Amid the euphoria of the Euro 2024 semi-final, England have one big question – Harry Kane

His every move was a little labored, his every touch a little clumsier than usual, Harry Kane played 109 minutes of the game as if Neptune’s center of gravity had weighed him down. He didn’t even make it as far as the shoot-out win that should have been central, replacing Ivan Toney in what proved to be the decisive test. There was a case, in all honesty, that Gareth Southgate would have ended his fruitless labor much sooner. In the end, Manuel Akanji had to barge him off the pitch and into the dugout for the manager to take the hint.

Gareth Southgate tries to catch Harry Kane after being bundled into contact

Southgate tries to catch Kane after being curled into contact – AFP/Adrian Dennis

Five penalty takers, all of whom scored: this was the only detail that worried England fans as they prepared to drink Dusseldorf dry. But once the euphoria settles, many will begin to wonder what the strange infantry captain is contributing to the cause. Despite his two goals in five games, Kane is like a half-paced version of his usual dominant self, with and without the ball. His miserable return against Switzerland – zero goals, zero assists, zero completed dribbles, and while he lost possession 10 times – shows a problem that Southgate needs to solve urgently.

Punishments have a habit of papering over everything that has gone before. When Trent Alexander-Arnold’s fifth-and-last-half free-kick flew past Yann Sommer, there was immediate collective amnesia. Bouncing up and down to Gala’s Freed from Desire, England supporters spent the previous two hours of mental torture out of their minds. At the gatherings that followed, there was even the odd refrain of “Southgate you’re the one”, not heard since the peak of his popularity three years ago. And to think that, a few minutes before, they were protesting loudly against the latest of their representatives.

It explained why Southgate refused to allow himself more than the briefest of celebrations. He has become wary of the gossamer thin margin between tub-thumping ecstasy and merciless post-mortem. In addition, he still has problems to solve, the most significant of which is the weakening of Kane’s powers. The struggles of the first half were alarming: Kane only touched the ball nine times. Granted, this was seven more than he had combined during the opening 45 minutes against Serbia, but England’s attack looked around him to the point that former Netherlands manager Guus Hiddink seemed to be ” walking football”.

Every time Bukayo Saka skinned Michel Aebischer to get to the byline, Kane wasn’t even in the penalty area to get the cutback, moving forward at the speed of the wheel bar. The show was testing the patience of Alan Shearer, a man who has a fair understanding of what it takes to be the prey of England No. 9, describing it as “running empty”. Kane could legitimately claim, with 65 international goals to Shearer’s 30, that he would have no time for such carving. Except that his predecessor’s verdict rang true, not just about this game, but about the entire campaign so far.

Can the country’s all-time record scorer ever become a dead weight? At 39, Cristiano Ronaldo has provided enough evidence to support the thesis, while his younger Portuguese colleagues have been reduced to servicing his enormous vanity. While Kane, nine years Ronaldo’s junior, is hardly the hubristic type, the diminution of his threat has hampered England. He should have been a great concert pianist to the tune of the orchestra, but it is as if he had decided not to even attend his recital.

Her well-being is always a concern. Kane injured his ankle for Bayern Munich in March and has rarely had the same strength since. This time, he insisted there was no real issue, and explained that Southgate took him off as a precaution after crashing in extra-time into the touch water bottles, causing him to cramp in both calves. He looked like the walking wounded all afternoon, first injured in a head-butt with Granit Xhaka before being bundled off the pitch by Akanji.

The nagging debate England will have to face ahead of their semi-final with the Dutch on Wednesday is whether Kane deserves to start. Aside from the article of faith that captains are inherently unacceptable, there is little justification for Kane being a protected species. Switzerland’s Breel Embolo was everything he wasn’t here: menacing, alert, attacking the ball at every opportunity. He just exuded lethargy, unable to win free kicks or move with any freedom. Toney tackled him in the 11 minute period. Can Southgate, with proven poachers like Toney and Ollie Watkins pushing the leash, afford to keep his faith in an almost immobile Kane?

England's Ivan Toney competes with Switzerland's Steven ZuberEngland's Ivan Toney competes with Switzerland's Steven Zuber

Substitute Ivan Toney caused more trouble for the Swiss than Kane – Getty Images/Chris Brunskill

It would not be wise to expect any curves. Southgate is as likely to snub the Prince of Wales as he is to dismiss Kane at the acrimonious end of the European Championships. He can claim to have heard the complaint all before: pressured to sideline Kane after a quiet group stage in 2021, he saw his striker respond with four crucial strikes.

This case, however, feels different. As if the horror being booked in the second half wasn’t enough, Kane was withdrawn on the pretense of exhaustion, displacing him as England’s first penalty taker. It was hardly a fatal blow, as Cole Palmer started the nation’s most reliable spot-up streak. For Kane, few perceptions could have been more immediate. Once the talisman, it is now the audience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *