On the face of it nobody should be surprised if Harry Kane, as Roy Hodgson suspects, is feeling the effects of what is known in football as burnout.
Kane’s workload since August 2014 has incorporated 118 games, including 65 in the last year, every minute for England in last summer’s European Under-21 Championship, various other overseas assignments from Australia to Azerbaijan and Alicante (and that is just the As) and, when there was the chance to have a break at the end of the season, a missive letting him know Hodgson wanted everyone to report early. Who can really be surprised if Kane, to use the words of England’s manager, “showed signs of wear and tear” in the team’s first two games of Euro 2016?
Perhaps it does not matter so much on the back of a win as euphoric as the one against Wales but it is certainly legitimate to ask – thinking back to the way Kane and his Tottenham Hotspur team-mates hit a wall towards the end of last season – why Hodgson did not think it better for everyone if the Premier League’s golden boot winner had some time off before this tournament. Kane was kept in the dugout for the friendly against Australia but he played against Turkey and Portugal. He arrived in Euro 2016 as England’s first-choice striker from a list of five and it cannot be encouraging that, two games in, his reflexes have dulled to the point Hodgson found it “quite an easy decision” to remove him at half-time of the Wales match.
Does Hodgson now leave out Kane from Monday’s game against Slovakia? It is certainly easy to understand why he is apparently leaning that way because that was some calling card Daniel Sturridge left in the Stade Bollaert-Delelis. Jamie Vardy did the same and that surely makes it difficult for Hodgson to persist with Kane and Raheem Sterling in particular.
Kane might consider himself a victim of circumstance but that is what happens sometimes in sport and it does offer a bit of context that he had 13 touches during the first half in Lens whereas Marcus Rashford managed 17 as a 73rd-minute substitute.
It is also worth bearing in mind something Hodgson has said previously about Sturridge being the most accomplished finisher of all England’s strikers. The issue with Sturridge has been his fitness and reliability – in short, will he let you down? – but, on that front, it is worth noting what one of his Liverpool team-mates said after the Wales game. “That was the fittest I have seen him for a while,” Adam Lallana volunteered. “That’s even including towards the back end of the season with Liverpool. He just seems to be getting fitter and fitter. He’s always involved. He’s a big player, involved in big moments. That goal summed him up.”
Sturridge can certainly feel vindicated after all the scrutiny about whether his place in the squad might be vulnerable and the separate question of how a player not renowned for lack of ego might feel about starting the tournament as one of Kane’s understudies. “I’m pleased for him,” Hodgson said. “He had that long injury and there was speculation, and questions, about whether he was the right player to be in the 23. People were asking: ‘Should he go?’ and I’m delighted that I showed confidence in him because he hasn’t let me down very often. He’s a special player, there’s no doubt about it.”
Vardy is not regarded by England’s management as being so gifted but the Leicester City striker does bring momentum, directness and the kind of raw speed and energy few possess. Vardy is certainly not your average footballer given that it has become apparent here in Chantilly that he starts every day with a can of Red Bull (“to wake me up,” he explains). He does not follow his team-mates to the gym because he suspects lifting weights and packing on muscle “will slow me down”. And, unorthodox as it is, it works. His second-half contribution against Wales backed up his insistence it was “easy” not to be distracted by Arsenal’s attempt to sign him.
The danger for Vardy, perhaps, is that a player with these kind of effervescent qualities can be cast as an impact substitute. “If I’m not in the team, it’s up to me to put the extra effort into training to try to dislodge who is,” he says. “It can only be 11 who start, so the ones who don’t start need to make sure they make an impact when they come on. Luckily I’ve done that.”
Rashford did, too, and Hodgson spoke effusively about the way the youngest player in the tournament had adapted to his new surroundings. “He’s new to us – the way we try to play, the way we try to attack and defend together. He’s picking that up every day. But he has incredibly good technique for a very young player. He’s got pace and athleticism, which are good things to have when you are 18 years of age. He isn’t scared at all.”
Hodgson also has the option of switching Wayne Rooney back to a forward role during games and, with Dele Alli, Sterling and Lallana also prominent in the manager’s thoughts, there cannot be another team in the competition with more varied attacking options. All of which means Kane might have picked a bad moment to let everything catch up with him. “The players have to prove their worthiness,” Hodgson concluded. “Sometimes the ones you are convinced will be big hitters before the tournament turn out not to be, and it’s someone who might just have been playing a part in helping you do well who turns out to be the big hitter.”
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