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Don't be scared. Starting Harry Kane won't ruin his career

Won't somebody think of the children????

Richard Heathcote

Alongside the desperate wailing from some fans for Harry Kane to start every game possible, another set of fans are wailing a different tune in counterpoint. "Don't rush him!" they cry. "If we bring him along too quickly, we might break him forever. He's only a child! Won't someone think of the children?!"

With today's call up of Saido Berahino to the England team, the concern over Kane's careful handling has only grown. "Stay away from the limelight, Harry! It burns, it burns!"

These concerns are ostensibly rooted in two fears: first, that he's not the finished article and we might "overplay him too quickly" and somehow stunt his growth, and second that the immense pressure of expectation from the fans and press will crush his fragile ability and he'll turn into a broken shell of a man like Wayne Rooney.

What's too quickly and how will it break him?

Exceptional talents like Rooney and Leo Messi all jumped straight into regular league starts shortly after hitting puberty. Our own Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela were handed key roles at major clubs in Holland and Argentina by the time they were 18. For a talented player, this is by no means abnormal.

Outside of England, where young homegrown players are treated like potential first teamers and eventually form the core of exciting national teams that actually win major international tournaments, giving first team minutes to young players is the foundation for their success.

Take a look at the key players of Germany's World Cup winning squad: Philip Lahm, Sammi Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mario Gotze, Mesut, Ozil, Thomas Mueller, etc. etc. All of those guys became regular fixtures at their clubs when they were younger than Harry Kane. Their success is not in spite of their early chance, it's because of it. In fact, look at any international side better than the forever underperforming England team. I guarantee you their squad consists of players who've been playing top level football from a very young age.

But back to Harry Kane. Kane has been brought along slowly. He's been too good for the U-21 league for years. He's played physical competitive football in the Championship. He's completely dominating the Europa League and the Capital One Cup this season. Last year he started six games in the Premier League and looked not just competent, but excellent. And then he single-handedly saved the day against Aston Villa. He's already shown he can handle everything that's been thrown at him.

Starting in the Premier League is the next step in his development. Continuing to play him at a level below his obvious ability is much more likely to damage his confidence and growth than giving him a new challenge. If you're growing a plant, keeping it in a pot that's too small keeps it from reaching its full size. So too with footballers. Kane needs room to spread his wings and grow, not be kept safe in a little box. If anything, we've brought him along too slowly.

And yes, he is not the finished article. He is not going to be Leo Messi right out of the box. But the only way he's going to reach whatever his potential ceiling might be is by playing games and learning from them.

But what about the pressure?

Regardless of his ability, there's always the concern that the English press and fickle fans will tear him to pieces at the slightest mistake. We all love building people up just to tear them down.

Most of us look back at the Andros Townsend hype surrounding his England call up and match winner. And the harsh reality of being brought down to earth when Townsend proved not to be as good as we hoped. But Townsend wasn't destroyed because he buckled under the pressure. For all of Townsend's faults, he certainly doesn't appear to lack for confidence in his own abilities. No, Townsend failed to become the next Gareth Bale because he's not as good as Gareth Bale. And that's ok. In his limited time this season under new coaching, he's continuing his development and growing into a useful player. Despite being called up once again for England.

Meanwhile Kane is already right now playing consistently at a level Townsend hasn't even come close to. Townsend hasn't scored as many goals in his entire career as Kane's managed in his recent run of form. If Kane's good enough, there's no way he will avoid the limelight. If he's not, then no coddling will turn him into a better player.

But the pressure is going to be there whether Kane's 21 or 35. So far, he seems pretty well-grounded and unconcerned with the hype machine. If he's not ready to handle the attention now, I'm not sure there's going to be some time in the future where we can say "oh yeah, now he's ready to handle it." Even if we wait til next season before he's first choice, he's going to run into the same obstacles.

But facing these obstacles is part of growing as a player. You'll never be able handle pressure if you're never exposed to it. Based on the evidence, Kane already looks like a guy who can handle pressure. Remember, this is the kid who told our record signing to f*$% off so he could take a 90th minute game-winning free kick. So far Kane hasn't shied away from high-pressure situations--he looks hungry to face them.

So what happens if Kane isn't amazing?

It's not just possible, but incredibly likely that Harry Kane doesn't turn out to be the next Sergio Aguero. After building him up to this impossible level of greatness, it's entirely likely that he will be eviscerated by the press and savaged by his own fans. And he'll either handle it, or he won't. The unfortunate reality is this is part of the game. Luckily for us, it's a part of the game that we can do our best not to participate in.

I think if we really dig deep, the only reason people want Spurs to take their time with Harry Kane is not because we fear Kane's development will be derailed. It's that we fear shattering the illusion that he might not be as amazing as we desperately want him to be. It's not to protect Kane's development, it's to protect ourselves from the possibility of facing the reality of Harry Kane. Instead of getting to enjoy the fantasy of the god he might become if we wish it hard enough, we might have to see a real footballer who's fallible and human.

But whether we like it or not, Kane is going to emerge from Schrodinger's bench and prove once and for all that he's either good enough or he's not. And if he's not, let's try to remember that he's just a person and not be horrible to him.

But if he is? Then we sure are going to have something special on our hands. But we'll never know until he gets his chance. Because playing games is what will make him better, not worse.