It was a discussion that reflected the skepticism surrounding José Mourinho.
In June, Sky Sports profile Paul Merson said Harry Kane would struggle to score goals for Mourinho. Would he still find the net? Certainly.
But were there going to be 25 or 30 goals per season? Forget it.
Merson thought that Mourinho’s football was too defensive for Kane and that he would be isolated at the top. Mourinho responded by reminding everyone that several strikers had played great for him before – such as Didier Drogba, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimović.
Which of the two would be right was difficult to say. But one thing was clear: Kane had not been in top form for more than two years.
Now, however, Kane has started the season with unreal productivity.
In fact, his numbers are so good that they can be compared to Lionel Messi.
These are first and foremost goals Kane must contribute. This season he has five goals in five league games.
It is reminiscent of old beats.
When Kane broke through on Tottenham’s first team in the 2014/15 season, he emerged as a toxic finisher. He was not only precise. He was good at finishing often – and from good positions.
This is a quality that characterizes the top scorers. They are not always the most effective, but profiles like Cristiano Ronaldo and Robert Lewandowski fire from dangerous zones time and time again. And if you do that, you are doomed to score often.
Kane did this. The first three seasons as a regular at Spurs, he had an average of around four finishes per 90 minutes he was on the field.
It’s about the average of Liverpool’s top scorer Mohamed Salah.
Kane scored 21 league goals first, then 25, then 29.
But it was not until the following season, in 2017/18, that Kane reached a new level.
On the surface, most things were as before. Kane scored 30 league goals. Since playing seven league games more than the season before, he actually scored with a lower frequency.
Behind those numbers, however, something had changed: Kane was up to 5.4 finishes per 90 minutes.
This was world class.
In practice, it meant nothing for that season, since Kane did not score more often than before. But the numbers told about one capacity to score even more goals, as well as maintain the goal average over a long period of time.
Among the players in the five major leagues in Europe – England, Spain, Germany, Italy, France – only Messi and Cristiano finished more often than Kane.
So even though Kane does not score as often as before, he had become more dangerous than ever.
Thus, one could expect that Kane would continue to score 30 league goals per season.
But then came the damage.
Already in the autumn of 2016, Kane had his first problems with his ankles. In March 2018 and in the spring of 2019, three new injuries occurred. Each time, he worked hard to get ready to play early.
The Spurs battled for a place among the top four, and never had a full-fledged replacement for their captain and top scorer. In addition, the team’s coach, Mauricio Pochettino, believed that the head controls the body, that pure will can help repair muscles and tendons.
The result was that Kane often returned quickly. Maybe for quickly.
For gradually some of the explosiveness seemed to disappear. Where Kane had previously acquired the half-meter he needed to finish, the shots were now blocked.
In 2018/19, Kane scored 17 league goals. Last season, he scored 18 league goals.
At the same time, he quit less often. In 2018/19, the average was 3.8. Last season it was 2.8.
Kane was only 26 last season. Had he seen his best years?
It was at this point that Merson came up with his prophecy. In reality, Kane’s problems seemed to be more about his physical level than Mourinho’s style of play. In any case, it did not help that Kane got a hoarding injury in January that put him out of action for several months.
Still: When the league started up again in June, he seemed sharper. In the last three league games, he scored five goals.
Was Kane now on his way back?
The answer seems to be yes. In addition to the five goals this season, Kane has so far come up with 5.1 finishes per 90 minutes. It is reminiscent of the Kane version from 2017/18.
At the same time, he has also developed another dimension of his game.
Although Kane has never managed more than seven assists in one league season, he has always had a brilliant passing foot. As a boy, his idols were Teddy Sheringham and Robbie Keane, strikers who operated deep in the field.
Kane does not play with jersey number 9, which tends to belong to the team’s top scorer. He prefers number 10, which tends to go to the playmakers.
Nevertheless, it is only now that Kane’s passing game has really come into its own. Instead of using him as a spearhead, Mourinho has put Kane deeper in the field, where he can hit sensitive sticks to the lightning wing Son Heung-min.
Away against Southampton, Kane played through Son four times. Son scored all four times and Spurs won 5-2.
Then against West Ham, Kane struck a new long pass to Son, who scored again.
So far, Kane has seven assists this season, three more than anyone else in the league. He has added up to 2.6 finishes per 90 minutes.
He now appears as a top scorer and playmaker in one.
A bit like Leo
In many ways, Kane has actually been given a similar role as the one Messi had in Barcelona under Pep Guardiola. Before, Kane was a “nine”; a classic tip. Now he has become what is called a “false” nine: a lone striker who lies deep in the field.
The incredible thing about Messi is that he has always scored goals even though he also creates chances for others. Over the years, he has been around 5.5 finishes per 90 minutes, although he has also added around 2.5 finishes for his teammates.
These are about the numbers Kane is at now.
The big difference is obviously that Messi has done this almost his entire career, while Kane has done it in five games.
So the question is: Will it last?
The number of goal scorers will undoubtedly decrease, because Son can not possibly continue to set chances as often as he has done so far. But in terms of the goals Kane scores himself, he has good chances to continue on the same track.
He just has to keep finishing just as often.
And hope that the ankles continue to function properly.