Is Harry Kane at risk of becoming England’s Cristiano Ronaldo?

Follow today's live coverage of the Euro 2024 semi-final between England and the Netherlands

We have to discuss Harry Kane.

England are within the semi-finals of one other major tournament, yet their captain, leader, talisman, frontman and all-time biggest goalscorer looks about as agile as an arthritic scarecrow.

OK. That's harsh. He's scored two goals in five games to this point on the European Championships, the general performance against him has been mediocre to non-existent and it looks like he's having problems along with his fitness. But clearly there are questions that must be asked here.

Questions like: How fit is he really? What does he currently bring to the team? And is he now England's Cristiano Ronaldo?

In previous years, that last query would have been a lavish compliment, but in 2024 it borders on criticism – suggesting that Kane is staying within the team based on status alone and that his manager lacks the courage to make a difficult decision. But could that actually be true?

The query of fitness appears to be probably the most relevant as Kane, fit and in form, is undoubtedly the most effective strikers on this planet.

Well, he was fit enough to start out all of England's games on the Euros, playing 464 minutes, making two appearances and being substituted in three (seventieth minute against Denmark of their middle group match, a hundred and fifth minute against Slovakia within the round of 16 and 109th minute against Switzerland in Saturday's quarter-final).

He got here into the tournament with a back injury sustained towards the top of the club season at Bayern Munich. Then-head coach Thomas Tuchel described the injury as a “complete blockage”, which was an apt description of England's current attack. “It has gotten worse and is affecting him in everyday movements,” Tuchel said in May.

Kane has been receiving treatment from his personal medical team to get fit for the tournament. Despite starting all five matches, the attention test suggests he continues to be removed from one of the best performance he has achieved, the time when he can seamlessly and elegantly turn out to be a team's playmaker and finisher in a split second. At the moment, he doesn't seem able to doing that.

Harry Kane, England

Harry Kane didn’t show his best form on the 2024 European Championship (Stefan Matzke – sampics/Getty Images)

In the England shirt this summer, his movements have been awkward, clumsy and stunted (his posture almost seemed distorted when attempting a volley in the ultimate group game against Slovenia), his combination play has been weaker because of this and he lacks the ability and momentum to beat defenders and deliver balls and crosses into the box.

England head coach Gareth Southgate apparently tried to injure Kane to provide him an excuse to take him out of the sport when the 2 collided late in the sport against Switzerland (that's a joke, don't shout swear words at me within the comments), causing Kane to suffer cramps. But despite being substituted soon after, he says he can be fit for Wednesday's semi-final against the Netherlands.

“I'm fine. I was just tired,” said Kane, who turns 31 later this month. “I had a bit of cramp there. I tripped over the water bottles and got cramps in both calves. The boss obviously made a quick decision as Ivan (Toney, who came on for him) is a proven penalty taker. He came in and did his job.”

For Portugal, 39-year-old Ronaldo proved indispensable and almost irreplaceable on this tournament (he was substituted within the 66th minute against Georgia, but along with his team already within the knockout phase before this final group match and eight other substitutions made, one may wonder why he played in any respect), as they too were eliminated within the quarter-finals by France, also on penalties.

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While Kane may not have Ronaldo's ego, he has the same status in England – a standing underlined by his 44 goals in 45 appearances for his latest club Bayern last season (while Ronaldo was, in fact, playing within the Saudi Pro League). But Southgate has proven over time that he’s greater than capable of constructing daring decisions, corresponding to leaving out Marcus Rashford, Mason Mount, Jack Grealish and two of his former favourites, Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson.

Not having Kane within the starting line-up on Wednesday can be a bombshell that might trump the entire above points combined.

It almost actually won't occur. But should it?

What was striking against Switzerland was how little Kane was involved in England’s build-up play.

Yes, he pulled the Swiss defence apart and yes, he went back to get the ball, but as this graphic of England's passing moves shows, Kane (you’ll find him near the centre circle) was clearly the underdog:

It just isn’t unusual for a team's centre-forward to not have a robust connection in these graphics, but it surely is telling how little Kane was involved in the sport against Switzerland.

In this respect, he resembled Ronaldo, who remained equally anonymous within the quarter-finals for Portugal on Friday:

Kane dropping deep is nothing latest – he has been doing it for years and with great success – but his low variety of touches within the opposition third against Switzerland is one other indication of his lack of accuracy:

He clearly drops deep at times, even into the full-back zone, and may get in the best way at times when England would surely be higher served with a more solid point of interest in attack, particularly when Kane's fitness levels are currently nowhere near what they typically are.

It can actually be argued that staying within the opposition's last line of defence is more helpful in pinning down the centre-backs and creating space between the lines for teammates corresponding to Phil Foden, Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka to take advantage of – as in this instance against Denmark, where Foden and Bellingham can slip behind the midfield.

But if that’s to be Kane's principal task, there are other fitter and more energizing players within the squad who can tackle that role. And at the identical time they provide England more options by way of pressing and running.

“He will not drop Harry Kane,” former England international and now leading British pundit Gary Neville said of Southgate on Sky Sports after the sport against Switzerland. “He is one of his leaders, one of the greatest English we've ever had. There's no doubt he hasn't been at his absolute best in this tournament, but so has the team. The service to him hasn't been great.

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“(Kane should) not sleep top, between the 2 centre-backs, after which drop back somewhat to try to attract the 2 centre-backs to enable runs back.

“He doesn't look like himself. He doesn't look as sharp when the ball is played to him, in and around the box. He doesn't seem to be able to get his touch and his shot like he normally would, but he won't be taken out of the squad unless he gets injured.”

Toney looked positive from the bench in each knockout games and Ollie Watkins can offer each Kane and Toney loads by way of pace, pressing and runs behind the defence, so there are arguments and debates.

Given Kane's status, his relationship with Southgate (he’s believed to have a sympathetic ear with the England manager and vice versa), his experience, temperament and obvious ability to attain goals, this point might be redundant, whether he’s 100 per cent fit or not.

There have been tournaments before which have been won by teams with ineffective strikers.

Portugal played with Ronaldo and Nani as shared strikers of their defensive-minded triumph at Euro 2016, France had a goalless Olivier Giroud as striker once they won the 2018 World Cup (he didn't even manage a single shot on goal despite playing in all seven games and starting six of them), and the very same thing happened with a lone, goalless striker Stephane Guivarc'h once they won the identical competition 20 years earlier.

The difference was that every one of those players were fit and made significant contributions to groups that, a minimum of in France's case, were still scoring goals.

But England have been slow to progress through games in Germany and haven’t looked prone to rating for long stretches. They lack momentum, their expected goals are low and so they depend on moments like Bellingham's overhead kick and Saka's perfect shot – the equalisers against Slovakia and Switzerland, which got here within the ninety fifth and eightieth minutes respectively and were England's first attempts on goal of the sport.

If these sentences don't read like a recipe for winning a tournament, they probably aren't.

England can have made it to the semi-finals, but to win the trophy in Berlin next Sunday, Kane will must be anywhere near his best. If he just isn’t, it might be sacrilege to say so, but they might probably be higher off with another person in attack, especially when the striker's principal job is to maintain the defence busy.

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