Harry Kane is not cursed, he is a winning footballer having a brilliant season

There was another Harry Kane moment at the weekend: those moments when the air feels thin and the pulse races just a little faster and the margins have sharpened to a fine point. Kane has spent most of the last decade of his career being the most watched, the most scrutinised and the most outnumbered player on the pitch. The percentages in this job are staggeringly low. Still he checks and feints and shuffles and drifts, looking and longing for that elusive yard of space.

It finally arrives in the 91st minute against RB Leipzig, the game level at 1-1, Bayern Munich’s title challenge crumbling right here on the Allianz turf. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting brings down a long ball and flicks it over the head of the defender. The touch is heavy. Choupo-Moting was trying to keep the ball for himself. But now it sits up unexpectedly for Kane, and all that is required now is a left-footed volley from 14 yards, on the turn and through two blocking defenders.

In a way Kane’s second goal on Saturday evening was a pretty good summation of his debut season at Bayern. Not just the skill and sense of occasion, but the caprice of the moment, the desperate need to turn and make some sanity out of the muddling chaos around him. A departing manager and an unhappy dressing room. Another flawed and faltering performance. A meaningless punt into the channel. An inadvertent cross. These are not the ingredients you give your £86m star chef if you want him to cook. And yet somehow, most weeks, Kane manages to serve up something palatable

It was, in a crowded field, perhaps my favourite Kane goal for Bayern this season. You’ll probably have your own. Perhaps the ridiculous clip from the halfway line against Darmstadt. The unstoppable long-range effort against Wolfsburg. The improvised left-footed dink against Bochum, conjured from an angle that physically didn’t exist. Kane now has 27 goals in the league alone: more than Erling Haaland or Mohamed Salah or Kylian Mbappé, more than Jude Bellingham or Robert Lewandowski, more than Union Berlin, Nice, Lyon, Cologne or a third of the teams in La Liga.

Quietly, and with all the appropriate nods to Bellingham, Kevin Keegan and Gary Lineker, Kane is putting together one of the great seasons by an English footballer abroad. And “quietly” is the operative word here. Outside Germany, where grateful television pundits give thanks and spout phrases like ein echter Top-Goalgetter!, Kane seems to have become something of a tragicomic figure: a walking curse, the man who joined European football’s serial winners and stopped them winning.

At which point, with sighs and regrets, it is necessary to enter the Trophy Zone, to engage with the tribalists and the banter-peddlers on their own turf. And of course it would be futile to argue here that trophies are somehow immaterial or irrelevant to the pursuit of greatness, or even to dispute the fact that Jayden Danns winning his first senior medal before Kane is objectively quite funny. Of course trophies matter, or Kane would never have joined Bayern in the first place. The point is that they don’t really matter as much as people pretend.

Kane attempts an overhead kick during Saturday’s 2-1 win over RB Leipzig, when he scored both Bayern Munich goals.
Harry Kane attempts an audacious finish during Saturday’s 2-1 win over RB Leipzig, when he scored both Bayern Munich goals. 

By way of illustration, take his former manager Mauricio Pochettino, who succumbed to the Qatari euro, joined Paris Saint-Germain and picked up an entirely joyless Ligue 1 title. Did it make him a better manager, did it earn him any more respect, did it shut down the banter machine? Certainly not judging by the battery of questions over recent weeks about whether he needed to win a trophy in England, which it turns out was the real quiz all along. Only once Pochettino claims that sacred Carabao Cup, it seems, will he earn the kudos and cachet that Erik ten Hag – say – now enjoys with impunity.

I guess the point here is that as much as we like to indulge the fiction that great footballers write their own stories, so much of sporting legacy is tied up in fate, luck, the actions of others. Perhaps Bukayo Saka scores his penalty against Italy in the Euro 2020 final. Perhaps Kane starts the 2019 Champions League final as a fully fit athlete rather than a human painkiller receptacle. Perhaps his brother manages to force through that move to Manchester City in the summer of 2021.

For all this, and for all Kane’s own culpability here (seriously Harry, it’s a penalty in the World Cup, just score ffs) there is something quintessentially English about the need to turn this likable, loyal and ultimately very good footballer into a punchline. Perhaps the fact that Kane is so derided for his lack of trophies is its own weird pointed tribute, a reality so incongruous that the only way of making sense of it is through the classic tropes of snark and sarcasm. Other countries might take a certain romantic pride in being able to boast the greatest ever footballer to win nothing, a cult hero who gave his best years to a fading boyhood club and a series of increasingly washed managers.

And maybe Bayern haul in Bayer Leverkusen at the top, maybe they turn things round against Lazio in the Champions League, maybe Kane leads England to glory this summer. But even if he doesn’t, he would still be the Harry Kane who was released by Arsenal at 12, who spent his formative years on a carousel of loans, who was never going to make it, who was never going to be more than a one-season wonder. Perhaps, for all his triumphs and torments, Kane himself is the one who gets to decide what his career is worth. Perhaps you don’t get to tell him what should make him happy. Perhaps, ultimately, football can be its own reward.

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