The in-house Tottenham TV interviewer offered a run-through of the top lines and Harry Kane could not suppress a smile. A 2-0 home win over Arsenal. A great atmosphere inside the stadium. A goal for Kane, which made him the all-time leading scorer in the north London derby. And Spurs on top of the Premier League table.
“It literally doesn’t get better than that, does it?” came the prompt. “It’s a pretty good night,” Kane replied, before saying the same thing again, as if to try to process it all.
It was only last December but it feels lifted from a different era. Plenty has changed since that high point, which was fired by the presence of 2,000 fans after nine months of empty stands – and particularly for Kane.
Spurs would slump to a seventh-placed finish, dismissing José Mourinho along the way, and Kane made it clear that he wanted a move to Manchester City over the summer. His patience had snapped. He wanted to play Champions League football, to compete for the biggest trophies, and not to find out first-hand what the quality was like in the Europa Conference League – Uefa’s new third-tier tournament, which Spurs are in this season.
We all know how the hoped-for transfer worked out – Daniel Levy, the Spurs chairman, saying no and meaning it – but have not heard how Kane feels about playing in the Conference League. These days, he treats speaking to the press on club duty as something to be avoided – a stark contrast to when he was on the up (and happier) – and it is not always a guarantee that he will put himself forward when with England. When he does, he is comfortable with national-team questions but Spurs is, well, awkward.
It does not take a detective to work out what Kane is thinking and it was certainly an incongruous sight to see him lead out Spurs at Rennes in the opening round of Conference League group phase games on the Thursday before last.
Across the preceding two nights, Cristiano Ronaldo, Romelu Lukaku, Robert Lewandowski and Erling Haaland had scored in the Champions League. These are the centre-forwards against whom Kane measures himself and it cannot be easy for him to watch them at present. Especially as he considers who Spurs face next in Europe – the Slovakian team NS Mura, at home on Thursday.
Kane’s mentality is a big part of what has powered his rise. He does not seem to know self-doubt. Missed chances or poor performances do not touch him. At Euro 2020, he struggled in England’s three group games, scoring no goals and mustering only one shot on target, and the scrutiny burned before the last-16 tie against Germany.
Kane was supremely unflustered. “I could go 10, 15 games without scoring but, give me a chance, and I’d back myself to score it,” he said. The chance did come late on, he took it to give England a 2-0 win and it was the spark for him to come alive at the tournament, helping to drive the team to the final.
There is a different dynamic at play now. Kane can master what he can control but that does not include Levy and the striker would not be human if he had not suffered a blow to his morale and motivation after seeing his desire to move blocked.
Kane has been a subdued presence around the training ground, according to sources, and, if the season has been a bit of a slog for him so far, it might feel like a long way to the end of it, albeit not as long as the distance to the end of his contract, which expires in 2024.
Spurs have struggled for creativity under Nuno Espírito Santo and Kane for goals but he did score at Wolves in the midweek Carabao Cup tie, which his team won on penalties. It was reassuring to see him sprint in between the central defenders and on to Dele Alli’s pass before taking two touches, both of them perfect, and lashing low into the far corner. Before that, he had scored two goals in six Spurs appearances – each of them against Paços de Ferreira in the Conference League play-off.
It was arguably as reassuring to see Kane at the focal point of the formation – where he can do the most damage – after he had spent significant spells of previous matches in withdrawn or wide areas. Kane’s passing is a strength. His shooting is a bigger one.
All that Kane can do is try to put the frustration of the summer behind him because to let it fester will only hurt him in the end. And where better to ignite his league campaign than at Arsenal on Sunday?
The former Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino once remarked that Kane’s excellent record in derbies was down to his ability to thrive off their emotional energy. The best of his 11 goals against Arsenal was the curler from halfway up the left side of the penalty area in March 2016. It put Spurs 2-1 in front, although they would be pegged back to 2-2. But for pure drama, nothing beats the soaring late headed winner in February 2015. How Spurs crave another dividend.