Many, many eyebrows — mine included — were raised when England’s starting lineup was released for Thursday’s match against Belgium and it did not include Harry Kane. The Tottenham Hotspur star and England captain was expected to start the match, and previous indications were that he would indeed be the Three Lions’ focus in the days ahead of the match.
But instead, Gareth Southgate opted to rest his star player, much like Roberto Martinez opted to rest Romelu Lukaku, in order to keep Kane fresh for the Round of 16. England lost the match 1-0, but landed in the “safer” side of the bracket albeit with a tough match-up against Davinson Sanchez and Colombia.
Afterwards, Southgate said that Kane completely understood his motivation for choosing whom he chose, and praised his captain’s leadership and team-first attitude.
“He totally understood, 100 percent team-first. He said ‘look, I know everyone says I want the Golden Boot - of course it’s something I want to do - but the main thing is getting the team through the first knockout’.
”He was excellent on that, showed real leadership and understanding of the big picture.”
Harry has this weird reputation among some segments of English football fandom for being either selfish and not a good leader (hi Liverpool fans), or for loving scoring goals so much that wild horses can’t keep him off the pitch. Southgate’s comments suggest something different — Kane is a player who understands the big picture and is willing — at times! — to sacrifice for the greater good. We shouldn’t be surprised at this, it’s what good leaders and team captains do.
That said, don’t expect anything less than a severed leg to keep Harry out of England’s starting lineup from now until football comes home.