Harry Kane’s Tottenham devotion sees immortality stamped, puts a dent in Man City’s title hopes

LONDON — Now he has experienced it, one wonders if Harry Kane would swap his place in the Spurs record books for the EFL Cup or Europa League that so many are at pains to remind him is missing from his resume. The best part of 60,000 were there to toast the name of Tottenham’s greatest-ever goalscorer, a booming cry of “he’s one of our own” leaving him lost for words, at least for a moment.

When the time came for Kane to be toasted by the son of the late Jimmy Greaves, Daniel was certain that if his father had wanted anyone to beat the record he would be “absolutely delighted” that it was this man. He found himself mobbed by his jubilant teammates, for whom he had yet again delivered at the decisive moment. As he himself noted, these are the moments that stay with you after a career is up. No one in their right mind would swap them for a Nations League winners’ medal … even if it stopped his every success being greeted with chants of “he’s won [expletive] all” from opponents. That was how Manchester City supporters greeted Kane’s record-breaking moment. He would have the last laugh. If nothing else, today he won three points his opponents sorely needed to make up ground to Arsenal.

“It was everything I dreamed about. I wanted to do it in a special place in front of the amazing fans,” Kane said, playing to the crowd with the consummate grace of a veteran of multiple Vegas residencies. “I remember my first Premier League start back at the old White Hart Lane, scoring against Sunderland on a Monday night [you suspect Kane could quite easily recall the precise details of all the other 266]. It wasn’t even in my thoughts to reach this target and to reach 200 Premier League goals.

“When I’m a bit older, looking back on my career, it’ll be something I’m extremely proud of.”

The moment itself came with little warning. Spurs’ approach in the opening 15 minutes had been to chase shadows and eventually counter, it seemed they would eventually be ground down. Then Rodri misplaced his pass, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg sweeping in to draw panicked City defenders in his direction. Kane was waiting on his right for the flick, delivering a slightly scuffed winner. There are dozens of these in his repertoire, hardly the sort of YouTube compilations but more than good enough given the moment.

As Kane gazed from the North Stand across to the South, one could not help but be reminded of the last time that he had been engulfed by self-reflection. The final home game of the 2020-21 season, one that had long since petered out for a Spurs side bound for the Europa Conference League, brought with it the revelation that Kane had asked to leave. He was prepared to sacrifice individual records at Tottenham for the lure of trophies elsewhere. On that day, he stayed out a little longer than his teammates. It felt like a goodbye.

It may well have been if Manchester City, who would go on to win the Premier League the following season, had fought that little bit harder to extract him from north London. The exit routes dried up for Kane, too old and too expensive to lure Europe’s richest, too intrinsically linked to Spurs for there to be many options in England. He had seemed the perfect striker for Pep Guardiola, technically robust enough to contribute to build-up but with instincts in front of goal to match Erling Haaland. On days like today, he still looks like that player, not just a match-winner with his first touch of the ball but an outlet and springboard with the subsequent 37.

“It’d be a special feeling no matter where I did it but to do it in a big game against a really good side at an important moment in our season, means a lot,” Kane said. “I’m desperate to score in every game but in this game … there were overwhelming feelings of adrenaline. I was so desperate just to see it, to win and get three points. I couldn’t have asked for more.”

At the other end of the pitch Haaland set records of his own, his first Premier League game without a shot since he arrived last summer to fill the void intended for Kane. As City’s title challenge falters it can be easy to reach for the easiest conclusion in Seymour Skinner fashion. “It must be Haaland who is wrong.”

And of course, Pep Guardiola’s side might have progressed the ball through midfield more effectively if they swapped out a penalty box poacher for a false nine. They might also have done so if Guardiola had not ripped up an approach that has served him well in recent weeks, moving Rico Lewis across to the left flank to make room for Kyle Walker. In City’s dominant phases early on, the full-backs drifted into midfield to aid control of central areas but the prospect of quick balls for Dejan Kulusevski and Heung-min Son to chase into the space, they vacated, being forced back. 

Suddenly City were left undermanned in midfield, acres of space separating Rodri from Bernardo Silva, who was then isolated, trying to craft passing lanes through a disciplined Tottenham back five as Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Rodrigo Bentancur snapped at his heels. The problem was not Haaland per se but that for most of this match the visitors did not particularly look like creating chances of their own. Even substitute Kevin De Bruyne could not pierce an exceptional rearguard typified by Emerson Royal, not necessarily flawless but relentless in his harrying, willing to throw his body on the line in defense of the lead. Recovering from an operation, Conte was unable to be in the ground on Sunday but once the final whistle rang he was on the phone to reward his team with a day off on Monday. His warm words to Kane will doubtlessly echo around social media but the Italian was surely as impressed with his defenders as his match-winning forward.

“It is not easy when 10 players defend and sit back a little bit more than in the Etihad two weeks ago,” Guardiola said. “We played good, started well and missed maybe the last pass to shoot.”

Here was a result, then, to unite the two halves of north London. Arsenal’s errors against Everton were absolved by the man who has so often spoiled their big day. It is certainly possible that, of all his 267 career goals, few will have had quite such a profound impact on the destination of the Premier League title as this. Tottenham’s great rivals are still five points clear with a game in hand. This victory, one which moved Spurs to within a point of Newcastle in fourth, might feel rather pyrrhic if it puts Mikel Arteta’s side over the top in the battle for first.

Still, that is no concern of Kane’s. For once he is the toast of the Tottenham High Road and the Holloway Road. That in itself is an achievement that a fair few serial trophy winners cannot lay claim to.

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