Euro 2016: England can achieve anything if they remain focused, insists Tottenham striker Harry Kane
“Imagine the greatest goal you’ve ever scored”
For most people, this would be a fairly simple exercise: a thumping playground volley, a glancing header in Sunday league, a five-aside flick you’re adamant was deliberate, even though no one believes you.
But England striker Harry Kane has quite the highlights reel to run through. Our photographer asks him to picture himself scoring a dream goal while Kane strikes poses for our cover shoot.
“The shirt would be off,” he grins – and you wouldn’t blame him for such a passionate celebration if he finds the net at Euro 2016. He has been waiting for this moment his whole life.
Like all followers of the Three Lions, certain England moments are etched indelibly into Kane’s memory – brilliant goals and the scars of shootout heartache.
“I was probably only about five or six when Michael Owen scored that goal in World Cup ’98 against Argentina,” says the 22-year-old, who had actually not quite turned five that summer. “But that was obviously a special goal, so that’s one that kind of sticks out in my mind.”
The Tottenham forward remembers collecting stickers and those petrol station coins of players’ faces from tournaments past; getting into school early to watch games at the 2002 World Cup, in Japan and South Korea. His most vivid memory of watching England is David Beckham helping them qualify for that tournament with a free-kick against Greece.
“I remember watching that and going mental when it went in,” says Kane. “Obviously it’s such a famous goal, and Beckham was a big idol of mine growing up, so that is definitely one memory that sticks out.”
There was a touch of the fantastic about Kane’s England debut. Welcomed on to the pitch at Wembley as a 72nd-minute substitute for Wayne Rooney against Lithuania in March 2015, he scored with his third touch after just 79 seconds. Just a few years before, he had been a fan, watching from the stands.
“I used to go with my dad and brother,” he says. “I remember a Switzerland game, and singing the national anthem before it gave me goosebumps. When I played for England at Wembley, singing the national anthem was a dream come true. I was so proud to make my debut, especially being at Wembley, and to score so early on was special. All my family were there to share the moment after the game. It’s a memory I won’t forget.”
The last time we spoke to Kane, a month before that, he’d captured the eye for Tottenham but was yet to make his mark on the international stage. Even before speaking to him, you can tell how his stature has grown simply from the difference in venue – upmarket hotel instead of weathered sports centre.
Other stories have taken the spotlight this season (one of them could well partner him up front for England), but Kane has kept banging in goals.
“Time has gone quick since then,” he says. “It doesn’t seem like a year ago. I feel like I’ve got better – this season was a lot different to last season, obviously. Players know who I am and maybe have tactics to stop me scoring goals. I’ve had to cope with that, but it’s all part of the learning curve.”
He has scored 32 goals for club and country this season, matching the total he reached in his breakthrough year, but with more expectation on his broad shoulders.
“You’ve got to thrive on pressure,” says the Premier League Golden Boot winner. “You’ve got to be able to handle it. Any footballer who wants to be at the top level is going to be in pressure situations.
“The way I see it, if you prepare yourself enough in training and work hard enough, then those situations get easier and easier.”
Kane has proved he’s no one-season wonder. With five goals in 12 games, he could be England’s leading striker for the next 10 years: “Any top player, if they can keep doing it year in, year out, it shows that they can be at that top level.”
It didn’t always look like it would turn out this way. Three years ago, Kane sat on the bench – alongside Jamie Vardy – for Leicester in a playoff semi they lost to Watford in dramatic circumstances. It was a difficult spell: nowhere near the Spurs side, struggling to make his mark on loan.
“I went to Norwich, I got injured – I broke my foot and couldn’t get in the team,” says Kane. “I went to Leicester and couldn’t get in the team. It was a tough year for me, a tough learning curve, and one that’s made me stronger. I learnt a lot about myself then.”
Both Kane and Vardy have since broken into a fresh and exciting England side. With them are young talents such as Dele Alli and a host of players who have come through the age-group system together.
“When you’ve played with each other through the ranks – under-17s, under-18s, under-19s – you get to know each other and you get to know each other’s games,” says Kane. “We still have a good mixture – it isn’t just young players. We have some good, experienced players who have been there and done it and know what to expect.”
There’s fierce competition for the job of leading the line in Roy Hodgson’s side, with Kane, Vardy, Daniel Sturridge, Marcus Rashford and, of course, Wayne Rooney all potential strikers. But Kane is unfazed about his position on the pitch.
“I’ll play wherever the manager wants me to play,” he says. “At international level you have to be able to adapt to different situations and different positions, and I’m happy to do whatever I’m called upon to.”
Kane tells us he prepares for every game in the same superstitious way – putting on his left shin pad, sock and boot before tending to the other leg. Before Saturday’s Euro 2016 opener against Russia, he might also take a moment to reflect on both how far he’s come, and how far he can take his country. “We can achieve anything,” he tells us. “We’ve just got to stay focused.”
From England fan to star man for club and country, Kane is living the dream. So why wake up now?
Harry Kane wears England’s new 2016 home kit, built for speed with revolutionary Nike Aeroswift innovation. Visit nike.com