Gareth Southgate Sweating Over Injured Captain He Cannot Replace

Friday, 17 January, 2020 - 14:45
London- Ed Aarons

It’s a scenario that must be causing even the usually unflappable Gareth Southgate sleepless nights. José Mourinho’s revelation that Harry Kane may not be back until “next season” after rupturing a tendon in his left hamstring in the defeat to Southampton on New Year’s Day will have set alarm bells ringing for the England manager a little more than 150 days before their opening match of Euro 2020 against Croatia on 14 June.

The Tottenham head coach’s admission that he is in the dark about the prospective date of Kane’s return could eventually prove to be a red herring designed to prompt chairman Daniel Levy into action during the January transfer window. Yet such has been the influence of his captain during the evolution of this youthful England side that Southgate will be hoping Mourinho’s throwaway line at the end of his press conference to preview Tuesday’s FA Cup replay against Middlesbrough was just that.

Kane found the net in all eight of England’s Euro 2020 qualifiers, ending the campaign with 12 goals as Southgate’s side outscored every team on the continent bar Belgium and Italy. But having won the Golden Boot at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the 26-year-old’s role has changed markedly since his manager decided to abandon the 3-5-2 formation that helped England reach the semi-finals for the first time since 1990.

It is no accident that having scored just twice in his first 45 caps, Raheem Sterling’s run of 10 goals in his last 11 appearances for his country has coincided with the decision to shift to 4-3-3, while Marcus Rashford has also found his feet at international level with seven in his last 13. Fundamental to their success – albeit against limited opponents in a weak qualifying group – has been the decision to play Kane slightly deeper in a false nine role that is not dissimilar to the way Liverpool employ Roberto Firmino.

Witness his three assists in the 6-0 humiliation of Bulgaria in October. Having already played in Sterling to set up Ross Barkley for the second goal, it was Kane’s cross from the right flank that allowed the Chelsea midfielder to make it 3-0 before a one-two with Kieran Trippier set up Sterling for the fourth. A through ball for the Manchester City forward to make it 5-0 capped a brilliant individual display on a night that was marred by racist chanting from some home supporters.

Two months earlier, after a hat-trick against the same opponents that saw him overtake Geoff Hurst and Stan Mortensen in England’s all‑time goalscoring list, Southgate had highlighted the other side of Kane’s influence to his team.

“We stood and watched him take penalties for about 20 minutes yesterday,” the England manager said. “When you watch the process he goes through, he gives himself every chance of succeeding by that deliberate practice. For a youngster to be able to study him and see his professionalism and the way he works at his game, he’s an incredible example.”

The team that defeated Kosovo to seal qualification for this summer’s tournament had an average age of 23 and was the youngest to represent England for more than six decades. As one of the few from his generation to survive Southgate’s ruthless tendency to prefer youth over experience, Kane’s presence along with Sterling and Jordan Henderson has been invaluable for his manager, even if the Liverpool captain would be a ready-made replacement for the armband should he not return in time.

A lack of similar alternatives on the pitch may prove to be a bigger headache. Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham – who scored his debut international goal in the 7-0 rout against Montenegro in November – has been earmarked as Kane’s understudy for this summer but offers different qualities to the Spurs striker. The 22-year-old usually plays at the point of his club’s attacking three, although Frank Lampard has been encouraging him to drop deeper at times in an attempt to exploit the pace of his wide attacking players.

Another option may be Jamie Vardy, the 33-year-old who is the Premier League’s top scorer with 17 goals so far from just 20 appearances, but who announced his retirement from England duty after the 2018 World Cup. The Leicester manager, Brendan Rodgers, said last week that he was not expecting Vardy to go back on that decision, although Kane’s potential absence could help change his mind.

Southampton’s Danny Ings is another alternative, and looks certain to be given his opportunity in friendlies against Italy and Denmark in March, having enjoyed a brilliant season at his hometown club. But while Southgate will be open-minded about other players stepping into Kane’s shoes, there is no doubt he will have his fingers crossed that England’s talisman will return in time to lead them into a tournament that represents a genuine chance of success given that the semi-finals and final will be played on home soil.

(The Guardian)

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