Germany appreciates Harry Kane’s greatness, but in England he remains a figure of fun

Harry Kane poses for selfies with Bayern Munich fans
Harry Kane has been in superb form in the Bundesliga this season, and the fans love him - Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

It was the thousand-yard stare that launched a million gratuitous gags. Harry Kane looked, amid the wreckage of Bayern Munich’s 2-0 home defeat to Borussia Dortmund last month, as if his soul had just been sucked from his body. And so, with a cruelty he has come to expect, he found himself bombarded with the usual taunts: that he had moved to a one-team league and still not won a trophy, that Kingsley Coman had collected 11 Bundesliga crowns in a row until Kane became his team-mate.

Domestically, Kane’s fate this season is sealed. Bayer Leverkusen, 16 points clear in Germany, are poised – with deeply unfortunate timing for the England captain – to claim a first championship in their history. Granit Xhaka, who endured his fair share of Premier League near-misses with Arsenal, is to become a league champion before him. It is all grist to the mill for the Kane mockery industry, already teeming with reminders that the striker has won less major silverware than Jayden Danns, Liverpool’s 18-year-old academy product.

You wonder if any player of his pedigree has had to cope with so much perverse derision. While Kane must anticipate a wintry reception at Arsenal on Tuesday night, with his childhood support for the club long since rendered redundant by his 14 years of service for Tottenham, it is the ridicule he attracts elsewhere that bewilders. All those cries of “you can take the boy out of Spurs, but not Spurs out of the boy”: are they truly appropriate for someone who has scored 62 goals for England, nine more than any other player who has represented the Three Lions? For all that respect is earned, not given, the sense persists that Kane deserves far better than to be a figure of fun.

It is a casting that has been his fate for too long. Kane and his family were said to be deeply irritated when, in 2018, Ben Purkiss, then chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association, cracked a joke about him claiming a goal for Tottenham that had originally been credited to Christian Eriksen. “He is able to score now without touching the ball,” Purkiss said, to much audience mirth. Standard after-dinner fare this might have been, it revealed the central paradox of Kane, whose prolific numbers brook no argument but whose perceived limitations leave him deprived of unconditional love.

What are these supposed limitations, exactly? That he lacks trophies? So does Alan Shearer, who, despite a record 260 Premier League goals, won one title at Blackburn and nothing at Newcastle. That he has benefited from the odd tap-in? So did Gary Lineker, so sanguine about his reputation in that department that he has called his podcast company Goalhanger Productions? That he has padded his statistics by scoring five of his England goals against San Marino? So what? He has also scored four against Germany.

As he adapts to life in Bavaria, Kane might still be working on his German, but he is already familiar with the concept of schadenfreude. Critics have been revelling in his misfortune since he lost his first League Cup in 2015, and the multitude of pro-Leverkusen memes suggests the scorn shows little sign of relenting.

Never has this portrayal looked more out of kilter with reality. At 30, Kane is enjoying arguably the finest season of his career, negating an image of a six-yard plunderer by averaging 1.37 goals and assists per 90 minutes. It is the highest total across Europe’s top five leagues, with only Kylian Mbappe coming remotely close. As such, he is not lampooned in his adopted land, but lionised. Deutsche Welle has produced a video homage to his versatility, highlighting the ease with which he can switch from scoring with his right foot to his left, and how he can be just as lethal from long distance as from point-blank range.

Bayern’s relative mediocrity of late has put no visible dent in Kane. En route to losing 3-2 at Heidenheim last Saturday, he cropped up with a finish of customary crispness. Even now, there is a sense he could yet deliver the last word to his detractors. Bayern are still serious Champions League contenders, despite occupying by far the tougher half of the draw alongside Arsenal, Real Madrid and Manchester City. Plus, with 32 Bundesliga goals, he has the added incentive of trying to break Robert Lewandowski’s single-season record of 41. It is an achievement worthy of celebrating. Not since Kevin Keegan secured two Ballon d’Or awards with Hamburg has an Englishman had such a convulsive impact on German football.

But the reservations about Kane can be personal, sometimes unpleasantly so. Irrespective of his reliability for club and country, he has drawn opprobrium for a wooden persona in interviews, even his voice. In 2020, an ESPN producer had a mortifying off-microphone moment when he was caught saying: “I hate hearing him speak. He has got a weird voice. That’s what stands out about him.”

Fast-forward four years, and there is rather more that stands out about Kane: he has the joint most appearances in history at European Championships and World Cups, a Golden Boot, and 245 top-flight goals at club level. He was a dead certainty to shatter Shearer’s record but chose instead to pursue a fresh challenge in his work and his life. These are laudable qualities, exemplified by the ultimate professional. It is high time, as he makes his much-awaited return to north London, for the snark and the send-up to stop.

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