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The Fall and Rise of Harry Kane

How a fringe striker became the subject of the silliest conversations in world football

Paul Gilham/Getty Images

In 2014, Harry Kane came out of nowhere to become one of the most exciting young players in world football. Yet the most fascinating part of his game isn't his shooting, or his movement, or his inability to close his mouth. It's the conversation that surrounds him.

Get on social media any weekend and wait for Spurs to start playing. You'll find that the discussion about Kane looks less like the excitement surrounding a rising star and more like, well, this:

And this:

And also this:

Despite literally every major football publication writing something about how strong and sustainable Kane's game actually is, the conversation surrounding him is largely ridiculous. When Kane scores, Spurs fans post silly pictures of Harry Kane. When Spurs fans are bored, they post silly pictures of Harry Kane. When other teams' fans try to take the wind out of their sails with claims that Kane sucks or that he's off to Real Madrid, Spurs fans continue to post silly pictures of Harry Kane.

Compare this to the indignant outrage with which Spurs fans responded to accusations that they were a one man team with Gareth Bale. Or the very serious proselytizing that is done on behalf of Ryan Mason.

Kane is not the first stellar player to emerge at Spurs in recent years. This season, he's not even the only player to come out of nowhere and break into the first team. We talk about Harry Kane the way we do because all of our hopes and dreams for him are coming true. It's just happening long after we thought they were dead and buried.

Given Kane's relatively recent arrival on the stage of the Premier League, it is easy to forget that he has been on the radar of Spurs fans since 2009. Six years ago, he was one of the most promising youth prospects in Tottenham's youth academy. In the 2009-10 season, Kane played 22 times for the Tottenham Under-18s, many as captain, where he scored 18 goals. That impressive return led to our own Bryan A. thinking he was not far away from big things at Spurs in 2011.

The Englishman is perhaps one of the best young prospects at Tottenham right now and if he continues to impress could be a fixture in the first team before long.

Windy, a blogger who closely follows Spurs' youth teams, had high praise for Kane as well.

A clever striker, who can also play anywhere across midfield, Kane has good technique and a genuine eye for goal. He has the physical presence which should allow him to make a fairly instant impact for the first team.

After such an impressive spell at the academy, it seemed like the sky was a limit for Kane. Spurs fans dreamt of a replacement for Keane and Berbatov who was not a high priced signing, but a product of our own academy. Unfortunately, as happens so often with prospects, the expectations of youth ran into their most notorious enemy: reality.

Like so many other Spurs academy graduates, Kane began going out on loan to lower league clubs in order to get competitive first team minutes. Kane had a productive loan spell at Leyton Orient in League One, where he scored five goals in eighteen appearances, mostly as a substitute. He didn't perform poorly, but he didn't become a dominant force either. It was here that the interest in Kane started to wane among Spurs fans.

Those are perfectly respectable numbers for an eighteen year old. As were the 7 in 22 for Millwall in the Championship. He was even their young player of the season. However, these weren't the numbers of a superstar in waiting. They weren't the numbers of a player who looked like he would challenge for the starting line up for a club with Champions League ambitions. So, for Spurs fans, he largely became an afterthought.

This wasn't fair to Kane, but it is the reality in which all former prospects operate.

This wasn't fair to Kane, but it is the reality in which all former prospects operate. Every hyped U-18 is a future legend, until they're a disappointment. Then they find their actual level, which will never be as exciting as what we imagined for ourselves.Kane had been fine in his loans, good even. However, he wasn't showing the kind of promise we all remembered from his academy days. He wasn't turning heads and making Spurs fans anxious for his return to the team, in the way that Alex Pritchard does today. He was alright and that was enough to make him yesterday's news.

In 2013, Kane finally got an opportunity to show what he could do in the Premier League when he was loaned out to Norwich, managed by former Spurs coach Chris Hughton. For the first time in a while, Kane was genuinely back on the radar of Spurs fans. Norwich was a team that could play decent football, managed by a coach who wasn't just ex Spurs, but familiar with Kane. If Kane was ever going to have a chance to show he was capable of performing at the top level, this was it.

Unfortunately for Kane, after only three appearances for the East Anglian club, he broke his foot. And even while healthy he didn't make a notable contribution. This seemed to be the moment at which any hope Spurs fans had for Kane began to be crushed by cold, hard reality.


Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Kane returned to Spurs to recover from his injury and before the season ended, he managed another loan to the Championship. In 13 appearances for Leicester City he only netted three goals and left Fox supporters less than impressed (to say the least).

Though Kane was only nineteen, he had been on our radar for what felt like forever and he had yet to really look like a starter at Spurs. He was another young player that just wasn't as good as everyone thought he would be. It is the story of a million young players on a million teams in a million sports. So we did what every fan does: we moved on.

It is the story of a million young players on a million teams in a million sports.

We began to dream of the midfield wizardry of Tom Carroll, the next big English thing. We drooled over the potential of Souleymane Coulibaly, the supposed Ivorian heir apparent to Didier Drogba. These were players who had no faults that couldn't be coached away or grown out of. Players who had not had the time or the spotlight to be exposed as the flawed human beings they actually were. In the minds of fans, they still only existed as limitless potential, something which Kane had long ceased to do.

In any sport, youth players are judged strangely. As teenagers they become the receptacles for all the hopes and dreams of a team's supporters. A talented youngster is nothing but potential. Their strengths will only get stronger and their weaknesses can largely be coached or trained away. You hear comparisons to players that they could possibly be. You see YouTube highlight videos set to dreadful house music that show them making fools of defenses and scoring goal after goal.

And on top of all that, they are the closest thing we as fans can come to identifying with players on the team. Even if they weren't childhood supporters like Kane, these players were nurtured and supported by the team at a young age. It becomes easy to tell ourselves that not only do they love the club like we do, but that they could be the answer to what our team needs. Then you see them play. And it turns out they're not the next big thing. And they can't do this, and they can't do that, and if they make that run again you're going to strangle them. They're not big buckets of potential anymore, they're just another player. And we move on to the next next big thing. And dream about what they could do for the club.

By the time the 2013 season rolled around, expectations had fallen for Kane. When Cartilage Free Captain did our prospect rankings for the season. Kane ranked number 7, two spots below Adam Smith, who is no longer with the club. Bryan had cooled considerably from his evaluation two years earlier:

As I said, Kane is a Premier League player right now. His ceiling is probably "capable Premier League striker". You know, that guy that can go out and score 12-15 goals for a mid-table team. Basically, he's Steven Fletcher who has had seven consecutive seasons with at least 11 goals. I know that doesn't wow you, but not every player gets to be Dimitar Berbatov or Francesco Totti, which if I was going to wax eloquent would be who I would compare Kane to.

In two years Kane went from a player that could break into our first team at the age of 16 to a guy who would probably be best remembered for helping save some mid table team from relegation one year. Those that still advocated for him argued that he had been misused or undervalued by bad coaches. While I don't doubt that any who made this evaluation genuinely believed it, it felt more like clutching at straws than anything else.

This is what makes Kane's ascent during 2014 so remarkable. No one saw it coming.

This is what makes Kane's ascent during 2014 so remarkable. No one saw it coming. He's not the youth prospect who naturally evolved into a big star like everyone had expected. He was a young player, and clearly still developing, but at no step between the U-18s in 2009-10 and the starts he received in 2014 did he look like the kind of player who would net more than twenty goals in a single season.

On December 31, 2013, there wasn't a single Tottenham fan who thought that Kane would be anywhere near a serious discussion of who should be leading Spurs' attack. And then somehow, the moment he was given regular minutes at the end of the 2013-2014 season, Harry Kane was an elite striker, scoring goals and getting into good shooting positions at rates that put him alongside the best that the Premier League had to offer.

Memes and jokes are common among every fanbase, but rarely have they arrived in the volume with which they did when Kane started scoring, because no one had expected anything close to this. What Kane was doing wasn't something as predictable as Rooney taking the next step at Everton or Pogba blowing up when he got his first real opportunity at Juventus. This was Tottenham's third striker, someone who was there to play in the early rounds of the clubs. He was a player whose last major accomplishment was being Millwall's Young Player of the Year in 2012.

The fact that he's become not just a productive player, but a potentially elite player is completely ridiculous, and thus, so was the reaction to it. Despite being on the radars of Spurs fans for since 2009, Harry Kane's 2014 came as a complete and total surprise. With no burden of expectation, Kane's progress started as a joke and when the joke never stopped, football fans were forced to do the one thing that is hardest in the world for them: sit back and enjoy it.