How Harry Kane has gone from struggling loanee to one of the world's best strikers

By Tom Bodell, Football Whispers

As Harry Kane took the Wembley turf on Tuesday night for his side’s Carabao Cup semi-final first leg he made his first start in the competition in 1,204 days – a remarkable fact but also one which is indicative of how far he has come.

Kane’s last League Cup start came in September 2015 against North London rivals Arsenal at a time when he was still trying to shake off the ‘one-season wonder’ tag. A lot has changed since then.

For a start, we know emphatically Kane is much more than that. He is six goals short of hitting 20 in five consecutive Premier League seasons. He is one of the world’s elite goalscorers. He’s England captain and he’s a World Cup Golden Boot winner.

Not bad for someone who bounced around the English Football League until 2014. He scored five in 18 appearances for League One (third tier) Leyton Orient in 2010/11 and added a further nine in 27 in the Championship with Millwall. Not the kind of return that would have convinced many he was ready for the top flight.

But Kane’s time away from White Hart Lane was about more than goals. It was about real football and the pressures that brought. When he joined Millwall in January 2012 the South Londoners were in a relegation battle. The pressure was on and signing Kane was, in the words of the club’s then-assistant boss Joe Gallen, “a gamble”.

“My loan at Millwall was a big part of my development,” Kane told The Guardian prior to facing the Lions in the FA Cup in in 2017. “I was 18, we were in a relegation battle and it turned me into a man. I played in difficult, high-pressure games and I managed to come out of it positively.”

Having helped Millwall avoid the drop, Kane was on the move again the following season, stepping up to the Premier League to join newly promoted Norwich City. But a broken metatarsal hampered his progress and he was recalled with Spurs short of striking cover.

However, just 20 days after being summoned back back he was gone once more, joining Championship promotion hopefuls Leicester City. Though he was unable to force his way into the starting XI on a regular basis, Kane chipped in with two goals from five starts as the Foxes reached the playoff semi-finals, only to lose to Watford in dramatic circumstances.

There is a famous picture from the second leg of that tie at the Hornets’ dilapidated Vicarage Road stadium where Kane is sat next to team-mates Jamie Vardy and Danny Drinkwater on the bench. Vardy was the odd man out that day as the others came on, but all three went on to represent England – though at that stage you would have been hard pushed to imagine as much.

“There were others you'd have put ahead of Harry at that time,” former Spurs midfielder Jermaine Jenas said in 2017. “Ryan Mason because he had this flair about him. Andros Townsend, Dean Parrett, there were a few coming through.”

But where he lacked natural God-given ability Kane’s perseverance, work ethic and attitude shone through. He remained at Tottenham for the start of the 2013/14 campaign was never truly in contention under André Villas-Boas.

That all changed when the Portuguese was replaced by former Academy Manager Tim Sherwood for the rest of the season; Kane made nine of his ten Premier League appearances that term under the former Tottenham midfielder.

He marked his first Premier League start for the North Londoners, a 5-1 thrashing of Sunderland in April 2014, by scoring his maiden top-flight goal before the hour. That kickstarted a run of three goals in as many games.

“He’s had to fight his way up the hard way. He’s waited for his opportunity and had numerous loans where he was average at best," Sherwood said on Sky Sports.

“But it was the belief of me, to be fair, that I needed to stop the fears of the managers who were managing at the time, like Harry Redknapp and Andre Villas-Boas, and tell them that this boy has got such good character and his strongest attribute is between his ears, that he will be a player no matter what happens because he knows where he wants to go and he doesn't know how to get there.”

Sherwood was gone by the start of the following season, replaced by Mauricio Pochettino, meaning Kane would have to earn his stripes all over again.

With first-choice striker Roberto Soldado failing to convince and Emmanuel Adebayor persona non grata under the Argentine, Kane took his chances in the cups, particularly in the UEFA Europa League where he bagged his first hat-trick in a 5-1 win over Asteras Tripoli, ending the night in goal after Hugo Lloris was sent off with all of Spurs’ substitutions used.

By now there was a clamour for the Walthamstow-born forward to be given his chance in the Premier League. The din only increased when he bagged a last-gasp winner at Aston Villa at the start of November, taking him to nine goals in 15 games.

Convinced, Pochettino threw Kane in from the start against Stoke City. Spurs were beaten 2-1 and Kane failed to find the back of the net. But he was not going to need asking twice and netted the equaliser in a 2-1 win at Hull City.

From there he did not let up, finishing the season with 32 for club and country including, inevitably, a goal a minute into his England debut against Lithuania in March 2015. His remarkable ascent continued as he was named PFA Young Player of the Year and included alongside Chelsea’s Diego Costa in the PFA Team of the Year.

Now a bona fide superstar, the question was whether Kane could could carry his form into the new season. The knives were sharpened when he took nine domestic appearances to open his account, in an emphatic 4-1 defeat of Manchester City, but he finished the season with 25 goals to win the Golden Boot ahead of Sergio Agüero and former Foxes team-mate Vardy.

That was the first of two awards as the Premier League’s top scorer, only Mohamed Salah’s barely believable return last season denying Kane a third successive accolade. In 2017/18 he equalled Newcastle United legend Alan Shearer’s record of 36 goals in a calendar year and it the former England captain he has been likened to most often.

Appointed England captain ahead of last summer’s FIFA World Cup in Russia, Kane led by example from the moment he nodded a last-minute winner against Tunisia in the Three Lions’ opener.

He hat a Panama hat-trick, becoming the first England player to score a World Cup treble since Gary Lineker against Poland in 1986. He also matched another of Lineker’s feats with his six efforts winning him the Golden Boot as England confounded all expectations to finish fourth.

As a marksman of some repute for Spurs and England, Lineker is perhaps best-placed to judge the merits of Kane who, with 122 goals and counting, represents a real threat to Shearer’s record 260 Premier League goals.

“Without wishing to make any horrible comparisons with someone, Kane does remind me a little bit of Shearer,” Lineker has said. “I like Kane and I know Shearer likes him a lot as well.

“He has a really strong all-round game. He’s not lightning quick, but he’s not slow. That’s the only thing you would look at and say, ‘If he was a yard or two quicker’… well, I don’t know what you’d be looking at. He scores poacher’s goals, great goals, takes free kicks, takes penalties. He does the whole thing.”