not going on to reach the top.
When Harry Kane arrived on loan at Millwall in January 2012, they were struggling near the foot of the table. The forward, then just 18 years old, played 21 times for the Lions in the next five months, and five times in the FA Cup.
By the end of the season, Kenny Jackett’s team were 17 points clear of the drop zone in 16th, a point above Crystal Palace.
Kane had hit the net a total of nine times – seven of them coming in the last 14 league games of the campaign.
Jackett must have been contemplating a record-busting bid for the youngster, just as he would for Chris Wood a year later.
But Kane had other ideas. I was in the players’ lounge at The Den, waiting to chat to him as the season wound down, letting him finish his conversation with friends and family before asking him about the chances of him coming back to play for Millwall the following season. He made the correct noises – footballers rightly say ‘You never know what’s going to happen in football’ – but neither of us had our hearts in it as a result of what I had just heard him say to his friends, who said: “You’re looking forward to getting back to trying to win a place in the first team at Spurs, aren’t you?” It wasn’t a question, really. But he agreed, and I have to admit my heart sank a little. I also remember thinking “How arrogant”. Players who pull on the shirt of Millwall, with few exceptions, don’t go on to play in the Premier League. Among the other rule-breakers, by the way, are Jamie O’Hara and Ryan Mason – who also made their names at White Hart Lane.
How wrong I was! Kane had a plan. Tim Sherwood also had a plan for the lanky striker. It was the battling former Blackburn midfielder who had sent him out on loan to The Den in the first place, putting his trust in Jackett to protect the teenager from overexposure.
Then the following season, he sent Kane to Norwich, where he was kept out by Grant Holt, and to Leicester, who had David Nugent and Jamie Vardy. It was only when Sherwood had the chance to put him in the White Hart Lane first team that he thrived.
But the signs had been there all along – though I certainly didn’t appreciate it at the time.
What stands out looking at the goals now is his balance, his ability to get a shot off when crowded by defenders, and his knowledge of where the goalposts were from every part of the pitch. He had the close control of someone who had played relentless five-a-side games but the awareness of someone who had been on full-size pitches since he was in nappies.
And the confidence to fire at the target from any part of the pitch. Take his goal in the 3-0 win at Doncaster on March 20. Nadjim Abdou, dribbling from the centre circle, lays it off to the striker, who is patrolling the left flank, for some reason.
Kane cut inside, with defenders leaving him to it. So he unleashed a low 30-yard shot which didn’t seem to go above waist height but tucked inside the far post.
A lot of his shots – and very few of them were off target – seemed to find the bottom corner.
For one – I think it was the 3-0 win at Peterborough on March 6 – David Forde punted towards him and Kane feinted to go away from goal, drawing the defender, then turned and sprinted towards the area to control the ball as it bounced past both of them. Followed by a low left-footed shot, also into the far bottom corner.
The same, from a much shorter distance, in the 5-0 FA Cup win over Dagenham & Redbridge on January 17. And amidst a goalmouth scramble against Blackpool – who were on their way to play-off final defeat – in the 2-2 end-of-season draw.
He did nod a couple of headers – against Dagenham and against Hull on April 7, where strike partner Andy Keogh was sneakily blocking the keeper, Vito Mannone.
But his feet did much of the talking.
In the 3-1 win at Burnley on February 25 – best remembered for Josh Wright’s 35-yard blockbuster – Kane turned the ball neatly around keeper Lee Grant from a James Henry defence-splitting pass. It was a goal of quiet confidence – the factor which has fuelled his steady and seemingly relentless rise, as it does with all strikers.
Kane’s captaincy is another level entirely, though. Despite his ambition and his talent, he seems to be a genuine team player.
That might have been a lesson learned at The Den. In the 3-2 FA Cup win at Southampton, he laid off for Liam Trotter to score, then, in the dying seconds, won and took quickly a free-kick which set up Liam Feeney for a curled winner.
For me, Andy Keogh was the unsung hero of Kane’s stay at Millwall – he was always looking for the teenager, teeing up for him and playing off him.
The duo seemed to always know where the other one was. Finishing is crucial, but it has little value without good positioning.
Another lesson Kane might have picked up at The Den was from his rival for the position, Darius Henderson. The troubled former Sheffield United hitman was an offfield issue for Jackett – which Kane has never been for any of his bosses. Sometimes, seeing someone else make mistakes is the quickest way to learn.
And Kane learned fast. He must have been frustrated at Norwich and Leicester the following season but he obviously kept working hard, especially on his finishing.
And he did not strike me as the type to rest on his laurels. There are a few more to rest on these days, too.
The ambition he showed at The Den has paid off, however arrogant it seemed at the time. Former Millwall players don’t go on to play in the Premier League. They don’t go on to play for England. And they certainly don’t become one of their country’s youngest ever captains and score twice in the opening game of their World Cup campaign.
Harry Kane is now living the dream for every England fan who has lived through the frustrating decades which went before. And it all began at Millwall.
The frustrating thing is that, next season, there will be one or two more Spurs shirts seen on the parks of Bermondsey than would otherwise have been the case. When it was his spell at The Den which started it all.