It is a theme of Harry Kane’s insurgent, late-breaking career. Never mind the evidence of the last three years, the goals scored, the matches won. For Kane there just always seems to be something to prove, a need even now to show that this isn’t all a fluke, an unsustainable plateau, an act of Premier League smoke and mirrors.
Kane himself has no doubts about his qualities. Quite the opposite: he keeps saying he wants to win the Ballon D’Or. Some have scoffed at this. But then the alternative is to believe what the stats and the goal charts suggest, that a serial Football League loanee, a striker without any obvious, flashy gifts really has managed to gatecrash the elite, and to transform himself under Mauricio Pochettino into a genuine top-level centre-forward.
Not that anyone who watched Kane at Wembley in Tottenham’s opening Group H match will have too many doubts. On a boisterous, slightly wild night Spurs were either lucky or vibrantly opportunistic, depending on your viewpoint, pulling off a rare Champions League heist as Borussia Dortmund’s fluency, midfield dominance and two disallowed goals added up to a 3-1 defeat.
Most of all Tottenham were lucky to have Kane in their team. He was simply brilliant here, producing the rare trick of a leader’s performance not from centre-half but from centre-forward. At times you half expected to look up and see him sporting a white bandage on his head, shirt smeared with blood, fist pumping braveheart-style. Instead Kane reeled off a sustained masterclass of craft and energy in attack, dragging his team forward in his wake, scoring twice – the first after an obvious foul – and operating throughout in his own bubble of righteous energy.
Wembley can often sound a little tinny on nights like these, a few empty seats thinning the atmosphere inside this vast steel and concrete hulk of a stadium. Not this time, on a night when the whole place rocked from start to finish. Tottenham scored after four minutes. It was a lovely goal too, with a little help from Kane in the buildup. Son Heung-min headed a long pass down to Christian Eriksen. He switched the ball to Kane, whose fizzed pass set Son away into the huge acres of Wembley green beyond Lukasz Piszczek. Son veered right, didn’t break his stride and spanked the ball high past Roman Bürki at the near post.
Dortmund’s equaliser was even better. Andriy Yarmolenko was given plenty of time to move on to Shinji Kagawa’s cut-back and curl a beautiful shot over Hugo Lloris and into the far corner. Dortmund’s fans, who are always erupting, erupted just a little more in their vast happy yellow cheese slice at the far end. And for a while that Dortmund pulse dominated the game.
The drums thundered. The yellow flags rippled. And the yellow shirts funnelled the ball about with a gripping sense of team-intelligence.
Tottenham needed leadership, a grappling hook across the divide. They got it from the most obvious source, and from a moment of thrilling one-man, route-one football. Kane leapt above Sokratis Papastathopoulos, headed down a high ball, ran on to his own flick, then forearm-swiped his way past Nuri Sahin like a man grappling his way through a crowded tube train as the doors shut.
It was probably a foul. Kane hared off regardless, narrowing his angle, squinting through the sights and finishing brilliantly, again high past Bürki. The buildup may have brought back fond memories of rugby league finals staged on this ground. But this was also a supreme striker’s goal, founded on power, control, favourable refereeing and a cold-eyed finish.
Another thing: for an allegedly one-paced centre-forward Kane often seems to be surprisingly quick, with a relentless quality as he gets into his stride, like a next-generation Terminator chasing a bullet-ridden car, speed that seems a function of bloody-minded determination as much as natural snap.
After which Kane spent much of the first half chasing by the centre circle as Dortmund pressed forward. On the half-hour mark he sprinted 50 metres to press Bürki and then strolled back, chest heaving, fizzing and popping with lactic acid. Kane’s 30 minutes to that point had been a boxing match, a decathlon, all constant motion, wrenching the game his way wherever he could.
Spurs did improve significantly after the interval. The midfield was more compact. For a while Kane traumatised Jeremy Toljan on the left. And on the hour he scored his second. Eriksen seized the ball and pushed it out to Kane, who took a touch and spanked it hard and low into the corner with the help of a deflection.
Dortmund will play worse than they did here and win. But this was always, somehow, going to be Harry’s night.